This guidance provides general information about the sustainability of EVs and addresses some of the issues and myths associated with them. It’s been compiled to help you make an informed decision when considering whether the University's new EV salary sacrifice scheme is right for you.
Decide if an EV is the most sustainable solution for you
Many people are looking for more sustainable ways to travel. It can be tricky to understand whether an EV is the most sustainable option, as there are many factors to consider. To help you feel more confident that you are making a sustainable decision, there are some key factors you should be aware of.
Please note, these pages do not assess the financial aspects of the scheme (or of leasing an EV), nor do they provide recommendations on any individual brands or models.
To help you decide what is best for you, you can use the following questions as a guide. If you answer 'yes' to any of the questions in the table, move to the next question. In the righthand column, you’ll find the most sustainable option for each question.
|Question||If you answer yes||Sustainable alternative|
|1. Do I need a car?||Consider the next question||Look into your alternative means of transport for example walk, cycle, public transport (also check out our travelling to work and active travel webpages for more information|
|2. Does it have to be a brand new car?||Consider the next question||Look at small used EV options|
|3. Can you lease an EV (on the University scheme)?||Consider the next question||Get a (small) low emission car|
|4. Which vehicle should I select?||The smaller, the better|
Decide if you need a car
If you do not need a car, the greenest forms of transport are those with zero emissions. This includes not travelling at all, walking, or travelling by bicycle. It can also include using public transport. The University supports green travel through a number of staff travel schemes and by promoting active travel.
If you're commuting to campus, the next best step is to car share, even a single share - even single share a week can make a difference.
- Do you know anyone else who lives near you?
- Do you have similar working hours, or can either of you adapt your working hours to car share, even if occasionally (but still regularly)?
Overall, from a sustainability point of view, cars are at the bottom of the list and should be avoided if possible. However, we recognise that active travel to campus may not be possible or realistic for everyone, so there are actions that you can take to minimise the impact of car travel, which the following sections cover.
Decide if you need a brand-new car
While new cars may have a tempting allure, they significantly add to your climate change impact. This is because when buying a new car, you must consider its lifetime carbon emissions. For a used car you only need to take into account the fuel emissions during the remainder of its life. So, as a general rule of thumb, used cars are better than new cars, as they avoid the carbon emissions arising from the manufacture and assembly of more new cars.
However, depending on the car you have, or plan to buy, a new EV can often be a more sustainable option than a current petrol or diesel car.
Lifetime carbon emissions explained
The lifetime emissions for a car include the carbon emissions arising from the:
- Manufacturing process (for example raw materials mining, manufacturing, assembly). (Embodied carbon)
- Transport of the vehicle to the customer. (Embodied carbon)
- Fuel/electricity production and its transport to the point of sale (for example to the petrol or charging station)
- Fuel consumption.
- Vehicle disposal at end of its life.
All of these factors contribute to the lifetime emissions of a car, with manufacturing and fuel consumption contributing the vast majority of them. Electricity generation also adds to an EV’s emissions, unless they are charged from renewable electricity. The embodied carbon of the vehicle is all the emissions that occur up until the new vehicle is delivered to the customer.
Taking into account the lifetime carbon emissions of new vehicles, some general rules can be applied to help you make a decision for which EV/vehicle to obtain (Carpenter-Lomax, 2021).
- lifetime carbon emissions are significantly lower for EVs when comparing cars of the same size
- the emissions of a large EV are higher than for a small petrol/diesel car
- the embodied carbon of a large car can contain up to three to four times more than a small car
- the embodied carbon of EVs is larger than for petrol/diesel cars (when comparing similarly sized cars), but this is more than offset by the emissions saved while driving
- EVs have significantly lower fuel emissions
- charging the EV from renewable energy will reduce or remove an EV’s fuel emissions
Understanding the sustainability of leasing a car
Compared with standard car ownership options, leasing is less sustainable. This is because the business model behind leasing supports car manufacturers, by encouraging the regular replacement of current vehicles with new ones. Conversely, actual ownership tends to lead to fewer sales and purchases as cars are replaced less frequently.
However, if leasing is the answer for you, then the most sustainable option is to select the longest time period available, and then to purchase the car outright at the end of the lease.
Common myths about leasing a car
It’s OK to regularly get a new car because it has lower emissions than the one it is replacing.
This is an underlying assumption made by the majority of car companies in their marketing, but it only takes into account the fuel emissions from the car. However, the more holistic approach of considering the lifetime emissions of a car demonstrates that this is false.
It’s OK to regularly get a new car, because my previous one is improving the emissions of its new owner.
Unless you can guarantee that the car that it is replacing is higher emission, you cannot make this claim. You also need to consider the impact of a chain of ownership changes occurring as a result of selling or returning your previous car. If you are selling or returning an EV, then you can be fairly sure that this will lead to reduced emissions down the chain. However, this is only in the short term as when EVs will be replacing EVs, the difference in emissions will be reduced.
