24 April 2010

Eco2 Bikes - Greenwashing the Bicycle

Eco2bikes bicycle bike danish
I hadn't really thought about the concept of greenwashing... bicycles... before. Wifealiciousness showed me a Danish bicycle in a fashion magazine - Eurowoman. One I had never heard of before. The text - short and sweet like most captions in fashion magazines [to be read inbetween sips of café lattes] - read, "A bicycle doesn't pollute and while you pedal you get fit. Danish Eco2bikes bicycles are made of aluminium, which is easy to recycle and the bicycles feature an environmentally-friendly lacquer."

Hmm, thought I. Since when did aluminium become a USP for bicycles?! And is an 'environmentally-friendly' lacquer really that vital in the race to save polar bears?

So I googled this brand and found the Eco2bikes website, looking forward to a warm and fuzzy 'Yeah! We're saving the fucking planet!' sensation of idealism.

Um... well... looking through the website I couldn't find any Golden Ratio for their design concept. I couldn't see glaciers re-freezing and un-calving. I just saw a white bicycle. Looks like most of the other bicycles since Bicycle Culture 1.0 - 130 years ago or so.

All I could vacuum up off their website was this:

We are streets ahead of our competitors when it comes to ensuring that our bicycles are eco-friendly and made of recyclable materials. The result is an uncompromising product.
There are no details about how their bicycle are more eco-friendly than others nor any details about the recyclable materials. Maybe they are referring to the aluminium frame which is "easier" to recycle? Couldn't find info about the magical lacquer manufactured from sustainable plants grown on happy and productive eco-communes in Nicaragua, either.

Hang on... just found it. Buried on the page featuring their co2 calculator. How innovative.
"The frame of your new bicycle is made of aluminium, which is easy to melt down when it reaches the end of its useful life in many years' time. The bicycle is lacquered with water-based lacquer from a supplier certified according to ISO 9001:2000 and ISO 14001:2004. In brief: No compromises."
That's it. That's their environmentally-friendly, world-changing offer to you, the consumer.

By choosing the Eco2, you can be sure of getting the market's most environmentally friendly product in its manufacture and choice of materials. With an aluminium frame and energy-saving external gears, you will move with a lightness you have never experienced before.
So... external gears are now energy-saving? The vast majority of the Danish/Dutch population who ride with internal gears are eco-sinners/Bushites/Exxon shareholders, or what?

At this point I was already sniffing 'lame' and this is when 'greenwashing' started to trickle into my mind. I could find no reference to any ecologically-friendly design guidelines, like the OKALA from the Industrial Designers Society of America or anything near it.

If you're looking for the cheapest bike on the market, this is not the place for you. The Eco2 combines functionality, comfort and design in a unit that matches both the hectic city beat and more tranquil surroundings. Your first encounter with the Eco2 is the design - created by bike lovers. When you take hold of the handlebars for the first time, you will feel an ergonomic shaping you have never felt before. And that's how it is in every detail.
Let's be honest. Every bicycle combines functionality, comfort and design that matches the hectic city beat and more tranquil surroundings. The design? The ergonomic shaping? All I can see are green-coloured gear cables running from the handlebars into the frame and on to those planet-saving external gears.

Here's the funny bit. The price. In the Eurowoman article it's listed at 7995 kroner.

That's $1600. €1050. Seriously.

If you're going to sell a bicycle for that price, at the very least do something spectacular with the design. You're Danish, for god's sake. This is DesignLand. Hell, just something new and interesting. Like Ri'saikl, Biomega, Retrovelo, Larry vs Harry. If white bicycles are your nasty thang, then how about Strömmen?

As it is now, the Eco2 bikes just look like every other white city bike on the market in Denmark, among them:

Except for the green gear cables, of course. Above you have a:
- Taarnby white city bike with a RRP of 4199 kroner [$840/€560]
- Raleigh white city bike with a RRP of 5299 kroner [$1050/€700]
- MBK white city bike with a RRP of 4299 kroner [$869/€570]

Just when we have enough work to do countering the profiteers who continue to attempt to overcomplicate cycling we now have to deal with people selling bicycles like this.

I travel around the world speaking about how ramming 'health' and 'environment' down peoples throats doesn't get them onto bikes - infrastructure and taming the automobile does. Then I get home to find this.

Bicycles are, by nature, environmentally-friendly. Even the ones without the external gears and green gear cables. If you want a white bicycle, one that is medicine for the urban landscape, choose another brand and save thousands of kroner.

Portland Bike and Lane
In the midst of writing this post I remembered that I was once offered an 'eco-friendly' bicycle. It was in Portland, last October. Jay Graves from BikeGallery offered me a bike on which to ride around the city and it was a American brand. A Trek. I recall them telling me that it was 'eco-friendly' but that was in one ear and out the other. All I remember was that it was a cool ride and a nice blue colour.

So, checking out the bicycle behemoth's website I found the page about the bike I borrowed, the Belleville.

