February 22, 2024

Electric avenues

The switch to electric cars is accelerating and plans are on track for solar-powered trains. Gill Upton reports on the sustainability efforts of the ground transport sector

The UK Government’s ban on the sale of all petrol and diesel cars by 2040 is driving a modal shift to electrified transport options. The car industry is launching electric vehicles or more fuel-efficient cars, with emissions of the average new car down to 95 grams of CO2 per km, from 150 grams.

Rental car agencies have responded well. Avis has been carbon neutral since 2000 by using carbon offsetting and runs an earthfriendly fleet of hybrid and electric vehicles known as Eco Rides. Hertz provides a Green Collection of cars too, including Teslas. ”In the Netherlands, every second car is a Tesla,” says Zoran Kovacevic, Director of Product Management at TripActions.

David McNeill, AVP Global Corporate Sales at Enterprise, says customers are opting for electric rental cars to decarbonise employee travel. “They are using our software tools and consultancy services to understand the detailed implications of how to support employee journeys effectively with more sustainable options,” he says.

Enterprise is also recycling water at branch level, using renewable energy and providing plug-in company cars for all eligible staff.

“Rail is the only mode of motorised transport to continuously reduce its CO2 emissions since 1990”

Meanwhile, hotel groups are gearing up for the shift to electric. Premier Inn (which claims to have more car park locations across the UK than the NCP) has signed a deal with energy giant ENGIE to install rapidcharging points in 600 locations in the next three years as part of its Force for Good sustainability scheme, with the first installation in early summer. Premier Inn’s parent, Whitbread, has announced a commitment to net zero carbon emissions by 2050 in support of the Government’s plan to speed up the switch to electric vehicles.

Decarbonising rail is a more complex task, due to the significant capex required, but rail is already widely regarded as a viable option for corporates over air travel.

Data from SAP Concur shows that in the period between the first and second waves of the pandemic in Europe, rail travel recovered much faster than any other mode of prebooked transport in the core European business travel markets.

“Rail is the only mode of motorised transport to continuously reduce its CO2 emissions since 1990,” says Ami Taylor, Senior Director, Product Strategy, SAP Concur EMEA.

“So it’s likely to be a preferred option as views on sustainability continue to be reinforced.”

One ray of hope is solar-powered trains, a world first. The Riding Sunbeams project, in conjunction with Network Rail, is powering clean energy from solar farms and wind to rail networks. In the longer term there are plans to offer shares in solar farms to communities and commuters so that local people will own and benefit from the clean energy that’s powering their train journeys.

Meanwhile airports and airlines are switching to electric vehicles and recycling water when washing aircraft. Farnborough Airport became the first carbon neutral business airport over a decade ago.

It appears that Covid is in no way dimming suppliers’ spotlight on sustainability but has served to reinforce long-term plans and convince travellers to opt for sustainability over convenience. Covid may not be a silver bullet but it has accelerated plans to make the industry more sustainable.