What is sustainable transport ? Your sustainable transportation 101

Have you ever wondered « what is sustainable transport really? » and « what does adopting sustainable transportation look like for me »? Don’t worry, I’ve been there! First, I’d like to congratulate you for taking some time to research this topic. I love your willingness to change your lifestyle! We all know that it is tricky but rewarding (eventually). 

Sustainable transportation is one of the most obvious ways to reduce carbon emissions. Have you ever walked across the city during rush hour in a heat wave? If you did, the chances are that the air quality worried you. I certainly did and I thought: ”there must be a better way than driving our very own traditional cars”. 

I have always been a public transportation kind of girl because I lived in big cities. And mostly because I can’t drive! But adopting a dog that’s not allowed in public transportation was a source of motivation to finally get my driving license! 

As I asked myself again what is sustainable transport and as I reviewed my sustainable transportation options and made new choices, I thought it was about time that I publish a solid blog post to share my knowledge on the matter. 

In this blog post, I’ll explain “what is sustainable transport ?” and review the greenest options out there. I’ll also share my personal opinion and the choice I believe is the best based on my own lifestyle. I hope it will support you in making your own decisions!

What is sustainable transport?

Sustainable transport aims to minimize the negative environmental, social and economic impacts while also meeting the mobility needs of individuals and society. In other words, sustainable transportation is environmentally friendly, socially equitable, and economically viable. 

On one hand, it involves reducing reliance on private cars and promoting more efficient, cleaner, and safer modes of transportation such as public transit, biking, walking, and public transport. 

On the other hand, it relies on using alternative fuels such as electricity, hydrogen, and biofuels.

It also reduces the overall demand for transportation through land use planning that promotes compact, walkable, and bike-friendly communities. 

By knowing what is sustainable transport and by adopting sustainable transport practices, we can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve air quality, promote public health, and enhance quality of life for all.

Sustainable transportation exemples and reviews

In order for you to make conscious choices,  I’ve reviewed the pros and cons of the most common sustainable transportation. 

Public transportation – My fav !

Public transportation (apart from planes obviously) can be a sustainable mode of transportation depending on how it is implemented and operated. 

Indeed, they are energy efficient because they can carry a larger number of passengers at once. This means that they can reduce greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental impacts associated with transportation.

Some also use alternative fuels, such as electricity, hydrogen, and biofuels, which can further reduce their environmental impact.

They are highly accessible and provide mobility to people who may not have access to a private vehicle. This can promote social equity and reduce social isolation.

Finally, public transportation can support sustainable land use planning by promoting compact, walkable communities that reduce the need for driving and encourage active transportation.

However, public transportation may also have some challenges to sustainability. For example, if public transit systems are not well-designed or maintained, they may have negative impacts on the environment. 

That said, I’d highly encourage most people to use public transportation as often as possible.

Bikes : a great option if you’re fit and confident

Biking is a sustainable mode of transportation due to its many environmental, social, and economic benefits. 

Firstly, biking is one of the most energy-efficient modes of transportation because they require no fuel or electricity. 

It also reduces traffic congestion, which can help decrease the time and costs associated with commuting.

Finally, it’s affordable! Bikes are a relatively inexpensive mode of transportation, which can be costly to purchase, operate, and maintain.

However, biking may not be feasible in areas with limited bike infrastructure or where the climate is not conducive to year-round biking. 

To conclude, biking is dope if you live in a bike friendly city and if you are confident on the road. Which is far from being my case…

Electric bikes : sounds like a good idea, but…

E-bikes are considered sustainable because they are more energy-efficient than traditional gasoline-powered cars, which can help reduce energy consumption and costs. 

They also produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions than cars because they are powered by electricity from renewable sources.

Besides, they are a form of physical activity that can help improve public health. They allow people to bike longer distances and tackle hills, which can encourage more people to use bikes as a mode of transportation.

However, the production of e-bikes requires energy and resources, which can have environmental impacts. 

Additionally, e-bikes may not be suitable for all types of trips, particularly those that require longer distances or involve significant amounts of cargo or passengers. Like all modes of transportation, e-bikes may pose safety risks if not operated safely or if there is insufficient infrastructure to accommodate them. 

Finally, bike batteries, like all rechargeable batteries, have a limited lifespan and will eventually need replacement. In general, lithium-ion batteries are the most common type of battery in e-bikes, and they have a relatively high energy density, meaning they can store a lot of energy in a small space.