Decide if you should get a new EV
If you are unable to use alternative means of transport or purchase a used EV, then a new EV might be a good option for you. To make the most sustainable choice here, your car should be the smallest one that meets your requirements, in order to minimise its embodied carbon (see ‘Lifetime carbon emissions explained’).
However, there are two main considerations before fully committing to an EV.
Assess what type of driving you typically do
The type of driving that you do is critical. Think about what your normal journey is. How often do you go on a long drive (more than 150 miles) where you are likely to need to recharge on the way? If it is several times a week, then EVs are probably not right for you, but if it is less than once a week, with most journeys being short, then EVs are the ideal vehicle.
Assess what charging facilities are available
The standard and expected approach is to charge at home. So if you don’t already have a charger, check that it is possible to install one at your home. A free home charging point with standard installation is included with the University scheme (subject to eligibility, please check the Tusker website for more information). If you can install one, then go ahead with an EV, but if not, an EV is still possible, but it depends upon having good charging facilities close to where you live.
Details of the UK charging network, which is continuously improving, can be found at Zap Map.
If the charging process still concerns you, especially for longer journeys, then additional planning will help to minimise any impacts during the journey. The infrastructure for charging EVs throughout the UK is available, and steadily improving.
Selecting the most sustainable vehicle
If you have decided that you would like to take part in the University's EV salary sacrifice scheme, and you meet the eligibility requirements, the final decision is how to be as sustainable as possible. The best steps you can take are:
- get a small EV, or the smallest size that is feasible for your needs, while noting that a large vehicle (particularly a sport utility vehicle (SUV)) is most likely to be unsustainable
- sign up for the longest term available, as this minimises the demand for new vehicles
- move to a truly green/renewable electricity tariff for charging at home. The suppliers that pass the 2023 Which? Eco Provider assessment are Good Energy, Ecotricity, and 100Green. Octopus also scored well but did not pass the Which? assessment
- at the end of the lease period, if you plan to continue driving, and are able to, take up the purchase option on the vehicle rather than starting a new lease
Common myths around EVs
There aren't enough charging stations in the UK
The number of EVs on UK roads is increasing rapidly, but so are the number of charging stations. Recent numbers show that at the end of June 2023, there were 44,408 electric vehicle charging points across the UK, across 25,521 charging locations. This represents a 36% increase in the total number over the previous 12 months. Note that these numbers exclude charge points installed at home or at workplace locations.
In comparison, in June 2023 there were about 8,300 petrol stations in the UK (all with multiple pumps), but this number is gradually declining (you can search for further statistics at statista.com).
EVs are zero carbon vehicles
This statement is only correct if using the narrow definition of the tailpipe emissions of an EV. The holistic (and correct) approach is to look at its lifetime carbon emissions. More information can be found in the 'Decide if you need a brand car' section.
EVs aren’t good for long distances1
A fully charged EV has, on average, less range than a petrol or diesel car − with mid-priced EVs offering about 200 miles on one full charge. The average car travels around 28 miles per day for the first three years, so 200 miles is more than enough for most drivers. For the average person in the UK, charging the car once a week is enough.
EVs are too heavy for multi-storey car parks1
This is incorrect. Multi-storey car parks, like roads and bridges, are built to withstand much greater loads than even the heaviest EV. On average, an EV weighs 200-300kg more than a petrol car because of the weight of the battery and electric motors. However, a large petrol or diesel car weighs more than an average-sized EV.
Additional note: If you park your car on your driveway, be aware that this may not be built to withstand a medium-large EV.
Common myths on EV batteries
EVs lose charge over time
This is true, but it isn’t a significant amount. EVs lose around 1 to 3% of capacity every year, which is less than initial expectations. So, if you buy a used EV, always check the remaining battery capacity. If the (peak) battery capacity falls below 70% of the original capacity, it’s no longer suitable. As a good rule of thumb, you should:
- charge the car to from 50%-80% capacity
- put the car in deep sleep or hibernation mode (especially when not used frequently)
Electric vehicle batteries are wasteful and can’t be recycled
Developments in battery component extraction mean processing centres can now extract 98% of battery materials for recycling or reuse. Electric vehicle batteries can either be recycled at processing centres or some companies can remove electric vehicle batteries from the vehicle shell and put them to use in your home or sell them on for commercial use. If you have solar panels, an electric vehicle battery can even be repurposed to store the electricity they generate, helping keep your electricity costs down.
Electric vehicle batteries that aren’t repurposed for energy storage, are currently shipped to EU processing centres. This is a short-term measure as the UK Government is working with partners to set up a sustainable battery recycling chain in the UK.