Green Transportation
Moving toward a transportation system that fuels healthy people and a healthy planet.

5 Sustainable Shipping Solutions in Development Now

Many people know that the shipping industry as a whole has room for improvement when it comes to sustainability. Some eco-minded individuals prefer to buy locally produced things instead of those that require resource-guzzling trucks, boats or planes to get to their destinations. However, entities in the shipping sector have committed to making positive changes in sustainability. Some maritime-based projects underway at the moment seem particularly promising.

The Water-Go-Round Hydrogen Fuel Cell Ferry

Although ferries emit relatively fewer emissions than other maritime vehicles, they usually operate in highly populated areas, making those emissions more adversely impactful on human health. However, a California-based project wants to make a ferry powered by hydrogen fuel cells called the Water-Go-Round.

Construction should start this fall, with the ferry making its first trips about a year later. It’ll carry up to 84 passengers and be 70 feet long. Instead of producing dangerous pollutants like other ferries, the Water-Go-Round only makes heat and water vapor.

This project could be one that encourages the shipping industry to make these kinds of ferries, too. Passenger ferries don’t use as much fuel or power as other kinds of vessels that travel on the ocean, so they often serve as testing grounds for technology that eventually makes its way to the shipping industry.

It’s also helpful that the International Maritime Organization created a deal to make ships less contributory to the greenhouse gas problem the planet faces. The Water-Go-Round might indicate a path to progress.

Reusable Product Mailers

The rise in popularity of online shipping means people are accustomed to seeing cardboard boxes and plastic bubble mailers arrive on their doorsteps, filled with products they ordered only days earlier. Statistics indicate that people don’t only care about the items inside, but that 32 percent of Americans also want sustainable packaging.

Even when companies use recycled boxes and plastic envelopes, they still may end up in landfills because local recycling centers in communities have become overwhelmed by the number of items coming into the facilities. However, a company called LimeLoop wants to change that with plastic mailers that can be reused up to 2,000 times. They have zippers on one side, making them easy to open. Also, the mailers are created from upcycled vinyl billboards.

When one of these envelopes arrives at a customer’s doorstep, the person takes the product out, then attaches an included return shipping label to the outside of the mailer. From that point, they can put the mailer in any mailbox, and it’ll go back to the originating company’s distribution center.

LimeLoop mailers are being tested in a pilot program that’s allowing the manufacturer to collect data about how to make them better before they get produced for a widespread rollout. According to the company, if people replaced traditional shipping options with LimeLoop mailers, they could save up to a billion trees annually.

The potential for these mailers spans far beyond the maritime industry. However, if companies that used these mailers also decided to send them to destinations by way of improved maritime vessels, they could significantly increase their overall impact.

An Agreement Supporting Green Investments in the European Shipping Market

There are indeed numerous challenges that make sustainable shipping practices difficult to implement quickly. However, a €300 million agreement between ING and the European Investment Bank will support green shipping initiatives throughout Europe, potentially alleviating many of the financial- related barriers that make adoption of eco-friendly practices particularly tricky.

The investment focus is on the maritime sector, and funding recipients will use the money to retrofit existing vessels to make them more eco-friendly or purchase new ships that meet environmental sustainability requirements.

A Ship That Runs on Liquefied Natural Gas

The Forward Maritime Group recently won the Most Sustainable Project Award at a summit in Denmark for an initiative leading to shipping vessels powered by liquefied natural gas. The prototype emits up to 35 percent less CO2 than traditional ships. Representatives from Forward Maritime Group signed a letter of intent with Yangzijiang Shipbuilding, and the latter company will produce up to 20 ships in the new design.

An Autonomous Container Ship

A vessel called the Yara Birkeland could become the first zero-emission, autonomous container ship in the world. It’s the result of a Norwegian project that wants to transfer container shipments off the roads and into the oceans. This battery-powered ship could eliminate 40,000 diesel truck journeys each year.

Yara is a company that currently relies on up to 100 diesel trucks daily to transport products between its plants to prepare them for global shipments. If this project is successful, it could reduce dependence on those trucks, as well as the personnel needed to drive them.

