Sustainable mobility

Zurich Corporate Responsibility

A panel discussion on the subject of sustainable transport, entitled "Easier – More efficient – Quicker. Is sustainable mobility the solution or a contradiction?", took place on November 29 in the Grünenhof Conference Center in Zurich. It was the first in a series of events about sustainability aimed at bringing together interested parties both within and outside UBS.


On November 29, UBS Corporate Responsibility Management and the environmental network Global Environmental Society held a panel discussion featuring leading representatives from companies that use Switzerland's three most important modes of transport: air, rail and road. In his introduction, Christian Leitz, head of UBS Corporate Responsibility Management, explained that the aim of the event was to bring together people with an interest in sustainability.

Wolfgang Mayrhuber, the former chief executive of Deutsche Lufthansa AG and head of the Corporate Responsibility Committee of the UBS Board of Directors, Stéphane Wettstein, a managing director and the chief country representative of Switzerland of Bombardier, and Frank Rinderknecht, CEO of Rinspeed AG, gave short presentations outlining the challenges facing their sectors in terms of sustainable mobility. The event was chaired by Rolf Ganter of WM Research and Oliver Inderwildi of the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment at Oxford University.

The presentations and subsequent panel discussion highlighted how closely decisions about infrastructure, technology and the environment are interlinked. Megatrends such as climate change, scarcity of resources, population growth, urbanization and globalization place higher requirements on mobility and make ever greater demands on sustainable modes of transport. The question and answer session that followed discussed how people and companies, including banks, can make an impact.

The railway man

Wettstein of rail transportation technology and aircraft manufacturer Bombardier explained the interdependency of infrastructure and technology, using the lifespan of trains and rails as an example: trains last 30 to 50 years while track on a bend in the Gotthard will be in place for less than two years. Changes in infrastructure need to be carefully considered, he said, as they have a significant impact on the development of rail vehicles. Sustainability means both environmentally friendly construction methods and use. He cited the example of driver assistance systems that show train drivers the optimum speed and traction with regard to punctuality, energy consumption, and wear and tear, as well as technology that reduces abrasion between wheel and rail and therefore markedly cuts infrastructure costs. Bombardier's rail vehicle engineers work with aerospace engineers to improve aerodynamics and lower energy consumption.

The carmaker

Rinderknecht, CEO of concept car manufacturer Rinspeed, plotted a magic triangle linking consumer, product and infrastructure, and pointed out just how much consumer decisions regarding cars are fueled by emotions. Even though electric cars are still not that popular at the moment, he said, they will establish themselves over the long term, particularly as even a generous estimate suggests that current fossil fuel reserves will only last for another 150 years. Electric cars, whose batteries could be charged overnight at low rates and used for energy storage during the day whenever the cars were not being driven, would fit seamlessly into the smart grid vision. According to Rinderknecht, schemes such as lift sharing and car pooling will become accepted models for private transportation. He stressed that the change needs to happen not just in the technology but, above all, in people's minds.

Lord of the fliers

UBS Board member Mayrhuber believes that air, rail and road travel will not displace but usefully complement one another. He underlined the growing mobility requirements with concrete figures: in air travel, he said, the density of mobility in the growing Asia-Pacific region is significantly underdeveloped, while Europe and the US, which have just 15% of the global population, currently account for 70% of all global air travel. The volume of air travel can therefore be expected to increase considerably. Efforts are being made to achieve sustainability via new technologies in the areas of aircraft construction, use of airspace and fuels. Aircraft designers, for example, are looking to the natural world for models and learning from the way birds use lift. With regard to the use of airspace, it would be sensible to move away from defined flight paths in favor of approach paths chosen according to wind conditions, he said. This would also be good for the environment, as it would lead to better use of airspace: European airspace is currently fragmented, generating 12% more CO2 emissions. As for fuels, trials are currently being conducted with biofuels.

Possible structures

The question and answer session made it clear that no one mode of transport is preferable to the others, but that each has its own specific range of use and offers potential for improvement. The factors involved in choosing a mode of transport include not only environmental affects but also the passengers and the infrastructure. It is more environmentally sound, for example, to grow tomatoes in the warm climate of southern India and then transport them to Europe than to grow them in a greenhouse in Europe.

Critical questions have been raised over trading in emissions rights. It can function as a market instrument, but is not appropriate in every sector. In the area of air travel, for example, the unilateral introduction of rights trading in Europe is likely to simply cause the focus of mobility to be shifted, generating an additional burden. Among energy suppliers, however, rights trading has produced investment in more efficient power stations and environmental technology.

Mobility and sustainability are not mutually exclusive. Sustainable technologies do exist. Mobility requirements are growing, and the associated transactions are capital-intensive. As Wettstein explained, an order from India for 1,800 locomotives also entails the construction of a factory, accommodations, schools, a hospital – the development, in fact, of an entire region. Transport and infrastructure projects require financing, and this gives banks the perfect opportunity to set the social and environmental policy agenda through targeted involvement.