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The Cycling Industry Begins to Tackle Climate Change

By Siegfried Mortkowitz

One of the world’s best-known bicycle brands, Trek, released its sustainability report for 2021. What did they find? There is an interesting sentence in Trek’s report: “If you ride about 430 miles you would have otherwise driven, you’ve saved the carbon equivalent of what it took to make your bike.”

This claim is credible but it raises the question of why does making a bike produce so much carbon emission? Trek makes about 1.5 million bikes a year. Multiply that number by the carbon footprint of a 430-mile drive and you have an idea of the annual environmental impact of a major cycling manufacturer, caused mainly by the extraction of materials, the bike production itself and the shipping of products around the world.

Trek bicycle
Trek has issued its first sustainability report. © Profimedia

There are now signs that the industry has become aware of its environmental responsibility, thanks largely to the aptly named Shift Cycling Culture, an NGO striving to make the future of cycling more sustainable. One important event was an open letter signed by 15 cycling companies and released just before COP26. It commits the signatories to disclose their greenhouse gas emissions from their owned or controlled sources and those from outside sources, such as energy suppliers, and to reduce their CO2 emissions by 55 per cent by 2030.

The idea for the letter came from Zoom discussions Shift Cycling Culture held with industry stakeholders beginning in December 2020. “We just wanted to get a bit of a benchmark of where people were at,” Jane Dennyson, a Shift Cycling Culture director, told BikeRadar. “We were very aware that there is a massive industry that sits behind the bicycle and everything that goes with it that wasn’t really addressing its negative impact at the time. So we wanted to know how we could inspire change in this area.”

These talks led to bi-monthly talks with chief executives from companies such as Rapha, Schwalbe, Assos, Brompton, and Riese & Müller to facilitate discussions on action to fight climate change and to emphasize its importance for business. Dennyson says the group also invited an investment banker along to one of the meetings. He told them: “We don’t look at companies that aren’t addressing sustainability because it’s too much of a risk if they’re not looking ahead and thinking about what the future looks like for them.”

The talks led to the conclusion that in order to fight climate change, action needs to be taken on the cycling industry’s supply chains. “Basically, 95 per cent of the negative impact of their organizations comes from the supply chain,” Dennyson said. “So in order for them to really address the [environmental] impact, we need their supply chain to change.”

She said that since the letter was made public, 30 more companies have signed it and committed themselves to reducing emissions related to production, creating products that will last longer, working with consumers to extend the lifetime of products and developing a closed-loop system to recover materials. And the cycling brands have agreed to release a carbon report in 2023.

It’s just a beginning but the air does smell a little sweeter today.