Tiny footprints: Pedal power

by / Thursday, 18 December 2014 / Published in Carbon Footprint Reduction, Lifestyle

We all agree that it’s important to reduce our carbon footprints, and we all have a vague idea of what sorts of activities we could do to make this happen. However, when we make decisions to give up driving or go vegetarian, we don’t always know exactly what’s happening. In this series, we’ll try to go a bit deeper, noting great ways to save and highlighting possible blind spots. Today’s topic: pedal power.

Biking has become one of the most popular alternatives to the car-commute. Though North American cities lag behind those in Northern Europe, there’s a definite trend towards bike-friendliness as urban planning moves away from the suburban sprawl model. Biking is far less emission-intensive than driving, and it’s also fun and good exercise.

Not-so-green production

We’d be silly to say that biking is “totally green”; the production of bikes, helmets and biking accessories, for instance, tends to be resource intensive, use toxic chemicals for waterproofing and padding, and rely too much on non-recycled materials (even though aluminum can be infinitely recycled at 1/20th of the energy cost and carbon emissions as extracting/processing raw bauxite). Though bikers seem to be a green lot, major bike companies haven’t caught on to leverage this in their production and marketing. To bikers, it seems, “performance” is king; sustainability is just a nice to have.

We’re not really okay with that, and we’d like to see bike companies amp up there ethical/sustainable appeal.

That’s not to say there haven’t been some eco-biking upstarts

but, sadly, none of these sustainable bikes seem to be tooled for mass production.

There are also some new products that allow you to translate pedal power into charge for your portable electronics. We recommend you check out the Siva Atom (which we distribute! Ask us about it). It’s a great idea, and we believe that these cool products are just the start of a new, sustainable way of life.

Overseas labour

There are also some labour concerns for bike production. The vast majority of American-sold bikes and bike parts are produced in China and Taiwan (despite branding), where labour is much cheaper and standards are lower. At first blush, this seems par for the course for manufacturing, which has all but disappeared from Canada and the United States as companies have sought bigger profit margins. Wisconsin Democrat Mary Burke points out the problem with this: unlike many other manufactured goods, which have had to race to the bottom to compete with big-box stores like Walmart, bicycles are still mostly sold at specialty shops, generally at a huge mark-up. They didn’t have to source labour overseas, but did anyways. Overseas production also means greater carbon emissions through transportation.

Not fuel free (but very efficient)

Despite the costs of production, biking is probably always a more carbon-footprint-friendly option than driving, simply because it doesn’t directly consume fuel to emit CO2 during daily use. Not directly? We do fuel our bikes indirectly, by eating, and when we burn more calories we tend to eat more. It may be small compared to driving a car, but it is worth considering. So choose sustainable, low-carbon options, like lentils, to fuel up after your ride. Avoid that meat lover’s pizza.

But even if you go for that pizza (it sounds pretty good about now), you’re still doing some good by biking. Biking is about 5x as energy efficient as walking, and maybe 50-80x as energy efficient as driving a car solo.

Back to the good:

Back to the good: bikes are much more efficient to park. This might seem petty, but consider how much more efficiently we can use urban space if we can give up space in parking garages for bike use.

Regular biking can help you get in good shape, which has many environmental impacts (though, as some have pointed out, living a long life means you have more chance to emit carbon…)

It’s also a lot more fun than driving – provided your commute path is cyclist-friendly.




image: Mike Kniek via Flickr