Well-behaved instead of chaotic: parking space for e-scooter tenants at Boxhagener Platz in BerlinPhoto: Annette Riedl / DPA
E-scooters have been whizzing through German cities for over a year - and have already caused a lot of trouble. Actually, the scooters should inspire everyone who wants to get around sustainably and cheaply over short distances. Then it became clear: An e-scooter might not be as environmentally friendly as it was thought.
Such a vehicle does not emit CO2 directly - in contrast to conventional cars or scooters. However, up to 126 grams of the greenhouse gas must be calculated per user and kilometer, as reported by SWR television. If you ride in a fully occupied bus, it is only 51 grams.
The value is higher for scooters because the production of the aluminum frame and the lithium-ion batteries consume a lot of energy. Another negative effect is that the scooters are regularly collected for charging and that the service life of the vehicles is short.
Electricity for driving is not the problem
The figures come from a study by the University of North Carolina, according to which 43 percent of the CO2 emissions in the life of an e-scooter come from collection and 50 percent from production. According to this, only five percent of the environmental damage results from power consumption for driving.
For the bin: e-scooter parked wildly in BerlinPhoto: Ben Kriemann / Future Image / imago images
Criticism of the scooters seems justified - that's why the largest European e-scooter start-ups have concluded an alliance for more sustainability in the industry. Its aim is to improve the ecological balance and, in some cases, precarious working conditions in the industry, and to differentiate companies from American providers. Most recently, the Uber subsidiary Jump and the partner service Lime triggered severe criticism in the USA because they scrapped masses of intact e-bikes and e-scooters.
The German rental company Tier, the Swedish startup Voi and the Dutch service Dott have committed themselves to more ecological and social responsibility in their ten-point plan. Some of the aspects listed have already been implemented, others are more of a declaration of intent. The measures cover the entire life cycle of an e-scooter:
Use of at least 20 percent recycled material in all new e-scooters from 2021
Acquisition of new e-scooters exclusively with replaceable batteries from 2020
Abandonment of the precarious "gig economy" (in which contractors stay afloat with individually paid services) and an obligation to adhere to living wage standards
Grow responsibly without clogging the streets
Operation of all warehouses with renewable energy by the end of 2020
Use of electric vehicles to charge and maintain the fleet by the end of 2021
Taking measures to reduce the risk of e-scooters ending up in water and pooling resources to rescue e-scooters from water in all cities in which the providers are active
No scrapping of fully functional e-scooters and recycling of all individual parts that can no longer be repaired or used as spare parts.
Search for second life solutions for all functioning e-scooters
Calculation of carbon emissions throughout the life cycle and offsetting of emissions.
"Hip branch" should be a role model
But do these declarations of intent target the problems precisely enough - and how credible are they? The response from three experts is mixed.
The president of the social association VdK Germany, Verena Bentele, thinks that e-scooter providers want to do something against precarious employment is initially good: "It is important that such a hip industry is a role model." The modernization of mobility in cities should not come at the expense of employees.
In their opinion, this is still the case. In the e-scooter industry, many companies follow the principle of the so-called "gig economy": Freelance workers collect scooters with a low battery level and charge them in their own four walls at night.
You are paid per vehicle: each scooter brings in around four euros. However, there is no works council for the self-employed. They receive orders anonymously via the app and they have to be quick to find enough vehicles. According to experts, a better work environment is absolutely necessary for these employees. Other employees are already permanently employed to maintain vehicles.
Collective agreement instead of gig economy
The promise to improve working conditions is formulated in a rather vague way. Employees in the e-scooter sector would have to be paid within the framework of a comprehensive collective agreement, says Bentele. And all other occupational health and safety regulations must be complied with so that employees do not self-exploit.
Municipalities that work with the providers could specifically check whether these criteria are met. At least the minimum wage must actually be paid as an absolute lower limit, says Marion Jungbluth, head of the Mobility and Travel team at the Federation of German Consumer Organizations.
Environmental goals formulated too superficially
And what about the ecological goals? From the point of view of Jens Hilgenberg, Head of Transport Policy at the Federation for the Environment and Nature Conservation Germany (BUND), they are formulated too superficially. The plans were basically going in the right direction. Whether the rate of 20 percent recycled material in new scooters improves the environmental balance in the long term depends on which parts of the scooter should be made of recycled material: battery, aluminum or plastic casing.
"With the announcement of exchangeable batteries, we would like to see clear statements about the recycling of batteries and their contents," said Hilgenberg. "It must be clear what happens to the batteries after they have been used in the scooters, but there are no statements about that."
For other points, solutions are sought relatively late in the life cycle, according to the expert. Instead of offsetting carbon emissions, he wishes that none arise. "Avoiding is always better than compensating," said Hilgenberg. It is also astonishing that some things cannot be taken for granted in the industry - for example, that e-scooters are transported with e-vehicles for charging and maintenance. Such standards would increase the credibility of the industry.
Micromobility, macro excitement
Much more needs to be done so that e-scooters land less in rivers and bushes, says Jungbluth from the consumer center. Above all, companies and cities should provide better education. "It is crucial that innovations are well communicated. Vandalism is always a sign of displeasure that arises in society." The scooters were almost tipped onto the street in the wild. "Politicians have not done enough to explain to people how they can benefit from e-scooters," said the expert.
In the meantime, municipalities and providers have discussed suitable parking spaces. "I assume that there will soon be less vandalism on the streets," said Jungbluth. What is still missing is a stronger connection between the scooters and local public transport. Apps should show that stops can be easily reached with the e-scooter within a certain time. Jungbluth appeals to every user: "If we want the mobility revolution, we must also be open to new forms of mobility. They can break our routines."Icon: The mirror