Can Rebound Effects Explain Why Sustainable Mobility Has Not Been Achieved?


Since the report “Our Common Future” launched sustainable development as a primary goal for society in 1987, both scientific and political discussions about the term’s definition and how to achieve sustainable development have ensued. The manifold negative environmental impacts of transportation are an important contributor to the so-far non-sustainable development in financially rich areas of the world. Thus, achieving sustainable mobility is crucial to achieving the wider challenge of sustainable development. In this article, we limit our sustainability focus to that of energy use and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. We discuss whether rebound effects can reveal why sustainable mobility has not been reached. Rebound effects refer to behavioral or other systemic responses after the implementation of new technologies or other measures to reduce energy consumption. Three main strategies exist for achieving sustainable mobility: efficiency, substitution, and volume reduction. (1) The efficiency strategy is based on the idea that environmental problems caused by transport can be improved by developing new and more efficient technologies to replace old, inefficient, and polluting materials and methods; (2) The second strategy—substitution—argues for a change to less polluting means of transport; (3) The volume reduction strategy argue that efficiency and substitution are not sufficient, we must fundamentally change behavior and consumption patterns; people must travel less, and freight volumes must decrease. We found rebound effects associated with all three of the main strategies that will lead to offsetting expected savings in energy use and GHG emissions in the transport sector.