LCAs: Measuring environmental impact of micromobility

May 5, 2023

Two bolt scooters near a lake

As micromobility (e-scooters and e-bikes) use has grown, the industry has faced greater scrutiny over its environmental impact.

Life-cycle assessments (LCAs) have been considered the most informative tool: they provide a comprehensive understanding of vehicle impact over their entire life cycle, from production, through use phase, to end-of-life.

But what do those LCA results really mean? Let’s dive deeper.

A closer look at LCAs

LCAs are complex — results are often difficult to interpret and even more so to compare.

Not only does an LCA encompass a vehicle’s lifetime in just one metric — grams of CO2-eq* per passenger kilometre — but this metric is highly dependent on methodology and assumptions. 

And for the last few years, we’ve seen that there can be significant differences in the scope and methodologies of the LCAs conducted by different micromobility operators. 

The choice of functional unit, system boundaries, data sources, and assumptions, as well as the selection of environmental impact categories, can all affect LCA study results.

For instance, some operators include an assumption that environmental impact is reduced due to the recycling of e-scooters. Others, however, assume that emissions increase due to the energy used during recycling.

Some operators include spare parts and an additional battery in the assessment, while others rely on a methodology that excludes these elements. 

For cities, this creates additional challenges in interpreting and comparing LCA results from different operators. 

*CO2 equivalent, is a metric measure used to compare the emissions from various greenhouse gases, by converting amounts of other gases to the equivalent amount of carbon dioxide.

Navigating LCAs with NUMO guides for cities

Cities and operators alike have been clearly frustrated by this confusion.

To address this, in 2021, the New Urban Mobility Alliance (NUMO) started a cross-sector working group of more than 30 representatives from city governments, micromobility operators, and subject experts from North America and Europe.

For the last 1.5 years, Bolt has been an active contributor to this working group and the final report. For us, this has been not only a valuable forum for exchange, but an essential step towards helping cities make informed decisions.

This work also allowed us to adjust our methodology with best practices. 

One key outcome is a recently published guide for cities: ‘Assessing the Environmental Impact of Shared Micromobility Services: A Guide for Cities’. This guide is the first comprehensive guide to support cities in understanding emissions from shared micromobility.

The guide also encourages a more aligned approach to LCAs.

It’s our view that a standard methodology for carrying out life-cycle assessments is essential for evidence-based sustainability action.

The guide developed by NUMO will also enable greater transparency and set the foundation for prioritising the most sustainable modes and operators who choose the most rigorous approach to measuring their environmental impact.

Bolt’s approach to measuring environmental impact

Since the inception of Bolt scooters and e-bikes, we’ve diligently started tracking the environmental impact of our services. We’ve been conducting LCAs of all our micromobility vehicles for several years — both e-bikes and e-scooters.

First and foremost, an LCA helps identify opportunities to reduce environmental impact and supports decision-making for sustainable design, manufacturing, and operations. It shows which phases have the highest impact and lets us map out how to reduce them.

Our LCA shows that the climate impact of our service is mainly a consequence of vehicle production: materials and components (due to the high energy needed to extract aluminium) constitute 40% of the overall impact.

Spare parts also constitute a large part of overall emissions (around 10gCO2e/km) for the same reasons.

Operational setup has a significant impact on the final results. That’s why we’re shifting to the use of renewable energy, as well as actively electrifying our operational fleet. But we’re also testing other different options that we can offer cities to reduce our operational emissions.

For instance, Bolt is the first and the only micromobility operator to implement charging docks for solving parking issues and charging electric scooters and bikes on streets.

Charging docks are already reducing 400+ kg CO2 in Tallinn, Estonia, per month, with potential reductions (when the solution is scaled up) 10 times higher.

According to the LCA results, our latest e-scooter model has an environmental impact of almost 75% lower compared to the first generation of e-scooters. Our latest scooter (Bolt 5) accounts for 21% fewer GHG emissions per kilometre than taking the metro, 59% less than riding a bus, and 77% less than driving a gas-powered car**. 

**Emission rates for other modes: (d) Pierpaolo Cazzola and Philippe Crist. “Good to Go: Assessing the Environmental Performance of New Mobility.” Life Cycle Assessment model, specified to EU28 countries. International Transport Forum (ITF). Paris, September 2020.

ICE: Internal combustion engine; BEV: Battery electric vehicle
Note: LCA estimates can vary depending on the electricity grid and specific models of vehicles chosen for the study
Source: ITF (2020), Good to go? Environmental performance of shared mobility; Internal life-cycle-assessment estimates conducted by a verified third party

Aligning our approach with best practice

An external, independent party (Ladera — a consultancy specialising in carbon accounting and LCAs for the mobility sector) conducts our LCAs.

The LCAs are prepared following ISO 14040:2006 and ISO 14044:2006 standards. Our LCAs are ‘cradle-to-grave’ type, meaning that we capture the impact throughout the entire life-cycle of our vehicles.

According to NUMO Guidebook’s recommendations for cities, Bolt LCAs cover all life-cycle stages and include spare parts, which may increase the outcome by about 20%, as spare parts account for around 10 g CO2eq/pkm.

Production Raw material extraction (including for spare parts)
Transport of raw materials and intermediate manufacturing goods
Transport of manufactured micromobility vehicle (including spare parts)
UseMicromobility vehicle use
Maintenance and repair (including spare parts)
End-of-lifeDismantling and deconstruction
Transport to a recycling plant
Waste processing

So far, we’ve taken several steps to align our methodology with the best practices highlighted by NUMO.

We firmly believe that a common framework will allow cities to use consistent and comparable methods to evaluate the environmental impacts of micromobility.

This, in turn, will make it easier to compare the environmental performance of different micromobility options, identify improvement areas, and support more sustainable transport systems.

Would you like to know more about LCAs and how we use them? Feel free to contact Tatiana Samsonova:

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