Shaping Commuting Habits for a Sustainable Future: Insights from 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 afternoon. You can see our recap of the opening and keynote sessions or watch the full conference here.

Behaviour change in large organisations

Large employers have the opportunity, and some argue, the moral obligation to shape the commuting habits of their workforce to improve employee health and contribute to a more sustainable future.

Drawing on their vast practical and theoretical expertise, this panel explored how employers can identify opportunities for change by treating commuting as a behaviour change project, making sustainable habits more attainable for their workforce.

Walking Works Business Development Manager at Living Streets, Kelly Heathcote, highlighted the power of behaviour change advocates. In her example, “walk champions” actively promote sustainable commuting, sharing the benefits they experience first-hand and encouraging their colleagues to join the movement.

Not all commutes are the same, which means a ‘one size fits all’ approach won’t tackle Scope 3 commuter emissions. Employers have to address the different challenges their people face through a lens of speed, cost, convenience, access and the health and safety of the people undertaking those journeys.

Does working from home reduce your carbon impact?

Since 2020 – when home working started en masse for the first time – Green Element Group have researched and created a methodology for capturing home working emissions. Senior Climate Analyst Ellie Monks presented the findings from over 10,000 individuals from various organisations of different sizes, sectors, and locations. As with most emissions challenges, the answer to whether WFH is better than commuting from an emissions perspective isn’t a straightforward “yes” or “no.” 

Ellie’s research pointed out that homeworking emissions have often been overlooked in standard greenhouse gas reporting, making it crucial for organisations to consider them separately. Her findings indicated that the average emissions per person for working from home are around 2.5 kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalent gases per day working from home, roughly equivalent to driving 11 kilometres in an average diesel car.

However, Ellie’s data highlights several critical factors influencing the carbon impact, including location, distance, and seasonal variations. In some cases, commuting into the office can result in fewer emissions, particularly in urban areas with access to sustainable transportation options. This complexity highlights the importance of a nuanced and holistic approach to understanding and reducing our carbon footprint, whether working from home or commuting to the office.

Low carbon commuting case study

Group Climate Lead at Babcock, David Starley shared a case study on low-carbon commuting at the Devonport site in Plymouth, which employs around 6,000 people. Challenges included limited parking, unreliable train services, and inefficient public bus routes. The Devonport Travel to Work team was established to undertake an extensive employee survey to understand commuting preferences and challenges, focusing on convenience, availability, time-saving, and cost as primary factors influencing choices.

The importance of senior management buy-in and involving employees in the decision-making process was highlighted as crucial to the project’s success. David also nodded to effective collaboration with transport providers and local authorities. Making behaviour change easy, accessible, affordable and socialising the changes with employees contributed to the project’s long-term success.

Bringing people on the journey is absolutely essential. The survey asked people for their ideas, and a number of the ones implemented directly due to the feedback people gave.
David Starley, Group Climate Lead at Babcock

The Dutch Way

Here in the UK, we often look to Europe for lessons on decarbonising the commute and the Dutch are widely lauded for their cycle infrastructure. Mobility Manager Max Mooij shared how businesses and employees commute in the Netherlands, which makes up 16% of the country’s traffic.

Max emphasised the need for a coordinated effort to promote sustainable commuting and offered valuable insights into the tools and approaches that can facilitate these initiatives. He touched on Dutch programmes that motivate employees to choose active and sustainable commuting methods. Initially, this was driven by a desire to address traffic congestion and reduce CO2 emissions. However, it also proved to be an effective means to attract talent and increase cost savings – both for employers and their teams.

Employers are a critical focus group for the Netherlands in regional programmes encouraging sustainable commuting. We should look to replicate this at home, with successful consultations including discussions on motivating employees, creating a business case for enhancing infrastructure and services and collaborating with local authorities.

A war on talent going on making employers think about, okay, how can we keep our people fit? Active travel sustainable commutes are an important way of adding to that goal. And obviously costs play a part. If you ride your bike to work, that will save everyone money, both the employer and the employee.

The role of shared mobility in decarbonisation

Proponents of shared mobility have long championed its potential in the fight against climate change. Olga Anapryenka, co-founder of Women in Mobility UK and New Mobility Associate at Steer, provided two examples of how shared mobility programmes can significantly reduce carbon emissions and lead us toward a more sustainable future.

She discussed a Solent e-scooter trial that made a compelling case for the value of shared mobility, saving an impressive 126 tons of CO2 equivalent during the trial period. This eco-friendly alternative to transportation, with around 700,000 e-scooter trips made, demonstrates the potential for significant carbon emissions reduction. And above all, it was popular with residents, with 48,000 users registered for the e-scooter scheme. By embracing shared mobility options, communities can reduce the number of private vehicles on the road, decrease traffic congestion, and improve air quality.

How organisations are innovating to reduce their commuter emissions

The day’s final panel shared Olga’s enthusiasm for shared mobility solutions, also recognising the actions employers take to address the challenges faced by their employees specifically. A user-focused approach with a wide range of transportation options tailored to individual needs is key to success. 

Collaborative efforts between employers, local authorities, and service providers are central to achieving sustainable commuting goals and creating a greener, more eco-conscious future for everyone. The panel included sustainable mobility innovators, including  Ben Bhattal, General Manager of UK Business at Zeelo, a company primarily focused on employee transport and shuttle services. He highlighted where mobility operators are innovating to fill a gap in provision.

One of the things that we’re seeing and a catalyst for our growth at the moment is a number of public bus services being cut. Typically, we’re operating in what we call public transport deserts, places that are quite underserved.
Ben Bhattal, General Manager of UK Business at Zeelo

Watch ZC3 in full

We’ll share more highlights from the conference, but you can catch up on all the sessions at your leisure here. If you have any feedback or questions about the day, let us know below.

You might also like:

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

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

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