Three considerations if making ‘zero emissions’ claims for your electric vehicles [Part 2]

Zero emissions for your electric vehicle
Zero emissions for your electric vehicle

In our previous blog post, we analysed the carbon footprint of electric vehicles. We distinguished between manufacturing emissions, emissions during the operations of the electric vehicle and emissions at the end-of-life. In this blog post, we will present three considerations for making zero-emissions claims for your electric vehicles.

Introduction

With increasing choices of electric vehicles and prices decreasing, more organisations are considering buying or have already purchased electric vehicles. By switching your passenger fleet to electric vehicles, you have the potential to contribute to a reduction in transport emissions, with passenger vehicles making up 8% of Australia’s total greenhouse gas emissions.

We sometimes hear the claim that electric vehicles are ‘emissions-free’, or ‘zero emissions’, but this is not necessarily the case. In this blog post, we look at some things to consider if you are looking to make this claim in your communication materials.

Three considerations for ‘zero-emissions’ claims

With all the good environmental work you are undertaking, it is important to make the right claims about your efforts. Failing to do so may cause reputational damage. The most notable recent example was, of course, Volkswagen in 2015 with the ‘dieselgate’ scandal, which led to vehicle recalls, fines, loss of reputation and the resignation of senior executives.

What this means for your organisation is that you need to be careful about your environmental claims – the more precise your claims, the lower your reputational risk.

Consideration #1 – Thinking that because it is an electric vehicle, it will be ‘clean’

If you have purchased or are considering purchasing electric vehicles for your organisation’s fleet, you are reducing petroleum emissions. However, it is quite possible that you will charge your electric vehicles from the grid. As we discussed in our previous EV article, the grid is a mixture of fossil fuels and renewables. Whether this mix leans more towards renewable energy depends on what state you are charging your EV in.

Electric cars are only as clean as their energy supply. To make sure you are not replacing oil with coal and gas, you need to make a conscious choice to change the source of energy to emissions-free electricity.

Our next blog post will show you how you can change to emissions-free electricity.

Consideration #2 – Emissions from the manufacturing of electric vehicles

A common counterclaim to the view that electric vehicles are clean or will reduce emissions is that higher greenhouse gas emissions are created during the manufacture of electric vehicles, mainly due to the batteries that are being used.

For buyers of electric vehicles, one thing this highlights is the importance of clearly defining your claim – i.e. limiting claims to operational emissions rather than leaving claims open for others to query or challenge in this way.

In relation to embedded emissions, some car manufacturers have started to address this problem by changing the production of electric vehicles towards being carbon neutral and 100% renewable.

For example, Volkswagen has plans to make the production of its upcoming I.D. Neo hatchback carbon neutral to save one million tonnes of carbon emissions per year. They are targeting a carbon reduction across the whole lifecycle, including the sourcing of raw materials and batteries, to recycling at the end of life.

Because of the 2015 scandal, VW is also making sure that over the coming years its suppliers use renewable energy where possible to make their claim as credible as possible. To get the carbon footprint to zero, VW will purchase carbon offsets.

Another example is BMW i’s manufacturing plant in Leipzig, which is powered from 100% renewables. Daimler plans that from 2022, all its Mercedes-Benz manufacturing plants will be 100% renewable.

If your business is looking to purchase electric vehicles it is recommended you consider the upstream emissions embedded in the vehicle manufacture, and not just whether they will be powered with renewable energy during their use phase.

Consideration #3 – Extended reporting of the carbon footprint of electric vehicles in future

When organisations first started to report under Australia’s National Carbon Offset Standard (NCOS), it was enough to report on Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions and to include a limited set of supply chain emissions from waste, paper consumption and air travel. Over time, the acceptable boundary for Scope 3 emissions has shifted to include more embedded emission sources, like IT equipment, food and catering, telecommunications, advertising, cleaning services, legal fees or stationery.

While currently, it is a requirement to only report on the operational emissions of vehicles, in future you may be required to report on embedded emissions as well.

What claims CAN you make?

This blog post looked at things you should consider when making environmental claims about your electric vehicle. In the next blog post, we will be looking at how you can safely claim ‘zero emissions’ for the operations of your electric vehicles without incurring the risk of misleading the market.

If you need help with how your EV strategy fits in with your organisation’s energy strategy, please talk to  Barbara or Patrick.

Feel free to use an excerpt of this blog on your own site, newsletter, blog, etc. Just send us a copy or link and include the following text at the end of the excerpt: “This content is reprinted from 100% Renewables Pty Ltd’s blog.”

Appendix: Emissions from Australia’s transport sector

As per the Quarterly Update of Australia’s National Greenhouse Gas Inventory: June 2018, in FY17/18, we emitted 555.4 million tonnes of carbon emissions in Australia, excluding LULUCF[1]. Of these, electricity production is responsible for 33% of our emissions, while the transport sector is responsible for 18%.

Breaking down the transport sector emissions further, we can see that cars are responsible for 8% of our overall emissions. This may not sound much, but emissions are four times larger than those from domestic aviation, and emissions from the transport sector are growing fast.

Australia's transport emissions
Australia’s transport emissions

By converting our existing car fleet to electric vehicle and running them on 100% renewable energy, we have the potential to eliminate 8% or roughly 46 million tonnes from our emissions inventory. By converting light commercial vehicles and buses to electric, we could save even more.

[1] Land use, land-use change, and forestry (LULUCF) is defined by the United Nations Climate Change Secretariat as a ‘greenhouse gas inventory sector that covers emissions and removals of greenhouse gases resulting from direct human-induced land use such as settlements and commercial uses, land-use change, and forestry activities.’