Are electric cars really green (washing)?

Filed in Blog by on February 1, 2012 9 Comments
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A car like this on my drive soon?

I’m a ridiculously excited Mrs Green at the moment.

We’ve been presented with an interesting opportunity and it’s causing quite a stir at zero waste towers.

Little Miss Green has had wide eyes ever since she heard about it and Mr Green is champing at the bit to roll up his sleeves and lift the lid.

We’ve been asked to test drive an electric car and it’s something I’ve always wanted sitting on my drive…

Until I’ve begun to think a bit more about it.

As you’ll be aware, my 4×4 is a bit of a tug on the old green conscience. Sure it’s a working vehicle, but it’s the only car we own, so it’s also our ‘potter to town and go on holiday’ vehicle. At 25 mpg it’s expensive to run and dishes out quite a few emissions on a journey.

I justify it because we use the 4×4 to collect wood – enough to heat our home for nearly an entire season no less! If we didn’t have a way to gather wood we’d have to buy it, could probably not afford it (£80 for a 2-3 week supply) and would be forced to switch on the electric heaters instead.

What’s a green gal to do? Well until I can afford an electric 4×4 I’ll be sticking with what I’ve got.

But what about an electric vehicle eh, as a second car? How exciting does that sound?

This particular company tell me there is no road tax to pay, it’s zero emissions and costs about £2.50 to travel 100 miles. Compare that to our beloved Gus, who guzzles £26 of diesel on a 100 mile trip!

The thing is though, how ‘zero emissions’ can a car be? I mean, electric right? That means I have to plug it in to make it go. We are not on a renewable energy tariff, so my electricity is powered by erm, oil or coal I guess.

I’ve spoken about zero waste electricity before, so unless I’ve got a roof of solar panels or am using a 100% renewable energy company to supply electricity to my home I’m not sure it’s particularly green after all.

Is it just a case of I can’t see the emissions so let’s round it down to ‘zero emissions’ for ease? There’s no black plume of smoke coming out of the exhaust pipe so I can just kind of pretend I’m not actually firing up a power station to get me from A to B?

But you know what? I’m STILL ridiculously excited to be trying out this vehicle. I’ve got lots of preconceived ideas, both good and bad, and as you’ll be aware by now, I love nothing more than to do a bit of digging around in order to try and find out the truth.

And check your diaries – I might even go and visit a zero waste friend or two!

About the Author ()

I am a long time supporter of the Green and Sustainable lifestyle. After being caught in the Boscastle floods in 2004, our family begun a journey to respect and promote the importance of Earth's fragile ecosystem, that focussed on reducing waste. Inspired by the beauty and resourcefulness of this wonderful planet, I have published numerous magazine articles on green issues and the author of four books.

Comments (9)

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  1. CelloMom says:

    Dear Mrs. Green, you are so right to closely examine the emperor’s new zero-emission clothes. The car pictured at the top of this post _would_ be truly zero-emissions, and my quick estimate ( shows that yes, those are in principle attainable (if they are designed for efficiency, not for acceleration like they are now).

    Plug-in EVs are a different matter. That depends entirely, as you point out, on your source of electricity. In the case of the US, if we were to switch massively to EVs tomorrow, 2/3 of the electricity to move those cars would come from coal- and gas-burning plants (, so those vehicles would, in my mind, not qualify for the zero-emissions label which they currently sport. THAT’s greenwashing for you.

    Still, it’s a start. Have fun with the test drive, looking forward to your report.

  2. Zero is a hard goal to reach, and electric cars are only one of the many, many things we can add to the near sustainability roster..
    so yes, i am just sitting here, excited at the prospect of your trying to scale down the motor-miles and do your bit for the cleaner atmosphere.
    absolutes do not fit in the plan to green up..but big steps like this are the door to smaller, easier on resources way of life
    Go Greens! vroom-vroom! uh purr-purr!
    no offense Gus, to each his purpose..

  3. Jane says:

    It’s new and exciting. We need innovation and without trying things out and finding what works and what doesn’t we won’t move forward. ‘Try’ being the word. So much better than all the argument that just ends in no change, just stalemate, lethargy and despondency. You may have some very valuable feedback. You (and they) won’t know unless and until you try it out!

  4. Another angle to consider is that a lot of resources go into making a new car (and its batteries), so by having two cars, more resources are being tied up when not absolutely necessary. Is there a better way available to you? I gather that you live in a rural area, so it might be tricky, but could you borrow a lower-emissions car for your long holiday journeys – from friends/family or a service like Whipcar? Or hire one?
    While you’re pondering, I hope you enjoy the electric car – I could get rather excited by the prospect of using one myself… but as we seem to be managing perfectly well with no car (living in a town), it really would be a waste!

  5. So, how was it? Did you try it out yet??

  6. Carrie says:

    I am excited for you too Mrs Green!!! I live in Edinburgh and have just found your website. I cycle and walk a lot, on busy roads, and the pollution from car exhausts is horrible, you can really taste and smell it. Particularly when you are sat behind a smelly bus at traffic lights, yuck! So, although electric cars may not be perfect, my thoughts are that they will help with localised air pollution, especially in our urban areas. We just need to green up the national grid while we are at it 🙂 I hope you enjoy your trial, you lucky duck!

  7. Jane says:

    @Carrie: It is interesting what you say about buses. These are invariably diesel and buses get favourable promotion as they are public transport – and also because at one time diesel was cheaper.. However as an asthmatic it is diesel exhaust which make me wheeze.

    I was impressed by the bus transport from the airport to the centre of Edinburgh when I visited and by the recycling bins separating paper and cans and plastic bottles etc at the airport more than five years ago.

    I thought Edinburgh was to get a tram?

  8. Carrie says:

    @Jane: Hi there Jane. I am glad you liked the recycling bins and the airport bus here in Edinburgh 🙂 I totally agree with you about the diesel fumes, they are the worst. We are due a tram, but it has been a planning disaster and is years behind schedule, plans have been chopped back and it is now only going to run from the city centre to the airport and back. Sigh…

    On a potentially more positive note, I hear Aberdeen are going to be changing their buses to run on hydrogen. Which is interesting.

  9. Mrs Green says:

    @CelloMom: Thanks for the informative comment CelloMom – I’ll let you know how we get on with the test drive 😉

    @nadine sellers: Thanks Nadine; if we can all do our ‘bit’ then those bits add up to significant change; at least that’s what I keep telling myself. I hope I’m right…

    @Jane: Thanks Jane; that’s a nice optimistic take on things 🙂

    @Julia Goodfellow-Smith: We have considered borrowing a lower-emissions car for long journeys. I think what we *really* need is a low emission car for day to day and to borrow a 4×4 for gathering wood!

    @Jennifer Ward-Pelar: It’s coming at the end of March / beginning of April 🙂

    @Carrie: Hey Carrie; welcome to the site and thanks for your comment. Oh I can’t imagine being on a BIKE behind a bus; it’s bad enough in a car. Must be really horrible for you.
    Thanks for the link about hydrogen buses.

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