LCA or Scoot Away?

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Question: what has two wheels, an electric motor, lives only about a month, and shortly will be carrying hundreds of thousands of university students around campus (and other ‘hip’ people to their jobs)?  Hint: there are 2 million of them deployed globally.

The answer: so-called “e-scooters”.  But you knew that already, didn't you, because you saw the picture at the top of the post.  I figured.  Next time, no giveaways!

These e-scooters do substitute cleaner transportation in place of (gas-powered) cars and motorcycles.  They are emissions-free.  And I'm not here to take down an effort which is laudable and seeks to be earth-friendly. But, a recent article in Nature magazine asks the question: are they really sustainable?

Importantly, the question is much broader than the e-scooter, and as you read through this (relatively short) blog post, I’d like to ask you to reflect on whatever the product or service of your project is and ask yourself: “have I thought about the full lifecycle environmental, social, and economic cost of the producing the product or service all the way through to its eventual disposal?”.  Or, like most project managers, are you (somewhat necessarily) focused on the launch of the product or service?

The Nature article refers to a study by Jeremiah Johnson at NC State University, in which he and his team disassembled a scooter and calculated the manufacturing ‘impact’ cost.   This is part of a Lifecycle Assessment (LCA) that we discussed at some length in our book Green Project Management, in fact with a Foreword by EPA Director at the time, Mary Ann Curran, PhD.  Chapter 9 of the book is dedicated to the LCA.

The LCA, of course, is not limited to manufacturing – which you could think of as the ‘birth’ of an e-scooter.  It also includes the ‘death’ of these products, and dealing with the disposal of the discarded units.  And herein lies a problem – the life of the scooters is shorter than you might think – only about one month.  This recent article from Greenbiz discusses that problem.

“But there is growing concern about whether such sustainability claims for shared-use scooters are enough. According to an analysis by Alison Griswold, a reporter for Quartz who specializes in start-ups and the sharing economy, data from a pilot test of Bird and Lime scooters in Louisville, Kentucky, suggest that the average scooter lasted about a month in the city. That’s a moon cycle. The refrigerated shelf-life of a carton of yogurt. Short.”

So, efforts are underway by e-scooter manufactures and fleet managers to extend the life of the scooters and come up with more sustainable ways to deal with the ‘remnants’ of the used (and abused) scooters.

In this article from Mashable, even putting more thought into the way the scooters are locked can make a difference – perhaps as much as by a factor of six – in terms of the life of a scooter.

But here’s the real point: look at your organization’s statements about sustainability (for an example I include some links here from Bird, one of the e-scooter companies here and here).  I bet you will find that your organization has similar statements about sustainability and environmental impact.

Consider whether your organization is taking impact of manufacturing, use, and disposal into account in a Lifecycle Assessment (LCA) fashion.  Are you thinking about this and speaking up when you can, as a project manager?

Are you living up to those statements?  Or are you just running projects and scooting away?

Oh - one more thing.  Sustainability is not about environment only.  Remember the Triple Bottom Line?  That includes ECONOMIC sustainability as well.  That's being called into question, too.  Have a look at this video from The Verge:

So, even if you don't want to consider the long-term relative to "Planet", consider the long-term element of "Profit" when you plan your project.

Ride safe!

Posted by Richard Maltzman on: August 31, 2019 03:33 PM | Permalink

Comments (3)

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Very interesting., thanks for sharing

Nice article, digging deeper into something we see every day and then applying it to project management.

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