In the space of 7 years, Uber has established itself as the innovative company that revolutionized personal transportation and helped give rise to the ever-growing “gig economy.” It is the savior of car-less customers around the world looking for an alternative to the inconvenience of taxis and public transportation. While Uber regularly makes the news as it continues to grapple with regulations around rider safety, less focus has been placed on the impact that climate change regulations could have on its business in the future.
Uber claims that by reducing the need for car ownership, it contributes to a reduction in the overall number of cars on the road, thus reducing carbon emissions.  Yet this claim has yet to be substantiated with strong evidence, prompting a UC Berkeley study on the environmental impact of Uber and a primary competitor, Lyft.  Thus it remains an open question whether Uber’s net impact on the environment is positive. The answer to this question is important for Uber to understand, so that it can account for the extent to which it will need to adapt its operations to comply with environmental regulations that may very well be inevitable, as well as to adapt to consumer preferences that may be shifting towards sustainable transportation options.
Uber has thus far avoided the fuel efficiency regulations to which taxis are subject in some cities such as San Francisco.  As a result, Uber places no fuel efficiency requirements on the vehicles that its drivers in such cities can use to transport customers.  To the extent that Uber rides are used as a replacement for taxi rides, the absence of vehicle requirements suggests that Uber may actually be causing an overall increase in carbon emissions, and is more vulnerable to climate change regulation than its leadership is willing to admit. While this will present operational challenges for Uber, potentially forcing it to introduce stricter standards for eligible vehicles, it also presents an opportunity. As the general public becomes increasingly interested in engaging with and patronizing businesses that help to mitigate climate change, Uber can capitalize on these customer priorities by positioning itself as part of a sustainable solution instead of part of the problem. The company has already started to do this by introducing its UberPool option, which allows users to share rides (and therefore prices) with other passengers who may be travelling to similar destinations, and thus potentially reduces the cars required for a given set of trips. They’ve also taken real steps to build sustainability into their business practices more broadly, hiring for roles such as a Public Policy Associate in Sustainability and Environmental Impact. 
Going forward, Uber can do much more to capture the opportunity presented by the urgency of climate change mitigation, as well as to get out in front of regulations that will likely impact its business in the coming years. A clear first step would be to institute its own fuel efficiency requirements for the vehicles used by its drivers. As a complementary measure, Uber should consider piloting a “green car” option, in addition to its UberX, UberPool, and Black Car options, to offer the environmentally conscious segment of its customers a feature that fits with their values. Finally, Uber would do well to begin making longer term investments in the sustainability of the cars it puts on the road, by building its own fleet of hybrid and electric cars to be used by its drivers. It has already made investments in self-driving cars in partnership with automakers, and similar deals could be struck to bring environmentally friendly vehicles to Uber’s customers on a large scale. 
Ultimately, the enactment of future regulations and, to some extent, the findings of the Berkeley study will influence the extent to which Uber is forced to prioritize sustainability in its operations. However, as an organization that regularly touts the positive impact that it is making on the lives of its drivers and customers, as well as on the environment, it has a responsibility to fully live up to these claims, and to not wait for external pressure to make sustainability a priority in its business model.
 Sarah Emerson, “Uber Wants Us to Think It’s Environmentally Friendly, But Is It?” motherboard.vice.com, May 23, 2016, http://motherboard.vice.com/read/is-uber-good-or-bad-for-the-environment, accessed November 2016.
 Anne Brice, “Uber and Lyft to get environmental scrutiny,” news.berkeley.edu, November 20, 2015, http://news.berkeley.edu/2015/11/20/environmental-impacts-uber-lyft/, accessed November 2016.
 Robyn Purchia, Uber, Lyft focus on green bills, not green cars,” sfexaminer.com, December 23, 2015, “http://www.sfexaminer.com/uber-lyft-focus-on-green-bills-not-green-cars/, accessed November 2016.
 Uber, “Vehicle Requirements: San Francisco Bay Area,” https://www.uber.com/drive/san-francisco/vehicle-requirements/, accessed November 2016.
 Uber, “Open Roles: Senior Public Policy Associate, Sustainability and Environmental Impact,” https://www.uber.com/careers/list/22511/, accessed November 2016.
 Max Chafkin, “Uber’s First Self-Driving Fleet Arrives in Pittsburgh This Month,” Bloomberg.com, August 18, 2016, http://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2016-08-18/uber-s-first-self-driving-fleet-arrives-in-pittsburgh-this-month-is06r7on, accessed November 2016.