Sea-Based Shipments Are Set for Better Sustainability

Shipping industry professionals know their sector isn’t among the most sustainable. However, with these projects and investments, those with the power to make progress are putting their funds and innovative ideas to use in ways that could forever change how products get shipped around the world via the water.


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The Next Level of Carpooling

carpooling image 1

The idea of “access vs. ownership” has recently become a major trend that impacts consumer models across categories. According to marketing strategists, Gen Y, Gen Z and even some Gen X consumers are foregoing the American consumerism model in favor of “access” or “partial access” models. In other words, they’re reducing the things they own in favor of experiences like travel. 

Nowhere is this dynamic more impactful than in the future of car ownership. Ridesharing companies like Uber and Lyft are already changing traditional transportation paradigms around the world, and fractional or access-based solutions like GetAround and Turo are changing the nature vehicle ownership and car access. This trend will accelerate as driverless vehicles shift from car ownership to a ride-hailing model. Absorbing the upfront purchase costs and ongoing maintenance of a car you only drive five percent of the time loses appeal in an environment where door-to-door service is available in the palm of your hand. Recent research from Esurance estimates that families could save $4,146 annually just by using fleet-owned autonomous vehicles instead of owning their own cars.

The shifting consumer trends, combined with the technological innovations, are turning heads in America’s biggest industries. Auto behemoths Ford and General Motors are already tapping the ridesharing space as part of their self-driving initiatives, and Google’s Waymo plans to roll out their robo-taxi service in Phoenix later this year.

While traditional car ownership won’t immediately go away, the trend toward fleet-owned, self-driving cars will only continue to increase. Your two-car family in the ’burbs may opt for one car, say, and urban one-car homes may get rid of them altogether.

This is a boon for your wallet and a win for the environment — and our wellbeing. On top of saving time, fuel, insurance premiums and high blood pressure (fewer cars means less traffic), here are some of the ways the future of ride-hailing can help shrink our eco-footprint.  

More Pedestrian-Friendly Spaces

The greatest promise for driverless cars is removing human error, which accounts for roughly 94 percent of auto accidents. Roadway infrastructure has long been designed to address this trend, engineering roads and highways to account for human behavior and safety at the lowest common denominator. Hence, wide enough lanes, rumble strips, medians and guardrails — plus street signs, highway signs, traffic lights and sound buffers are all elements of transportation that will be relegated to the past. 

Remove human error from the mix, and these buffers are no longer needed. Highways can be streamlined with narrower roads unobstructed by guardrails, medians and traffic lights, and all that space can be repurposed as parks and bike lanes.

But the most significant change of all: removing parking structures. The cars' ability to park themselves outside of dense areas may be most impactful. Again, freed-up space could be restored to pedestrian infill (like parks, walkways and trees) or even affordable housing. What were once city blocks choked by concrete could be transformed into tree-lined boulevards.

Think about it this way: L.A. County’s parking infrastructure uses up 14 percent of the city’s space. Imagine if all that space were suddenly relinquished for reuse.

Reduced Emissions

A RethinkX study found that, in a fully-autonomous world, “each car will be used at least 10 times more than individually owned cars,” which means far fewer vehicles will be required for a fleet.  And fewer vehicles mean reduced pollution. According to a 2017 study by University of California, Davis, if self-driving cars are electric and shared, greenhouse gas emissions could be reduced by a whopping 80 percent by 2050.

Will Our Eco-Footprint Get Worse Before it Gets Better?

There’s a glaring caveat, however. That same UC Davis study points out that if carpooling doesn’t take off as expected, greenhouse gases could go up in the meantime.  The main concern is that driverless cars could increase our tolerance for distance traveled, which significantly increases pollution. If people are willing to travel further away, then housing developments may flourish in remote areas. That’s a win for affordable housing, but a loss for our eco-footprint.

Also troubling is the possibility of “zombie” cars on the road — that is, cars driving without passengers, doing things like picking up groceries and running errands. And unless a pricing system is in place which accounts for negative externalities (like carbon taxes or other fuel consumption charges), passengers may not be inclined to travel with others or rideshare.  