However, lithium-ion batteries are not perfect, and they have some environmental and social impacts associated with their production, transportation, and disposal.

Second-hand cars my new GO TO

It may be surprising to some people that second-hand cars can be a sustainable mode of transportation. Indeed, buying a used car instead of a new one reduces the demand for new cars, which can help reduce the amount of energy, raw materials, and other resources required to manufacture new cars.

It also helps reduce waste by keeping an existing car in use instead of sending it to a landfill or scrap yard.

They are often less expensive than new cars, which can make them more accessible to people with lower incomes. 

However, there are also some challenges to the sustainability of second-hand cars. For example, they may be less energy-efficient than newer cars, particularly if they were manufactured before stricter fuel economy standards were put in place. They also may emit more pollutants and greenhouse gases than newer cars. 

But, a 2004 analysis by Toyota found that as much as 28 percent of the carbon dioxide emissions generated during the lifecycle of a typical gasoline-powered car can occur during its manufacture and its transportation to the dealer; the remaining emissions occur during driving once its new owner takes possession. An earlier study by Seikei University in Japan put the pre-purchase number at 12 percent.

This is why I believe it’s better to make the most of existing cars before purchasing new ones. No matter how green they might be…

Sustainable fuels for cars : I have my doubts

Sustainable fuels for cars have the potential to be more sustainable than traditional gasoline or diesel fuels because they are made from renewable sources, such as plant material, waste, or renewable electricity. This means that they can be produced indefinitely without depleting finite resources.

They also reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transportation. For example, biofuels can reduce emissions by 50-90% compared to gasoline, while electric vehicles powered by renewable energy sources have no tailpipe emissions.

Besides, sustainable fuels for cars can improve air quality by reducing emissions of pollutants such as nitrogen oxides, particulate matter, and volatile organic compounds.

However, there are also some challenges to the sustainability of sustainable fuels. Indeed, they may require large amounts of land and water resources, which can compete with food production and have negative environmental impacts if not managed sustainably.

Their production also requires energy and produces emissions, which can offset their environmental benefits if not produced sustainably.

How green are electric cars?

Electric cars are considered to be a greener alternative to gasoline or diesel-powered cars, primarily because they emit zero tailpipe emissions when they are powered by electricity generated from renewable sources, such as wind or solar power.

However, the production of electric cars requires energy and resources, including rare earth metals and lithium for batteries. If not produced sustainably, this can have negative environmental impacts.

Are electric car batteries sustainable? I’d say NO because of our current issues with battery disposal… At the end of their life cycle, we must dispose of electric car batteries or recycle them. If not done properly, this can have negative environmental impacts.

Finally, there are concerns about mistreatment of people who work in the production of electric car components Particularly with regard to the mining of minerals used in lithium-ion batteries, such as cobalt and lithium. These minerals are often extracted in countries with weak labor and environmental regulations. There have been reports of child labor, poor working conditions, and environmental damage associated with their mining.

What is sustainable transport to me? My take and choice in sustainable transportation !

I like the idea of biking but I don’t feel safe enough to bike around. So, I’ll just keep using public transportation as much as I can. I love catching the bus or the train:  I play music, listen to podcasts and read books on my way.

However, whenever I need to travel with my dog, I’ll drive my secondhand car. Because that’s the most sustainable option according to what I shared earlier AND according to my lifestyle. I am not gonna lie, that’s the most sustainable option for me financially. I am a firm believer that to be sustainable for the planet, it must be sustainable for you. 

My goal is to use this car to travel locally and slowly, which is also an awesome sustainable travel option. I will convert my new baby into a tiny van so I can camp, cook and even sleep in there. I am super excited about this new adventure that has been cooking for years! 

What is sustainable transport to you?

As a sustainable living content creator and mentor, I highly believe that there is no such thing as sustainable for the planet, if it’s not sustainable for yourself. This is why you have to learn how to balance eco-friendly knowledge, self awareness and mindset work to find a green lifestyle that you can sustain and that will bring you happiness.

If you need support creating a sustainable lifestyle that works for you, while protecting the planet, I invite you to join my 1:1 sustainable lifestyle coaching program

Written by Marine Leclerc, founder of Attitude Organic

Cover image by Jenny Ueberberg on Unsplash