November 05, 2001
Businesses Convey Interest in Sustainable Mobility
by Mark Thomsen
Report on the challenges of achieving long-term sustainable transportation offers multinational
automotive and energy companies, as well as governments, food for thought.
A new study commissioned by a cooperative business group concludes that the most formidable hurdle
to realizing sustainable mobility has less to do with technology breakthroughs and more to do with
getting people to make decisions. Specifically, the report says the chief barrier is the inability
of political institutions to tackle current transportation problems effectively.
The study, entitled “Mobility 2001,” was
issued by the World Business Council on Sustainable Development’s Sustainable Mobility
Project. The Sustainability Mobility Project is a cooperative effort of eleven multinational
automotive and energy companies seeking to develop a global vision for sustainable mobility.
The first phase of the project, represented by this report, involves assessing the current
status of mobility and identifying the major issues.
The eleven WBCSD members
participating in the project are BP Amoco (ticker: BP), Daimler Chrysler (DCX), Ford (F), General
Motors (GM), Honda (HMC), Michelin, Norsk Hydro (NHY), Renault, Shell (RD), Toyota (TM), and
Philip Watts, Chairman of Shell’s Committee of Managing Directors and
one of the three co-chairs of the project, was not surprised by the study’s conclusions.
“It is research that confirms what I think many people suspected - that if we are to avoid a
continuing descent towards unsustainable gridlock and environmental degradation then the way we
move ourselves about is going to have to change.”
The study was conducted by a group
of researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Charles River Associates, a
Boston-based economics, finance and business consulting firm.
The study’s snapshot
of the state of mobility names some of the more compelling reasons why changes are needed.
“Mobility systems currently are significant contributors to congestion, deaths, injuries from
accidents, climate change, resource exhaustion, public health problems created by air pollution and
noise, and ecosystem collapse,” write the researchers.
Transportation systems can
also contribute to social inequality by offering limited choices to certain societal groups, such
as the elderly and poor.
The report also notes that many of these problems find their root
in the almost universal trend toward privately owned vehicles and away from public transportation
modes such as bus and subway. Hence the most formidable hurdle: how to get policy makers to
resolve effectively the trade-offs between the demand for mobility and the demand for environmental
protection, energy conservation and safety.
WBCSD defines sustainable mobility as
“the ability to meet the needs of society to move freely, gain access, communicate, trade,
and establish relationships without sacrificing other essential human or ecological values today or
in the future.”
With this in mind, the research team identified seven “grand
challenges” to sustainable mobility: 1) ensuring transport systems serve essential human
needs; 2) adapting vehicles to evolving requirements on emissions, fuel use, capacity, and
ownership structure; 3) re-inventing public transport to provide a reasonable alternative to those
who do not have access to cars; 4) re-inventing the process of planning, developing, and managing
mobility infrastructure; 5) reducing carbon emissions; 6) resolving the competition for use of
infrastructure between personal and freight transport; and 7) tackling congestion.
Discerning readers might be scratching their heads: why are automotive and energy companies
talking about challenges when they themselves are a significant reason some of these challenges
exist? One recent example that comes to mind is the automotive industry’s resistance to
higher fuel efficiency standards for sport utility vehicles.
Mr. Watts attempted to
explain why. "Given that the members of the project are drawn from the energy and motor
manufacturing sectors it may seem surprising that we are publishing such a frank analysis, but we
are well placed to be part of the solution to these issues. We believe that our own commercial
future depends on our ability to adapt and meet these challenges.”
will be watching to see how far these companies go in “walking their talk.”