Chip manufacturers are aware of this issue. Nvidia, just announced an artificial intelligence chip that they say “crams $10,000 worth of power into a tiny box that costs just $1,299.” What would otherwise need 1,000 watts to run trillions of operations now only uses 30 watts, and the brightest minds in the world are already working on new technology to get to “reversible” or “zero-energy” computing.

Like all innovations, there are side effects – both positive and negative.

For example, we’ve seen tremendous benefits from the automobile, as well as its unintended side effects. Cars have made traveling remarkably convenient, but they also spurred urban sprawl and caused pollution.

But nonetheless, fewer people have been getting their drivers licenses since 1983. One of the main the reasons for this is — you guessed it — the cost of owning and maintaining a car when you can easily get rides from others. It’s not difficult to fathom how self-driving cars can spur that trend exponentially. To get there, however, we need proper oversight, and the onus is ultimately on us as consumers to make smart choices for ourselves and our planet.

Haden Kirkpatrick is the head of marketing strategy and innovation at Esurance. Haden is an innovator who is constantly thinking about how IoT, blockchain, telematics, and machine learning will impact the auto insurance industry. He draws on years of experience to write about the future of the car insurance industry, from new driving habits to autonomous vehicles. You can learn more about Esurance’s auto insurance options on their website.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Benefits of Electric-Run School Buses

school busCurrently, there are about 480,000 school buses operating today in the United States. These school buses alone contribute 5.3 million tons of climate-altering pollution every year. If schools in America were to swap out all of these school buses with electric-powered replacements, it would not only have numerous environmental benefits, but it would also have many health benefits for the students who take those school buses every week.

A new report, “Electric Buses: Clean Transportation for Healthy Neighborhoods and Cleaner Air”, from Environment America Research & Policy Center, U.S. PIRG Education Fund, and Frontier Group shows that replacing all school buses in America with an electric-powered model would be the equivalent of taking 1 million cars off of the road, saving millions of tons of pollution annually.

Not only do these hundreds of thousands of buses have terrible effects on the environmental, they also have harmful health consequences for the students riding the bus every day. Approximately 95 percent of school buses run on diesel fuel, which is proven to cause respiratory diseases and worsen existing conditions such as asthma.

"Pollution from school buses is harming our children's health and contributing excessively to global warming,” said Andrea McGimsey, Environment America Global Warming Director. "Our research shows that whether they're boarding the bus or on the bus, kids are exposed to toxic air in high concentrations. Electrifying our buses is a common-sense solution for communities across the nation.”

These electric school buses are already available for schools to consider. They are cleaner, healthier, and often cheaper for schools to purchase in place of diesel-fueled buses in the long run. Electric school buses have zero tailpipe emissions, which could help reduce kids’ exposure to toxic fumes on a daily basis.

"When we put our kids on a school bus we rely on these buses for safe transportation,” said Jeff Robinson, director of U.S. PIRG’s transportation program. “We have the technology to avoid these negative repercussions, so why wouldn’t we drive toward a cleaner future?”


This press release is presented without editing for your information. MOTHER EARTH NEWS does not recommend, approve or endorse the products and/or services offered. You should use your own judgment and evaluate products and services carefully before deciding to purchase.

New York City Bans Cars in Central Park

central parkAs one of the most visited outdoor spaces in the United States, Central Park is one of the most famous landmarks of New York City. Every year, 40 million people visit the park for its charm and history. The park was originally established in 1857, but did not become popular until it was redesigned at the start of the 20th century.

During this redesign, led by Robert Moses, several roadways were added inside of the park, which helped to popularize the park for Manhattan residents, and made for a shortcut cross the park for drivers and pedestrians alike.

However, beginning June 27 of this year, privately owned automobiles will not be permitted to drive through the roads of Central Park. Though Mayor Bill de Blasio previously banned private automobiles from driving through the northern end of the park in 2015, this new ban will prevent vehicles anywhere in the entire park.

“Our parks are for people, not cars,” de Blasio told the press. “For more than a century, cars have turned parts of the world’s most iconic park into a highway. Today we take it back. We are prioritizing the safety and the health of the millions of parents, children, and visitors who flock to Central Park.”

