TransOptions’ air quality programs incorporate all of what we do. Clean, healthy air is necessary for and the result of safe, active transportation. To help preserve clean air and improve public health, we educate and work together with the public on sustainably-fueled mobility choices. Our exciting environmental education programs support students as they engineer the future of zero-emissions vehicles.
Meanwhile, electric vehicle technology is already here. EVs are fun, fast, clean transportation options with environmental and financial benefits. But don’t just take our word for it. We spoke more about cars and carbon footprints with sustainability champion and EV owner Eric Santaiti. Eric is the former Global Sustainability Expert at Bayer, where he led their NJ Green Team. For short trips, Eric leaves his Tesla Model 3 at home and rides his e-bike.
How did you first become interested in sustainability?
I started out being smart with resources in general, being organized from an early age, and recycling as a late teenager. As I began making my own money and paying my own bills, I desired to reduce costs as much as possible, for example, driving like a fuel miser or reducing my electricity usage at home. As I became aware in the last 5 years of what impact humans were having on the entire planet, I knew that I had to do whatever I could as an individual, so I have been on a journey ever since to reduce my impact. I was recycling 100% until I learned about the zero waste lifestyle. I eventually was able to reduce my landfill waste 80%. I switched my light bulbs to LEDs and set up power strips in the home to reduce phantom energy loss. Then I swapped my gas car for an EV. More recently, I learned that food choices have a huge impact as well, so I have been transitioning meat and dairy out of my diet, becoming almost entirely vegan. Once I went through this process, I realized more needed to done, so I wanted to push for these things at the professional level as well. Now I am still on a journey and still learning, but any step that we take as individuals to reduce our environmental impact is a good one!
So, personal sustainability is important, and small changes really do matter?
As I said, responsibility starts with the individual first. Since it doesn’t happen overnight, any step forward is important. Each of us depends on each other, and is part of the fabric of the global community, so there is no choice but for us to change our ways collectively. The biggest ways to reduce our impact are the following: have less kids; switch to renewable power at home; reduce your landfill waste, especially plastic; switch to a mostly plant-based diet; and push for positive change wherever you are—in your community, at the government level, in your workplace. If everyone did these things, their actions would have a huge impact.
You mentioned the workplace. What role does corporate leadership have in enacting positive change?
Employers need to be aware of the impact of their actions, directly and indirectly through their supply chains. Then, they can develop a long-term strategy incorporating sustainability, commit to specific goals just like the ones for the individual I outlined above, and dedicate resources to accomplish them. I think they will find that customers, employees, and business partners are attracted to that. They’ll be able to manage risk better, they can tap a new source of innovation, and they will be more profitable and resilient over time than those that don’t. I believe leadership will fail eventually if they don’t walk the talk. They need to identify what is important to them, as far as their identity, and understand that they exist to serve a need of society.
How can we reimagine a sustainable future? What should we be hopeful and excited for?
I hope that people come to greater awareness, that climate disasters and pandemics will inspire people to change in significant ways, and that people take greater responsibility for their own actions, get more involved in their broader community, and think more long-term. I think it is asking a lot to get kids to think about the global consequences of their daily actions, so I think it is critical that we adults are good role models in visible ways. If we don’t, our planet won’t be hospitable to the next generation at all, and that is unacceptable and irresponsible. I want to see every major entity come out with a goal to be carbon neutral, landfill-free, and then carbon negative, within the next thirty years. The transportation industry in particular needs to offer only EVs, and eventually partner with authorities to replace vehicle lanes with bicycle lanes, parking spaces with walking spaces.
And more EV charging stations, then?
They are essential. At the moment, for long trips, you will find many public charging stations, a small portion of them free, and they are only increasing in number. Tesla in particular has a Supercharger network with stations near major highways and even at hotels, and there you can get roughly fifty miles in fifteen minutes. Charging is different than for gas cars: instead of filling up the tank from 10% to 100%, for EVs you generally charge from 50% to 80% on a regular basis. So you charge it more often and maybe fifty miles at a time. I simply plug it into my regular outlet in the garage at home and I get that much overnight. Of course, it depends how much you drive every day. I did have range anxiety at first, but once you develop your routine and know where the chargers are located (through a free app), it is easy.
As someone who’s participated several times in National Drive Electric Week, can you tell us why EV owners love their cars so much?
Well, based on my experience owning a Tesla Model 3 for 1.5 years, I can say there are a lot of reasons. First, performance. You have full power at the moment you press the accelerator pedal, so they are fast, and there are no lunges because there is no transmission. Second, simplicity. Nearly all of the functions can be controlled electronically, and so there are a lot of possibilities in regard to software interfaces and automation for easy operation. Because so many things are automated and there is only a center screen for controls, I feel relaxed and appreciate the lack of clutter in the dash very much. Plus, improvements are being made through over-the-air updates. It is awesome that the car is improving over time. Third, lack of maintenance. There are fewer parts to an EV so there are less things to break down, and much less maintenance. To date, I spent no time in a dealer. Fourth, cost savings. As I mentioned, there are fewer parts, so maintenance costs are almost nothing, and fuel in the form of electricity is about 1/3 the cost of gasoline. Fifth, and most important, pollution reduction. They do not emit air pollution during use and, once you switch to renewable power generation, the carbon footprint is significantly lower than for other cars.
By the way, there are features that make driving a Tesla much less effort than traditional cars; in particular, there is a “brake hold” function which holds the vehicle in place once it reaches zero miles per hour. That leads to one-pedal driving and is a game-changer. Outside of that, many things activate/deactivate automatically: wipers, radio, climate, charge port, headlights, main power, braking, side windows. The big screen on the center console in a Tesla is very easy to get accustomed to using so much so that I prefer it now, and there are now voice commands so it is less distracting from a safety point of view. Once you go electric, you won’t go back.
Wow! All that plus significant environmental and cost-saving benefits?
Financial aspects were important to me, but because of the global issues we are facing with regard to environmental degradation, I knew I couldn’t drive a gas car anymore and had to own an EV. Yes, the purchase price can be higher (for now); however, when you work out the total cost of ownership (TCO) over ten years, I found that a $40K EV is about equivalent to a $30K gas car, which makes it quite affordable. Consider that there is no sales tax for EVs in NJ, I received a partial federal tax credit at the time, and now NJ is offering a $5K rebate. I mentioned about the fuel cost comparison already. The quality is high, as I have had not a single issue in about 1.5 years of ownership. The carbon footprint of the full life cycle of an EV is lower than that of an internal combustion engine (ICE) car. Remember that all of those additional parts in an ICE vehicle have additional supply chains, and EV batteries can be recycled. And the environmental footprint of refined gasoline is extremely high. By the way, in NJ, any resident can switch to a renewable generator via the national grid within a month and it is only a small premium.
Thank you so much for sharing your tech-savvy eco-expertise! Tell us, though, are EVs really for your average driver?
I think EVs are for everyone because they are the superior driving experience. Who wouldn’t want to save time and money, drive with less effort, and keep the air a bit cleaner for ourselves and future generations?