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The future of sustainability in business, according to Uber experts

April 18, 2022 / US

Recently, the rise of climate crises has driven a shift in the global market, putting forth a new focus on sustainability. Across all industries, sustainability is moving dollars and business outcomes in new major ways. 

In 2020, Uber committed to becoming a zero-emission platform by 2040. To learn more about this new emphasis on sustainability, Uber experts Chris Hook (Global Sustainability Strategy Lead) and Thibaud Simphal (Senior Director, Global Head of Sustainability) discuss what this new focus means, how companies can meaningfully take part, and what to expect from Uber’s commitments to a cleaner, greener planet. 

Sustainable business becomes “the norm”

According to Harvard Business Review, 2021 was the year that sustainable business became “the norm.” Trends around environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues are becoming increasingly prevalent in corporate lingo and earnings calls: almost 1,300 organizations around the world have set a science-based emissions-reduction target. 

This is driven by a number of factors, including the visibility of recent worsening climate crises, supply chain woes, and a push for sustainability in the finance sector. Consumers are also partaking in the drive for more sustainable business. 

Uber’s Simphal says, “Consumers are changing their purchasing decisions, and that influence is enough to force companies to change to avoid getting outflanked by competitors or disliked by the public. It can really be a positive or a negative for companies. Even investors are deciding whether to invest based on an organization’s sustainability practices.” 

He adds, “the pandemic was a turning point, and companies now have the opportunity to work together with cities to build back stronger and greener, in preparation for the impending crisis of climate change. At Uber, we’ve decided to tackle climate change more meaningfully and really strive to lead the industry to zero emissions.… As innovators best known for helping you tap a button and get a ride, we want to next become known for helping you go from A to B in a way that does right by the planet.”

Hook agrees: “We are looking for business partners who share these priorities. As a major player in the industry, we have the responsibility and the ability to make these ambitious goals reality.” 

And as travel gains momentum around the world, sustainability will continue to be top of mind, particularly for organizations returning to business travel. “Procurement especially is beginning to hold vendors to high standards,” Hook says. “If you’re traveling with Uber, that has a positive impact on the world.” 

Measuring sustainability and its success

A crucial aspect of sustainability is how efforts are measured. Hook explains: “We look at this from 3 levels. At the top policy level, globally, we want to get to net zero and without a strong reliance on offsets, so our business is not resulting in real-world pollution or adding more carbon to the atmosphere. 

Ideally, we’ll hit the levels of warming agreed to in the Paris and Glasgow Agreements, and as much as 10 years ahead of schedule, by 2040.” 

The next level is organizational. Each company is going to set their own sustainability goals and how they plan to achieve them. “To validate,” says Hook, “a number of NGOs can help establish that a business’s commitments are legitimate and there’s a strategy to back them up—that it’s not just greenwashing.” Uber is currently working with some NGOs, such as the Science Based Targets initiative, to validate our emissions targets and monitor our progress in reducing emissions. 

Finally, on an individual level, people can measure a variety of actions. “In transport, we prefer to measure progress using a sector-specific intensity metric: emissions per passenger mile. So for every mile someone travels, what are the emissions created?” Hook explains. “This incentivizes all the right things, like buying an electric vehicle, sharing cars, and using public transport or micromobility options when you can.” 

How Uber is adding sustainability to our platform 

Beyond Uber’s commitment to be a net-zero platform by 2040, we’ve pledged to be net zero in a number of cities by 2030. That commitment translates into several specific offerings in our mobility and delivery lines of business.

“On the mobility side, we’re working to make low- and no-emission mobility accessible for more consumers at the tap of a button with Uber Green,” says Hook. “Uber Green is already available in 100 major urban markets across 3 continents.” 

In addition, drivers on the Uber platform use hybrid vehicles 4 times more than private car owners in the US, and nearly 30 times more than those in Europe. Uber also saw a 12.5% improvement in passenger carbon intensity for trips on Uber in top US and Canadian cities in the first half of 2021 versus 2020. 

When it comes to delivery, Uber is also working to help delivery people using our app access greener and electric modes, including e-bikes. “Consumers want to feel positive that the product they bought was sustainable, but they also want it delivered in an environmentally conscious way, which Uber is working to enable,” Simphal says. 

“Across industries, in the coming year, you’re going to see more of a focus on tangible actions being made and accountability to see if emissions are really decreasing,” Simphal adds. “When your organization signs a contract with Uber, you’re aligning with a company that is working to partner with cities, tackle climate change, and lead the industry to zero emissions.”

More details around Uber’s sustainability efforts can be found in our 2021 Climate Assessment and Performance Report. You can find information on Uber’s green product offerings and commitment to being a net-zero platform by 2040 here.