This ban will not apply to emergency vehicles, nor will it have any impact on vehicles using the four below-grade crosstown routes that were part of its original design.

This has not been the only case of cities restricting cars from urban parks in recent years. Cities such as London, Paris, and several cities in Germany have cracked down on private vehicle access to urban parks, putting time and car-size restrictions in place. Even the efforts to remove cars from Central Park has been underway for over 5 decades, slowly adding more and more restrictions over the years that have led to this complete ban.

The reactions of New Yorkers to this ban have been mixed. Many believe that this new ban will make the park safer and more enjoyable for children and families, while many – particularly cab and Uber drivers – believe that this will hurt their profits. Those who are happy about this change are excited that New York City is taking steps to become a cleaner, healthier, and environmentally friendly city.


This press release is presented without editing for your information. MOTHER EARTH NEWS does not recommend, approve or endorse the products and/or services offered. You should use your own judgment and evaluate products and services carefully before deciding to purchase.

Will Self-Driving Cars Be Green? Exploring the Environmental Impacts

Vehicles Sensors STreet Curb

Photo by Zapp2Photo/Shutterstock. Provided by author.

It’s no secret that cars are one of the greatest contributors to greenhouse gas-driven climate change. Given that fact, in the past five years, there’s been a significant push from automakers to make cars more efficient. But during that same time period, there’ve also huge advances made in semi-autonomous and autonomous tech.

This technology gives us a taste of what will come in the future. But while these innovations bring with them substantial safety improvements, how much impact will they have on the amount of energy consumed by cars?

This question is now being studied in earnest. The list of companies who are chasing self-driving dreams has grown from the famous Google SUVs just five years ago. But with many local governments beginning to implement regulations around self-driving cars, car manufacturers few places to test them on real roads.

And until more “real-life” tests can be performed, it will be difficult to gauge how much impact — if any — self-driving cars will have on the environment. However, thanks to several states introducing legislation friendly to self-driving cars, new studies are looking to answer just that.

But First, What Makes a Car Self-Driving?

Self-driving cars (or fully autonomous cars) are more than just vehicles that can keep themselves in a lane or stop with traffic. This technology (known as semi-autonomous) already exists today – Tesla's AutoPilot and Honda Sensing, for example. The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) considers this "Partial Automation."

The next phase is "Conditional Automation," where a driver needs to be in the car, but the car does most of the driving on its own. The final phase is "Full Automation," in which vehicles are completely self-driving. No driver presence is required, and the vehicle manages all driving functions.

Future of Mobility Illustration

Photo by BreezyInt/Shutterstock. Provided by author.

Autonomous Vehicles and the Environment

When considering the way self-driving cars will impact the environment, we have to first look at the way they will change driving. The NHTSA estimates that Americans spent almost 7 billion hours stuck in traffic during 2014, a number which has likely only increased.

Self-driving cars use connected technology to manage traffic congestion, reducing or eliminating the time we spend idling in gridlock. The NHTSA also reports that 94 percent of serious crashes are due to human error. In addition to saving lives, self-driving cars could reduce the waste byproduct these collisions send to landfills.

According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), there are several other ways self-driving vehicles could impact the environment.

• Because self-driving cars tend to crash less, vehicles can become much lighter as some older safety technology is removed, potentially reducing energy consumption by as much as 40 percent.

• They also last longer, decreasing the environmental impact of producing a new car.

• Plus, NREL estimates a 12 to 20 percent decrease in vehicle use thanks to increased occupancy.

And self-driving cars are capable of driving much more efficiently than human drivers, which could result in a 10 to 25 percent reduction in energy use (again, according to the NREL).

However, the NREL report also raises some concerns about potential negative environmental impacts. Self-driving cars make it possible for older generations and people with prohibitive disabilities to drive. While improved mobility will open opportunities for these groups, it will also mean more people — and vehicles — will be on the roadways.

Self-driving cars might also mean that people will drive more often and for longer periods of time. Combining these factors could cause a 50 percent increase in usage as well as a significant increase in energy consumption. Highly efficient routing and highway driving will likely increase the average speed at which vehicles travel. Over 50 mph, drag forces on a vehicle cause it to burn more fuel, and the faster the speed, the more energy is used.

