"Sustainable Development" is one of those awkward, abstract ideas. But, for the more enlightened petrolheads it's worth thinking about: how can we use our cars in such a way that we minimise the environmental damage?
In an ideal world, we would all be driving around in a brand-new hybrid such as the Toyota Prius or Honda Civic Hybrid, the "green" options. But for many of us, buying a new car is not a possibility.
So what can we do with our current cars? Environmentalists recognise that the cars we already own have a vast amount of residue energy embedded - scrapping them prematurely wastes the earth's resources.
Research by the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM) has shown that an average-mileage motorist (12,000 to 15,000 miles a year) could save at least £50 a year on petrol, and help reduce CO2 emissions, without changing cars. That's because advanced driving techniques, fuel efficiency and "eco-driving" go together. As petrol continues to rise in price, there has never been a better time to think about eco-driving. Regardless of the vehicle you drive, there are techniques you can use, right now, to save fuel and so reduce emissions.
First, ask yourself: "Do I really need to drive?" The shortest journeys - less than two miles - are most polluting and least fuel-efficient. A cold engine produces 60 per cent more pollution than a warm one. Yet these journeys are ideal for walking or cycling.
Plan your route better. A bit of forethought can save much wear and tear - for the car and the driver. Take the most direct route. Go off-peak if possible; sitting in congestion means you are doing 0mpg. Think about car sharing and park and ride schemes. Service your vehicle regularly. This helps to maintain efficient running and economy. Under-serviced engines can reduce fuel economy by 10 per cent or more.
Check your tyres once a week; correct pressures will keep wear down and fuel economy up. Under-inflated tyres need replacing more often and are dangerous. Anybody who has cycled on under-inflated tyres will appreciate how much extra effort is involved.
Another excellent idea is to "feather" the throttle as you reach cruising speed. Doing 56mph uses 25 per cent less fuel than 70mph, and smoother driving can bring real fuel savings. But never coast to save fuel; vehicle control must not be compromised. And "coasting" doesn't save fuel in modern cars.
Then there's the drag factor, so take off roof-racks when not in use and close windows. Remove unnecessary boot luggage. Wide tyres add to rolling resistance. Air conditioning lowers fuel economy; use the vents. If you get stuck in traffic, switch off the engine. Find out if you can buy low sulphur diesel (city diesel) or cleaner petrol (low sulphur/aromatics) locally.
Do you go straight from accelerator to brake? You would save fuel if you gently let your speed fall to a halt, rather than having to brake sharply. Finally, be a tank miser. Why fill to the brim? You'll be carrying more weight than needed, reducing fuel efficiency.
So you can be green without changing your car.
Vince Yearley is head of media at the IAMReuse content