By: Yutong Zhu

Have you ever wondered whether individual actions could contribute to the wider picture of global warming? Do you participate in green and sustainable practices? I would like to introduce you to a bike sharing scheme that was launched in Beijing, whose inexpensive and convenient shared bikes increase the potential of people involved in the wide-range action of reducing carbon footprint without even noticing it.

The philosophy for the onset of this bike sharing scheme is to solve the problem of public transportation’s uncovered distance of the last mile to work. Given another commuting device near public transportation stations, people are encouraged to ride instead of driving to work. They also have the choice of riding towards their destination without having to wait alongside the traffic jam or squeeze their bodies to get in a morning rush-hour subway. People who choose not to commute through bikes with the consideration that shared bikes are easily obtained are contributing to the problem of global warming unconsciously. As user scale reached 0.24 billion in 2018 and is anticipated to reach 0.38 billion in 2021, companies are investing more into putting more sharing bikes in the market for the public to use.

Efficiency – needs to include the whole life cycle of your practice!
To really obtain the outcome of reducing carbon dioxide emissions, however, one must include the CO2 emissions during the process of its whole life cycle and compare that data against the spared emissions from cycling. According to one study, “production, operation and maintenance, and disposal phase emissions accounted for 91%, 4%, and 5%, respectively, of the total carbon emissions”, and to remedy a “whole life cycle” carbon dioxide footprint of 34.56kg CO2, “each bike should be used for at least 686 days, with each day accessible 4.552 times to achieve a net positive reduction in emissions” (Chen, 11).

This may give you a first impression of how this might not be applicable even in a huge population-based country like China, not to mention…

Companies have a dilemma.
From the data above we can conclude that improving utilization rate and cutting the need for production would be the most efficient way to reduce carbon emissions, as is the central point of the sharing economy. But with profit-driven firms competing against each other to occupy the mass majority of the marketplace, over-production can be seen on nearly every street in the year 2017 when public places are clogged by shared bikes: citizens had to “clamber over and maneuver around” to get rid of bikes (Huang).

I am not implying that the public should not engage in these social ecological practices if they work. Quite the opposite, publics benefits from and are the ultimate server and constructor of green goals. If the public did not participate in this process anymore, only more abandoned gadgets would be generated, resulting in much worse conditions than if we incorporate more voices into the practice. We should be patient since ecological practices are under construction and still in the process of transformation. Companies are changing their marketing strategies as well. Competing with number advantage would not work anymore after the bankruptcy of Ofo-bike. Quality, clear warnings of potentially damaged components before one decides to open the lock, and reliable maintenance are some of the vital issues of concerns for consumers. These companies are improving their services, but questions such as the appropriate and ceiling numbers of bikes are still problems for companies.

We need more voices – regulations, cooperation.
Dealing with environmental problems requires that we engage various human intellectual issues: media publicity, social involvement, capital innovative investment, scientific research, policy guidelines and so on. It is not an approach that can succeed with one person alone; rather, it is a multi-collaborate process that no one can be exempted from.

While the public sees the negative effects of newly emergent efforts, the media should encourage the public to dialectically focus on its favorable side of the individual contribution to the bigger picture and advocate the rational use of shared bikes. Academia is also involved when scholars and researchers can train computational models to simulate the transportation process and provide invaluable insights for designing a route that takes the least amount of fuel to distribute an appropriate number of bikes into the city and turn to the bike that is reported to be under maintenance.

There are policy guidelines for carbon tax to control industry carbon emissions. And the supply-side structural economic reform, which aims to adjust the economic structure by optimizing production on supply instead of over-producing to improve the quality and quantity of economic growth, is of crucial importance. As is expected, the government already integrated a vision of sharing into its policy and planning soon after the introduction of shared bikes to the marketplace, but it should also issue more normative documents and systematic management measures to standardize bike-sharing enterprises’ business behaviors and formulate realm standards for how many brands to introduce according to the situation of local development. Entry threshold must be explicitly stipulated, or else bike operators risk the producing unsafe bikes and putting the environment at further risk via more carbon emissions.

Ma offers the insights of co-creation, co-evolution and co-government as means for social innovation, urban transformation, and government. It is not that individual actions do not matter. Raising the broader picture of cooperation between society, industry, company, and government provides a conceptual foundation for accomplishing such goals. Wide-ranging impacts from government’s guidelines and cooperativeness by the company and public must be taken into consideration, and we should also raise ecological concerns at the level of managers and product producers. A win-win model for everyone like I suggested requires multiple stakeholders to hold the belief of adapting to the greater good and utilizing their resources openly and collaboratively. Only then can communities address the hyper-object of climate change and begin to mitigate its effects through daily actions.

Works Cited

  • Chen, Jingrui, et al. “Life Cycle Carbon Dioxide Emissions of Bike Sharing in China: Production, Operation, and Recycling.” Resources, Conservation & Recycling, vol. 162, Nov. 2020. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1016/j.resconrec.2020.105011.
  • Ma, Yuge, et al. “Co-Creation, Co-Evolution and Co-Governance: Understanding Green Businesses and Urban Transformations.” Climatic Change: An Interdisciplinary, International Journal Devoted to the Description, Causes and Implications of Climatic Change, vol. 160, no. 4, 2020, pp. 621-636. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1007/s10584-019-02541-3.
  • Huang, Frankie. “The Rise and Fall of China’s Cycling Empires.” Foreign Policy, 31 Dec. 2018. https://foreignpolicy.com/2018/12/31/a-billion-bicyclists-can-be-wrong-china-business-bikeshare/