The first step to companies reducing their carbon emissions is measuring them. On Monday, Uber rolled out a new tool to do just that, allowing companies to track emissions when employees take business-related rides.
Roughly 170,000 companies rely on Uber to transport employees. They now have access to a number of sustainability insights on the Uber for Business dashboard that the company shared exclusively with Protocol. That dashboard can help corporate clients “track, report and act on their ground transportation impacts globally,” Susan Anderson, global head of the company’s business division, told Protocol.
The new features include information on how many low-emissions rides a client’s employees have taken, as well as the company’s total emissions across all rides and the average grams of carbon dioxide emitted per mile. As corporate travel returns, clients could use this data to get a clearer picture of the climate toll of employees’ hailing rides on work trips or to and from events — and set targets for reducing those emissions.
For most companies, this information will be new. While an increasing number of companies are setting net zero targets for their operations, Uber found that ground transportation represents a blind spot for many. According to a June survey, just 28% of corporate travel managers based in the U.S. and Canada said their company formally tracks the “sustainability efforts” related to ground transportation, and 45% said their company is considering doing so. The report was commissioned by Uber for Business and the Global Business Travel Association.
Several of Uber’s clients, including Salesforce, have had access to the platform since early September, and Anderson said it was designed in consultation with many Uber for Business users and built with their climate goals in mind.
Salesforce plans to use the platform’s insights to incentivize its employees to use low-emissions Uber options — which include Uber Green and Uber Comfort Electric — in the future, according to Patrick Flynn, the company’s global head of sustainability. Salesforce has one of the tech industry’s more ambitious climate plans; it plans to halve its absolute emissions by 2030 and lower them to near zero by 2040.
“[A] major pillar of our business travel emissions reduction strategy is influencing employee behavior around mode-switching and to make the impact of those choices visible to all employees," Flynn said.
Salesforce, which links executive pay to meeting ESG goals such as reducing air travel emissions, is already using its own internal booking tool to recommend lowest-emissions modes of travel for journeys across state lines rather than ones across town. This expansion of the Uber platform offers the company and others a chance to get even more granular about business travel-related emissions. (Uber did not respond to a question from Protocol as to whether it has estimated how much carbon could be abated if its clients switch to using its lower-emission ride offerings.)
Uber has committed to being a zero-emissions ride platform globally by 2040, with an interim goal of offering rides exclusively in electric vehicles in cities across the U.S., Canada and Europe by 2030. These are lofty goals for a company that is still highly dependent on drivers who predominantly use fossil-fueled vehicles; a 2021 study found that using ride-hail services results in roughly 20% more emissions per trip than simply driving your own car largely because of the extra time Uber and Lyft drivers spend on the road while waiting for a rider to summon them.
Uber has begun to expand its slate of no- and low-emissions offerings. The company launched Uber Green in September 2020, which offers rides in EVs or hybrids, and has since expanded it to more than 1,400 cities in North America. Just last week, Uber also expanded its Comfort Electric service, which offers rides in premium EVs like Teslas and Polestars, to 25 cities in North America.
However, for most journeys, options like transit or biking are the lowest-emission ways to get around. Uber offers both scooter and bike options (through Lime) as well, though they are only available in certain cities. The company has also integrated public transit into its API, recommending bus or train routes once users scroll past car-based offerings. While these lowest-emissions forms of transit are not included on the platform at the moment, Uber has plans to integrate at least its biking and scootering options in the future.
The company also recently pivoted away from its initial support of congestion pricing in New York, though, taking issue with specific proposals that could saddle Uber drivers and riders with high fees, a fact that reflects some of the tensions in its plan to lower emissions.
Anderson said expanding clients’ use of its low-emissions ride features is “very much an objective” of offering them information on their emissions, and that clients have suggested that information can “be a tool to change behavior.”
“For example, sending an email saying, ‘Please choose low-emission options’ won’t necessarily drive much change,” Anderson added. “But if you can say, ‘Hey team, last month 10% of our ground travel was in a low-emission [mode]; let’s set a goal to make that 20% next month,’ you can create engagement, excitement and achieve change.”
It remains to be seen how most companies will use the new feature, if at all. Flynn said Salesforce plans to integrate the data into its own Net Zero Cloud software to help the company “understand [its] comprehensive emissions picture and take action to reduce it.”
“Data and action will continue to inform our climate goals, so further visibility into our traveler rideshare data will be critical to driving progress across the entire travel journey,” he added.
Update: This story was updated on Sept. 20, 2022, to remove a reference to Jump, which has been folded into Lime.