First thing I noticed was a reference to the above-mentioned OKALA guidelines. Not to mention a more detailed description of why Trek thinks their bikes are eco-delicious. They've gone to the trouble to tell me about it. As a consumer, I appreciate detail and despise used car salesman techniques.

Greenwashing the bicycle, indeed.


dr2chase said...

I would suggest that what makes a bike most eco-friendly, is building it to last, and so that its owner enjoys using it, so they will not discard it carelessly or leave it unused. My cargo bike is wonderful, I hope it lasts. My 3-speed, I rescued from the trash (recycling), and replaced all of one spoke, tires, grips, pedals, brake cables, and chain.

l' homme au velo said...

This Eco 2 Bike looks a very average Bike at a Grossly Inflated Price €1,600. The Trek 7.3fx that I have is Light and goes fast and has External Gears Derailleur and it cost me €600 and is Aluminum which I use for long distance and it saves me Energy. But I would rather it had a Dynamo as well as it then would be more Eco Friendly.

Incidentally speaking of White Bikes I seen a White Kelly Bike in my local Bike Shop in Aluminum and it has the same amount of Gears as the Trek but it also has a Hub Dynamo together with a Plastic Chain Guard and it costs €560. It seems to be a better option and more Eco Friendly no more worrying about Batteries.

Kelly D. Talcott said...

Good work, Mikael.

ISO 9001:2000 is a quality management standard, not an environmental one. And while the ISO 14001:2004 standard broadly relates to environmental issues, it essentially requires the company adopting the standard to (a) have some kind of environmental policy and (b) follow it (I vastly oversimplify, but that's the gist of it). The ISO website specifically states that the standard "does not itself state specific environmental performance criteria."

Looks like an example of a company trying to make lots of green by claiming to be green. It looks like a nice enough bike, but there are lots of aluminum-framed bikes out there. I guess running the brake and shift cables through the frame adds a sleek look to it, but I wouldn't want to have to replace them.

If you really want your bike painted with water-based paints, hire this guy to do it.

Evan@MVB said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Evan@MVB said...

I would be interested in a comparison of the environmental footprint (and durability) of these different models.

On that note, what about bamboo for an eco-bike (linked one is not very chic, I know)?

chdot said...

The Truth about getting people on bicycles. 


ZA said...

It would certainly be a mistake to characterize a bicycle as completely environmentally benign. On the other hand, the way I like to think of it is like this:

The average US car in 2005 weighed 4000 lbs. The average bike weighs 25 lbs. So for all the environmental impact of manufacturing that transport, the material spent on bikes moves 160 people, when that same material spent on a car can move, at most, 5.

Klaus Mohn said...

Just look aT that saddle, it tells the whole story of how mych BS that bike is.
Durability is greener than gimmicks. And i'd like for then to explain how they reconcile social responsibility and the mining of aluminium ore.

Anonymous said...

An enormous amount of energy is required to produce aluminium - far more than is required to produce steel, so an aluminium bike is certainly far less "eco" than a steel bike.

I still ride an aluminium bike, but I would never claim it be more "eco" than a steel bike.

Festoonic said...

You're right about the smarmy tone of the jamokes marketing Eco2 bikes. But while riding a bike is environmentally benign, manufacturing one is something else again, unless you mine your own iron ore and smelt it with solar energy in the backyard. A few more years of economic freefall and those millions of Taiwanese bikes hanging in garages throughout suburban US will be nearly as coveted as these preposterously expensive Dutch bikes, assuming the pavement holds up!

dr2chase said...

@Anonymous -- production of aluminum from ore is indeed energy-gluttonous, but it recycles well.

What I don't know, for either the aluminum or the steel, is what happens to the special sauce that makes the difference between cheap aluminum and steel, and fancy alloys; does that just get diluted into the recycling stream? Hence, my desire to keep as much of the bike intact and in use as long as possible.

One reason to be interested in belt drives is that replacing the chain is far and away the largest consumption of metal in my yearly use of a bicycle. This assumes that producing a belt is greener than producing a chain, or that the belt will last much longer.

wee folding bike said...

A completely enclosed chain case would protect your chain and make it last for years rather than the weeks mine manage in the winter.

I note that this green bike doesn't not have one.

wee folding bike said...

Ooops, delete one of the negatives.

notpj said...

how's this for an ecobike?

it's a bamboo bike by KawayanTech ("kawayan" is Filipino for bamboo)

The frame is 97% bamboo, held by abaca twine. only the critical parts are made of metal (headtube, bottom bracket)

they said it took them almost half a year to make the frame


Kelly D. Talcott said...

At the Bamboo Bike Studio in Brooklyn you can build your own bike using bamboo for the main components. Doing so supports the company's efforts "to establish scalable bamboo bike factories in non-industrial areas, starting with Kumasi, Ghana, Kisumu, Kenya, and Quito, Ecuador."

