The hidden side of Carbon Footprinting
There is a heated debate about people who drive 4x4s and the fact that they are completely environmentally unfriendly. Car manufacturers have started to produce more efficient and also hybrid solutions in the 4×4 market so that people can still drive them and not been seen as environmentally unfriendly – or at least not as environmentally unfriendly as they could be.
However, one thing that appears to be missing from the scenario where we (the general public) fight each other over issues of emissions that our respective cars make, and that’s how large the carbon footprint of actually developing the vehicle is in the first place.
In general terms, it takes many man years of research and development, materials testing, track testing, simulator testing, many people (who in turn drive [not so efficient] cars to and from work every day in order to realise the future development of new cars) in order to develop new models of a vehicle. Although different models and different manufacturers vary, the process takes on average 5 years from concept to production. You can read about the new Audi A8 design process here to get an idea of the time it takes. In my book, 5 years of development equates to a large carbon footprint on its own.
The issue is then no longer simply one of the [moral] carbon footprint that the owner of the vehicle is tarred with due to public opinion, but one of understanding the overall picture and the hidden carbon footprint of each vehicle. When we include this in the environmental impact of each vehicle we may well see a very different landscape of which vehicles are environmentally friendly and which ones are not. There may not even be very much difference in any choice we make.