Global average air temperatures exceeded the 1.5℃ lower Paris Agreement threshold in March, and early June of 2023. This is a very real global threat with catastrophic implications. At all levels, whether that be international or individual, there is a duty to act. And businesses are no exception.

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the transport industry is the biggest single industry contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in the US. In 2021 it generated 28% of total emissions and this has increased by roughly 80% each year since the 1990s. While there is universal responsibility, sustainable solutions are most needed where carbon emissions are the greatest. Thankfully, many companies in this industry are taking up the challenge to change the sustainability of mobility for the better.

As Andrew Kalinin, sustainability lead at Uber for Business, shares that while a reduction in emissions is the right thing to do by the planet, it also happens to be a “business-first” decision.

Heightened awareness of climate change has increased demand for sustainable options. In 2022 Uber commissioned a poll conducted by OnePoll of 1,000 adult business travellers and professional workers based in London, UK. In answer to the question “How important or unimportant to you personally is it that you are able to reduce the environmental impact of any travelling you do?”, 70% said “it was personally important to them to reduce the environmental impact of any travelling they do”, while 60% of workers expressed their desire for their employers or employees to take more steps towards sustainability. This incentivises sustainable change, says Kalinin.

This has also been actualised in emerging government policy. The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) signed into US law in 2022 is a critical example reflecting the incentive value of both the moral duty and public support for the formulation of sustainable policy. This law directs federal spending towards reducing carbon emissions as well as funding the Internal Revenue Service and improving taxpayer compliance.

Companies are catching up with this agenda, but Uber is forging ahead of it. In recognition of the benefits of sustainable policies, Uber for Business is attempting to mitigate their environmental impact head on.

Mobility dedicated; sustainability focused

Providing efficient travel solutions to businesses, Uber for Business works alongside the wider Uber organisation across the globe. For example, its Central dashboard aids car dealers. Erick Tapia, account executive for automotive at Uber, explains that it can “help businesses facilitate transportation for employees, clients, VIPs, customers and guests.” Car dealers can use this service when a customer brings their vehicle in for repairs. “The dealer can request a ride for them back home or to work using the Uber for Business platform, rather than having to use a loaner car or shuttle service. Dealers can even use the service to pick up and return parts, including batteries.” This improves efficiency, customer experience and cuts costs for dealerships – and also prevents unnecessary additional car trips for customers too, helping lessen the impact on the planet.

Prioritisation of customers lies at the forefront of Uber for Business’ work, but efficiency is not the only way they enable this. Kalinin defines his team’s business area as “mobility dedicated”, operating to bring clients informed decision-making when it comes to sustainable travel.

Uber for Business’s sustainability dashboard, which provides sustainability insights on travel and gives companies the ability to track, report, and act on their ground transportation estimated carbon emissions, forms a key part of Kalinin and his team’s strategy. The dashboard allows individuals and companies to view their carbon footprint when taking Uber rides. Its operation on a global scale means it can help estimate the environmental impact of international trips.

Software leader Salesforce, a pilot customer, has leveraged sustainability insights to gain greater visibility into the impact of their business travel program. “At Salesforce, we believe bold climate action is the only way forward,” says Jenny Sabineu, Travel Services Manager at Salesforce. “Partnering with businesses like Uber who are making sustainability a priority by adding personalised insights into the Uber for Business dashboard gives travel managers a deeper understanding of employee travel behaviour. It also presents a new opportunity to educate travellers on the impact of responsible travel choices, which is an essential component when closely monitoring our progress toward net-zero emissions.”

There are tens of thousands of organisations globally who have already adopted use of the dashboard since its launch in late 2022.

The impact of the dashboard is two-fold: firstly, it is “a clear indicator of how your sustainable action translates into real impact” and thus “incentivises greener travel and facilitates informed choices,” says Kalinin. Secondly, it is a product made with the customer clearly in mind.

“Whatever is happening on the Uber side immediately translates into what Uber for Business can use and ultimately deliver to clients,” says Kalinin. Uber’s 2023 Environmental, Social, and Governance Report cites that Uber Green, Uber Comfort Electric, and/or Uber Planetities were available for clients in more than 200 cities worldwide, while more than 77 million trips were taken in zero emission vehicles across Uber’s mobility business.

Ride options available on the Uber platform are set to be even more efficient under the Green Future Programme, which will provide a $800 million dollar fund globally in resources such as charging discounts and EVs “to help hundreds of thousands of drivers to go electric by 2025,” he says.

Kalinin is enthusiastic about the intention – and ability – to grow the electrical vehicle side of ride options on the platform and incentivise sustainable travel. More specifically, Uber provides electric or hybrid vehicle drivers with an extra $1 per ride.

Transparent sustainability

In addition to Uber for Business’ sustainability endeavours, Kalinin notes that the company is working to be a global leader in transparency. Uber has “been producing ESG reports, detailing everything we do on the topics of sustainability for a couple of years now,” he says, as well as a quarterly climate assessment and performance report, which details the number of trips and activities on the platform. “It is still the only global mobility platform that discloses Scope one, Scope two and Scope three emissions yearly now,” says Kalinin, who is adamant that this not only improves accountability, but that “clients love it” too.

Uber is on the right path to achieve its “big sustainability ambitions,” says Kalinin.

But to achieve this, Uber also requires the world to catch up. ‘Range anxiety’ – a driver’s fear that a vehicle has insufficient energy storage to cover the distance needed to reach its destination – and battery and semiconductor supply shortages have so far stymied sales of electric vehicles, hindering the progress of sustainable travel.

Kalinin holds out hope that supply will meet demand. Particularly as governments are notably investing in sustainable travel, with the 2022 IRA introducing tax incentives for the purchase of EVs. The White House also recently stated that there are more than 130,000 public charging ports across the US – an increase of 40% since the start of 2021 – and has pledged to increase this to 500,000 by 2030. While there is still more to be done, government action such as this can only bolster Uber’s ambitions and endeavours.

Uber is a fundamental part of the puzzle in mitigating the environmental impact of the transportation industry. While that innovation has already facilitated success, it requires others to follow suit to truly take control of the sustainability challenge.

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