While I think that things like bamboo initiatives are a great idea, I think ZA's point above is a good one -- if a bike is used as transportation, particularly if it is replacing a car, then it almost doesn't matter what you make it out of; even a heavy bike is going to require about 1/700 of the resources of an average-sized car, and during its lifetime will consume a ridiculously tiny fraction of the same.

Anonymous said...

"What I don't know, for either the aluminum or the steel, is what happens to the special sauce that makes the difference between cheap aluminum and steel, and fancy alloys; does that just get diluted into the recycling stream? Hence, my desire to keep as much of the bike intact and in use as long as possible."



As I understand, at least the fancier Cro-Moly steel bike frames are made of new, not recycled steel. Not that it's much of a problem, there's probably an endless market for recycled steel as a construction material etc.

I'd say by far the biggest environmental consideration with bikes is longevity. A lot of the components are not nearly as durable as they could be, either because they're too cheap, designed to fall apart, or too light-weight for the use they're put into (regular folks using racing components that someone managed to sell them).

Take back our city said...

They are boasting about weight on a city bike?!? If I was looking for that I'd buy a road bike and install a flat bar... I could probably make it around 9kg (20lbs) for that price in Canada... or buy a performance hard tail mountain bike at 12 kg with 2 wheelsets... 1 for city and 1 for trail for fast switches...

My point is people who want a city bike will a buy real one.

and ZA the average bike is more like 30lbs in the US... even an average MTB like my Trek 4500 is 32 lbs or more (34 in the winter, as I need aggressive tires as my ride is super hilly and the compacted snow is like riding on packed dirt with them and crazy without them... nokian is awesome)

Take back our city said...

and if we want to get really eco maybe we should figure out a way to keep old frames out of landfills or make it reasonable to replace a full groupset on a bike... I don't know about Europe but in Canada there are 2 official distributor for much of the industry and we call them the "Bike Cartel" they go nuts when shops get stuff from elsewhere and charge a normal price... no wonder we shop ebay/mail order from the US so much...

Kelly D. Talcott said...

Bicycles for Humanity is an organization that takes donated bikes and sends them to places where cheap and sustainable transport is needed. I'm sure there are others.

eco2 said...

eco2 bike are an eco friendly bike for the first time the bike are painted certified and more to this the people created a strong bike using the best parts for cranc, brakes and gears. The eco2 bike are a very beatuful bike which down to the smallest details are perfect and designwise so clean and timeless. After my first run of and eco2 I'am sure that this product gives all what a biker require at a fair price.

Anonymous said...

While this is definitely greenwashing, how can you say this is "ramming health and environment" down people's throats. It is a bike marketed to people who spend more money for what they perceive to be ecologically friendly. Maybe not ethical but certainly not "ramming."

Pierre Phaneuf said...

Wow, that's one ridiculous bike. And while the internal cable routing is nice and I prefer disc brakes, roller brakes work just fine. And even though it's true I could shave a few seconds off my commute with external gears (what the heck is this, Tour de Downtown contre-la-montre?!?), I vastly prefer the ability to switch gears when stopped of internal gears, as this seems to happen often in the city, and they seem more durable too. And lack of chain guard, WTF?!?

All of the alternate bikes quoted in the article seem better to me. My Opus Lugano cost me €760 (includes a set of lights and taxes), and looks way more awesome than that.

hamish wilson said...

There are some nearly permanent greenhouse gases that have been linked to the smelting of Aluminum, so as great a metal as Al actually is for a wide range of good things, these pfcs (if memory serves) could dwarf the benefits of the bike.

Robin Laws said...

I don't know where you get the prices from for the Eco2 bike, but here in Denmark you can get one for 4499DKK, that's €600, or $790, or £520, which compares favourably to the other bikes you highlighted in your list.

Every bike is a compromise at the end of the day, even for those on Le Tour with massive budgets there are some compromises in every design.

Aluminium is one if the ultimate materials for recycling, you can do it over and over and over. It's would be impossible to tell if your metal was recycled or from ore unless you bought it from companies specialising in recycled materials.

Every company is going to want to emphasise their green credentials, and with a bike it's hard to find a new way to do that, they are such damned green things to start with, so you can't blame a company for trying.

As a bike to ride it's comfy, rides well, and attracts nice comments from people. Admittedly I am just levering my 50 year old carcass onto mine and managing a couple of km a day after 20 years of not bothering with exercise, so I may not be the best judge, but the Eco2 is a nice bike, is easy to ride, looks good to the eye, and I am very happy with mine.

Oddly enough for a country where everything is startlingly expensive bicycles are cheaper here than anywhere I've seen them! Fully a third cheaper than equivalent prices in the UK. So much so that for some bikes it's cheaper to buy a cheap discount airline ticket, fly over, buy the bike, pop it in a brand new bike carrying bag you bought (buy that at home, accessories are more expensive), and fly home, and it still works out cheaper than buying the bike in the UK!!! How insane is that! I am working in Denmark for a while, so it's useful for me to improve my fitness and health, and when I come to return to the UK I'll have it shipped home for use back there and still be a happy bunny.