Mobike has been recognized by the UN for its contribution to the advancement of low carbon public transport. Mobike won the accolade in the Entrepreneurial Vision category of the United Nations Environment’s Champions of the Earth awards.

Hu Weiwei, Mobike’s founder, was presented with the award alongside six other winners–including two other Chinese winners–at a ceremony in Nairobi on Tuesday at the UN Environment Assembly. Back in China, heaps of abandoned Mobike bicycles suggest a less positive environmental impact from the firm.

Mobike was awarded the prize for “exploring market-driven solutions to air pollution and climate change,” according to the UN Environment’s release. Mobike has calculated its own figures for the amount of CO2 its bikes have prevented from being pumped into the atmosphere had the journeys been made by car. Its 200 million users in over 200 cities make over 30 million rides a day. So far, they have cycled 18.2 billion kilometers, the equivalent of 4.4 million tonnes of carbon dioxide or 1.24 million cars being taken off the road each year.

Hire bikes from various schemes have been impounded throughout China and in August Shanghai banned the dumping of any more bikes onto its streets for reasons including the abandoning of bikes. The hire bike companies have been competing by sheer volume. For the most spectacular vision of wasted bikes, see this article in The Guardian.

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Abandoned bicycles from various hire bike companies including ofo and Mobike. (Image credit: 123RF)

Mobike’s senior manager of international communications, Luke Schoen, told TechNode that the proportion of Mobikes out of circulation is “really, really minuscule”. “We foresaw this issue from the very beginning which is why we spent over a year on R&D,” said Schoen, explaining the bikes’ geolocation function.

The company aims at maximizing the efficiency of every bike and tracks them for this purpose. “The big data platform we’ve built around our fleet really helps us do that. When we can see where all the bikes are and notice the patterns and how they move through the city, we can distribute them and keep them in circulation more,” said Schoen.

This data allows the company to incentivize users to pick up certain unused bikes with rewards in the app. An algorithm determines if a bike has been left fallow and assigns a small reward. If that fails to bring the bike back, operations crews go out to collect them.

Schoen did not have a figure for the amount of pollution the bikes’ manufacture creates. He said, “The bikes are designed to be relatively maintenance free for up to four years.. and the frames for up to 8 years. Then at the end of those 8 years we have agreements with recycling companies to recycle that aluminum”.

Frank Hersey is a Beijing-based tech reporter who's been coming to China since 2001. He tries to go beyond the headlines to explain the context and impact of developments in China's tech sector. Get in...

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