Self Driving Semi Illustration

Photo by Chesky/Shutterstock. Provided by author.

Texas Helps Lead the Way with Green Autonomous Vehicles

In 2017, Texas was one of 10 states chosen by the U.S. Department of Transportation to be designated a national Automated Vehicle (AV) Proving Ground, allowing researchers and manufacturers an open place to test self-driving vehicles.

This is a big deal because it gives researchers and innovators alike a chance to review impacts automation may have on the environment. In Texas, several universities and organizations have formed a partnership with a focus on studying and proving these effects.

There are already real-world results coming out of these proving grounds. In July 2016, TTI — along with federal and state transportation authorities — released the results of tests with self-driving tech and truck platooning. Using a partially autonomous truck, they were able to determine that this method of transportation reduced fuel consumption by 12 percent.

How, you ask? By maximizing the drafting effect, fuel consumption is lowered. This results in fewer carbon emissions and reduced operating costs. With a highly efficient, fully self-driving truck, truck platooning could have big impacts on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and fossil fuel consumption in the long run.

In addition to Texas, nine other locations across the United States were chosen for testing. A proving ground in Pittsburg is being used by companies like Uber. In Michigan, the home of the automobile in North America, a 335-acre proving ground was built to explore and certify self-driving vehicles. There are additional proving grounds in Wisconsin, California, Iowa and Central Florida. Plus, there's a proving ground located at the U.S. Army Aberdeen base with a focus on self-driving military technology.

These spaces provide a varied environment for researchers to study the ways self-driving cars will change the industry and become more environmentally-friendly. Many of the proving grounds are still in their infancy, with testing only just beginning.

Ultimately, the effects may only be clear once self-driving cars become more common and theories like platooning are tested on real streets and highways. Until then, the results of testing at U.S. proving grounds — and others like them around the world — will give us a glimpse at how self-driving cars will impact the environment.

Haden Kirkpatrick is the director of marketing strategy and innovation at Esurance, where he is responsible for all initiatives related to product and service innovation. Haden is an innovator who is constantly thinking about how technology — including autonomous cars — will impact the insurance industry. He is also a mobile guru, aspiring yogi and mixed martial artist. Connect with him on LinkedIn.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Norway Sees Drastic Increase in Hybrid Vehicle Registrations

carIn 2017, Norway saw a major increase in the number of hybrid and plug-in vehicles that were being registered. New data from the independent Norwegian Road Federation (OFV) has revealed that over half of the new vehicles registered in the country in 2017 were for plug-in electric cars or hybrids, surpassing fossil fuel-run cars for the first time anywhere in the world. Although this is great progress, Norway’s goal is for the country to have only 100 percent electric cars sold in the country by the year 2025.

No other country is this close to possibly eliminating fossil fuel vehicles on the road. Even though hybrids still partially use fossil fuels – they just use the fuel more efficiently – the market is still beginning to tip in favor of ecofriendly vehicles.

The Norwegian EV Association has tracked this progress of the growth of electric vehicles (EVs) actively on the roads, and have provided the statistics and facts below:

• There are now more than 140,000 fully electric cars on Norwegian roads; when plug-in hybrids are added, the number of electric cars surpasses 200,000.

• The two most popular cars in Norway in 2017 were fully electric cars, according to the Association’s examination of the 20 most popular passenger cars in Norway.

• In total, 6 of the top 20 cars were fully electric, 4 were plug-in hybrids, and only 6 of the 20 are not available as a plug-in or hybrid.

A reason for this spike in electric vehicles registrations could be explained by the country’s incentives for citizens to turn away from fossil fuel cars. Norway offers numerous tax exemptions and free parking and highway tolls among other benefits for electric car drivers. Norway also a smaller population than its neighbors, making it a bit easier and manageable to switch the entire country over to electric transportation.

Norway has worked hard and pushed the make the country an ecofriendly society, and hopes that soon, more countries will be able to follow their example and progress.


