03/29/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

WWGD? (What Would Greenies Drive?): The Ultimate Green Car


These days, almost every auto company promotes the greenness of its fleet one way or another.  Some tout their clean emissions , others high miles per gallon, and a few even mention the recyclability of their vehicles.  And while there is truth to some of these ads, some border on greenwash.  Using Greenopia's research expertise and background (including their automaker ratings), I've (along with Greenopia's Master of Environmental Ratings, Doug Mazeffa) come up with the Ultimate Green Car (UGC) using existing technologies. 

Fuel Type:

Without a doubt our car would be an electric vehicle, like the Chevy Volt or the Tesla Roadster.  Since energy is pulled off the grid and stored in your vehicle there is no energy loss from hydrogen, gasoline, natural gas, or biofuel conversion (all of which have controversial, non-eco problems with them, and except for gas, lack of distribution stations). Even if electric power comes from a dirty coal or fuel-burning plant, it's still more efficient (and significantly less polluting) than burning fuel in an internal combustion engine. Electric-only cars have no tailpipe emissions.  Since even new cars release 5-15 tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere each year (according to the EPA), an emissions-free vehicle would lead to considerable carbon footprint reduction.

Caveat: Sure, there may be a one-time added environmental cost of producing the battery for our electric car, but years of driving the car would easily offset it.  After all, the vast majority of the vehicle’s impact is from driving.

Bonus: extra points to drivers who make renewable energy in their own homes (think a backyard wind turbine, roof covered with solar panels, hyper-efficient small hydro, geothermal, or, most realistic, a combination of the above).

Body Material:

Nobody thinks much about what a car is made of (until you're in an accident, or if you actually build cars), but the tons of material that make up a typical car have a big impact. According to a Life Cycle Analysis by researchers at the University of Kentucky, aluminum has a lower lifetime impact than steel. Even though it takes more energy to refine aluminum, it is lighter (so better mileage and lower emissions).  Thus we would incorporate as much aluminum (recycled if possible) as we could in the body of the vehicle while still maintaining the cars’ body integrity for safety.  We would also incorporate LED headlights, recycled glass, and no-VOC paints. 

Bonus: Go the route of the Delorean and do away with exterior paint altogether (or at least make it an option). Maybe the green cars of the future will show off their underlying materials and they will all be unique shades of black, grey and creams. As we know from Prius, standing out gets you noticed.


Sorry Rolls-Royce owners, you won’t see any rare hardwoods in our car.  Our seats would be made from hemp and trimmed with hemp-silk mixes (easy-to-grow, supertough, soft, and can even be made with a cool, nubby sheen) and padded with sustainable materials (recycled denim, Kenaf, or soy-based foam, like Lexus has).  The dash would be made from bioplastics (which looks the same as regular plastics) and gauges would be lit by LEDs.  Also, everyone knows the distinct smell of a new car, which is actually toxic VOC's offgassing. None of that in the UGC; all interior items will be treated with non-toxic and biodegradable cleaning products and so it will smell like your fave essential oil (should you choose to scent it) or fresh air.

Bonus: Using reclaimed wood for dashes and buttons (for windows and control panels) and recycled floor mats and rugs (think recyclable and recycled, ultra-modern FLOR tiles) or really cool vintage car buttons and controls (think 1960's Camero or Mustang radio controls, or even gauges) ups your "I'm saving the earth in style" cred.


Our car would have competitive specs.  It would be about the same size as a standard compact car and would have a 0-60 time around 8 seconds (comparable to the Chevy Volt).  Even with no gasoline engine, it would be reasonable that our car could get 75-100 miles on a charge (although it could get 200-300 miles if a small gasoline engine was added).


Remove the sound system, speakers, and air conditioning unit to cut your weight down to the bare minimum, and go further on a charge, lowering your impact and upping your monastic mystique (Top of the line Porches meant for serious driving offer this less-is-more option, not for fuel economy, but for performance reasons).


In order to improve our fuel efficiency, our design is extremely aerodynamic and sleek to boot. Even tiny cutouts above the tires and edges for lift along the back bumper can trim your MPG's (or miles per charge). And The Hatch would be back, as it is so darn useful when you actually need to haul stuff around. A folded back seat and a hatch on a compact car makes room for almost as much stuff as the rear of a typical SUV. The UGC would be designed to turn heads and change minds about the coolness of driving a green vehicle.

Bonus: A sloped roof and hatch back leave room for solar panels, which can power up to 10% of a car's energy (Yale grads driving electric cars across India already proved this one, so no pooh-poohing) so you will need to plug in less, or maybe you can keep the sound system after all. 

So there you have it; the Greenopia green car in its entirety. Some of our material selections may lead to a higher cost but, as with most new products, the longer it is produced the more efficient it will become and the more the cost will drop.  And seriously, what's a couple thousand dollars to leave a decent planet for your kids? Most people who can will drop cash for more horsepower, 'sport' options, and leather seats; the UGC is a much longer-lasting investment.

(Lots of) assistance by Doug Mazeffa, Greenopia's Head of Research.