From rhetoric to reality: Unpacking sustainable commuting insights at ZC3 2023

By Jack Goddard, Senior Marketing Executive

The third annual Zero Carbon Commuting Conference (ZC3) took place on the 12th of October 2023, bringing together sustainable mobility thought leaders from across business, government and academia. In this recap, we’ll cover key highlights from the opening sessions. You can see our recap of the afternoon and keynote sessions or watch the full conference here.

A political perspective

As in previous years, ZC3 was a call to arms, asking employers to work together to address the challenges and solutions around travelling to and from the workplace. This year was no exception, with the government’s recent backpedalling on sustainability policies fresh in the audience’s mind. In a poll, almost 600 attendees cited his remarks concerning the misinformation of ‘scrapping’ sustainable commuting policies as ‘disappointing’,’ frustrating’ and ‘shortsighted’.

These sentiments were echoed in Tim Anderson’s opening keynote, where he stated,

“The political landscape is getting increasingly polarised on the issue of the environment, on the issue of net zero, and even on the issue of clean air in our towns and cities.”

Despite touching on some of the challenges he’s experienced as the Group Head of Transport at Energy Saving Trust, including recent funding cuts decimating active travel programmes, the controversy around ULEZ and 20-minute neighbourhoods and the HS2 debacle, Tim remained optimistic about the power of collaboration in addressing Scope 3 commuting emissions. 

We need to be more community-centred. Our nation has seen massive progress in carbon emissions through decarbonisation of the grid, but we need to see the same step change in transport. So this is where we all come in, and this is where this event comes in.
Tim Anderson, Group Head of Transport at Energy Saving Trust

Welcome to the Secretary of State for Sustainable Commuting

One of the most highly-anticipated sessions of the day was also firmly rooted in optimism, with 

Professor Greg Marsden setting out his first 100 days as the fictional Secretary of State for Sustainable Commuting.

Our newly appointed Secretary of State did not mince his words, sharing stats framing the context for the commuting emissions crisis. “No more empty promises. Commuting matters. It matters to people, it matters to businesses, it matters to the economy, and it matters to the planet.”

• An estimated £8 billion is lost to the economy every year in congestion
• Employees spend circa £25 billion on commuting with fares, fees, fuel and vehicle costs
• Almost 10% of families own a car just to participate in the labour market
• 120 billion empty seat miles are driven every year by lone drivers on commute.

Solutions included reallocated funding from road expansion to the construction of a network of parkway style park and ride sites to enable car sharing and express coach services to serve key markets. This would enable new vehicle charging opportunities, acting as integrated mobility hubs.

Secretary Marsden also called for the public sector to lead on the sustainable commuting agenda, providing local authorities funding to support multi-modal travel and calling upon the nation’s largest employers to do their bit.

Governments, the NHS, universities are some of the biggest employers in our towns and cities. On average, across the economy, we represent around 18% of the workforce, and in some areas that can be as high as 30%. There will be a requirement to improve the commute experience and reduce the cost of the commute to the economy and the public purse through the public sector.
Greg Marsden, Professor of Transport Governance at University of Leeds

Taking the temperature of public perception

Lizzie Copp, research director at Ipsos, shared some of the latest polling on the UK’s feelings towards climate change. Encompassing opinions from across the political and socio-economic spectrum revealed a nuanced blend of concerns.

While the urgency to combat climate change was acknowledged, doubt remains about the government leadership on climate issues. Dissatisfaction with their policies and actions, scepticism about long-term strategies, and varied views on policy changes reflected the issue’s complexity in the public’s eyes.

• Public concern peaks in correlation with severe weather events
• Over three quarters of people say that they are concerned about climate change
• Two thirds say if individuals don’t act now to combat climate change, we’ll be failing future generations
• Nearly as many people are saying if businesses don’t act they’d be failing their employees
• Nearly three quarters of people support making it easier to travel by public transport, for example, through reduced prices or investing in more routes

Lizzie went on to say that current economic worries are largely shaping views on investing in climate measures. Differing opinions on the economic costs of addressing climate change reflected a need for clear education on potential costs and benefits. 

People need to believe that it won’t pose an advantage to one group in society at the expense of another. It needs to work for everybody.
Lizzie Copp, Research Director at Ipsos UK

Large employers need to take the lead

Welcoming a panel of industry leaders with cross-sector expertise, the first group discussion of the day underscored the importance of aligning transportation networks with commuter needs. Greater accessibility to public transport and shared mobility offers numerous benefits to employees and the organisations they work for.

Chairing the panel, Graeme Banister, Mobilityways Sector Director, asked if businesses are over-relying on the government for target setting when corporate sustainability and ESG directives could support them in ‘getting stuff done’ and setting their own. Prologis, one of the leading industrial logistics building providers, was highlighted as an organisation leading the way in ‘setting the benchmark for what can be achieved’ in tackling Scope 3 commuter emissions.

Campaigns Manager at Campaign for Better Transport, Michael Solomon Williams, urged large businesses to collaborate with local authorities to facilitate collaborative networks. He also recommended offering employees travel benefits, including cycle-to-work schemes and travel card loans and the importance of awareness about the productivity and time-saving benefits of greener commuting options.

Watch ZC3 in full

We’ll share more highlights from across the conference in the coming days, but you can catch up on all the sessions in full at your leisure here. If you have any feedback or questions about the day, drop us a message.

You might also like:

There is no Planet B: Lessons from ZC3’s keynote and beyond

Shaping Commuting Habits for a Sustainable Future: Insights from ZC3 2023

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