This press release is presented without editing for your information. MOTHER EARTH NEWS does not recommend, approve or endorse the products and/or services offered. You should use your own judgment and evaluate products and services carefully before deciding to purchase.

Phase 2 and Solarrolla

The times they are a changin... Since my last blog I have fully dedicated my life to the advancement of solar electric vehicles.

I had talked about the test results of the lithium batteries as well as the result of adding another 1,000 watts of solar to the VW bus in the form of an awning.  Maybe more importantly I was able to test the flexible, much lighter panels, for performance and durability.  Check!

At this point our experience is a 120 mile range and 30 miles per day solar input.

I'm happy the flexible panels worked out since they are 7 pounds compared to almost 40 for a glass framed panel.  Time to phase out the glass....and the weight.

Without the glass to worry about the panels are safer too.  Flexible panels have been advantageous on boats for years now and are making their way to RVs worldwide due to this lightweight, flexible and conforming design.

We promised phase two of the solar electric vw bus would include the lithium batteries and 3,000 watts of solar.  I will hold up my end!

I took an intermediate step in adding just one more 1,000 watt array for  a 2,200 watt total.

And now ladies and gentlemen....It's time for whole enchilada....and a twist of fate that we all will be enjoying this summer and for years to come!!!! I currently have 36 flexible solar panels on the way!  Get ready for the completion of the solar electric VW bus. Using the 3.2-3.4 watt sun power cells sandwiched in a flexible polymer sub-straight, and utilizing the available surface area of a VW transporter roof I can get 1,200 watts.  Now we will have 3 times this! 3,600 watts split up into a center array and two awnings will be fully track-able and give us a potential 100 miles in a little over 2 days.  The awning will need to retract of course during driving...this is the real innovation.

The bus with the second awning

Are you with me?  Well....there's more! If you get a chance take a look at my last blog.  In the picture of burning man you will see a funny looking vehicle with a solar panel on the front of it. I was fortunate to make it to “burning man” this year with my wife.  We took the Solar bus and had an amazing time.  I was thinking before we left for the Nevada desert that it would be fun to have a small electric vehicle to spin around the gathering with....the next day a friend dropped off a scooter that he "thought I could do something with."

"I can and I will!" I replied. I added the 4 extra lithium cells from my bus project, a 100 watt flexible panel on the front and headed to Black Rock City. I didn't have time to get a charge controller on the scooter.  I thought it would take a long time to charge and figured I would just keep an eye on it. The storage turned out to be around 900 watt hours.  As it turned out on the flat the scooter pulled just a few hundred watts. It turned out to be more juice than I could use! During the day the juice went right back in!

I quickly realized that I had something special.

The scooter that started it all...

When I got home I drove it 20 miles and saw it charge right back up in a few hours....what a form of transport!!!!!!!!

I started ordering parts and built my own version of the scooter from the ground up calling it the "Solarrolla". It's made out of an aluminum frame, 3-wheels for stability, a 100 watt flexible solar panel and  comes complete with a waterproof  Bluetooth speaker and phone holder and charger.

Everyone needs a “Solarrolla.”   The scooter is a way I can offer the solar driving experience without all that is entailed with the something as large as the VW bus. I realized the scooter could replace motorcycles in sunny 3rd world countries where pollution is a real problem.  Also the scooter is a quite viable source of energy for lights, music, cell phone charging laptop use and anything else electric.

Get more info at: https://solarrolla.com/

The Solarrolla

So stay tuned for the completion of phase 2 of the solar electric VW bus and the development of Solarrolla! Wanna see even further into the future check out the Estar page on our website!  http://www.solarelectricvwbus.com/estar.html

Photos by Kira Belan

Brett Belan lived off-grid in California for a decade before he and his family moved to Ashland, Oregon. There he co-founding Apparent Energy, an engineering company dedicated to improving our electrical systems. He builds electric vehicles and converted a 1973 VW bus to a fully electric, solar powered vehicle. He's working on a project now called Solarrolla, a solar powered electric scooter. Find out more at: Solar-Electric VW Bushttps://solarrolla.com/ Follow Brett on Facebook and Instagram, and read his article in Home Power magazine. Read all of Brett’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.