The power of the personal: Inspiring sustainable travel choices

Cast your mind back to 2019. The commute was a personal journey, famously fraught with the frustrations of packed trains, traffic tailbacks and nowhere to park. When the pandemic eliminated the commute for millions of us, the roads emptied and we gained back hours of our day. And yet, many people reported missing their journey to the office, with some even ‘fake commuting’ as a means to create a mental division between home and work time.

For the large majority of employees, there is an appetite to return to the workplace – at least part of the time. An ONS survey in May 2021 found that 85% of people working from home would prefer a hybrid work approach, citing ‘collaboration challenges’ as the biggest negative to remote working. The responsibility falls on employers to help facilitate sustainable commuting to ensure #BackToTheOffice does not conflict with net-zero goals.

One size doesn’t fit all

Whether your employees listened to a podcast, made mental to-do lists, or just enjoyed some solitude, commutes are a personal experience, even when they’re shared. If you hope to encourage your teams to travel more sustainably, you have to meet them where they are, both in terms of location and attitude. What would motivate them to change their behaviour?

Deputy Director of the Net Zero Travel & Transport, Paul Chandler, is responsible for reducing Scope 3 commuting emissions for NHS staff across England for 1.3m employees. He acknowledged some of the challenges in encouraging staff to switch to low-carbon commuting modes.

“It’s about understanding where staff need to commute to, at what times, and what options are viable for them. There’s no point in banging on about active travel for staff who live 20 miles away or encouraging them to get the bus if it is actually three buses and takes an hour and a half to get in. That doesn’t make any sense.”

“Changing personal behaviours to reduce carbon emissions isn’t a strong enough argument in and of itself for most people to change their deeply ingrained commuting behaviours. You need to make it personal to people, you need them to understand how to make the switch.”

Changing personal behaviours to reduce carbon emissions isn’t a strong enough argument in and of itself for most people to change their deeply ingrained commuting behaviours. You need to make it personal to people, you need them to understand how to make the switch.

Challenge default thinking

Ironically, it was car maker Henry Ford who said “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got” and when it comes to rising levels of private car ownership and single occupancy journeys, that means emissions, congestion and parking problems.

Despite an influx of people working from home on a more regular basis, the need to consider commuting emissions remains key to tackling the impacts of climate change. Transport is the UK’s biggest emissions offender, producing 27% of our nation’s total emissions every year. Worryingly, this figure is only set to rise with more people eschewing public transport in favour of driving alone. This is a particularly fraught issue for those employers erring on whether to invite their teams back to the office.

As with many habitual things, we make the commute on autopilot, giving it little thought beyond getting from A to B. Going back to the office threatens a return to the same old. But there’s no reason we can’t commute back better – and there are many reasons why we should.

Collectively, we must challenge and change our commuting behaviors in order to tackle the impact of climate change. However, broad sweeping statements result in a diffusion of responsibility that sees environmental ambitions flounder. Real change happens when it’s not ‘we’ can do, but ‘I’.

Make it personal

“We have an ambition for 65,000 Personal Travel Plans to be sent to residents and businesses across the county. This will give people the opportunity to see their alternatives. If they want to make that journey, they don’t have to make it by car’.”

Mobilityways PTP (Personal Travel Plan) show employees what’s in the art of the possible. They remove the guesswork involved with making greener choices and have a very low barrier to entry. In just a few clicks, an organisation can send thousands of individual plans to their workforce via email. Alternatively, they can be accessed by an online widget hosted on the organisation’s internet or intranet pages. The employee isn’t required to DO anything as all the information, routes, service times, journey durations and costs are detailed.

PTPs show the recipient every viable mode and route from their home address to their place of work. Results are shown on a map, with all the journey times and instructions detailed in full. Unlike Google’s journey planner, PTPs list the most sustainable journeys first. However, the list can also be filtered by the employee’s preferred journey type, including the fastest and the cheapest trip.

The viability of these journeys is a huge priority, as commuting behavior is unlikely to change long-term if regular repeated trips are too long, challenging or expensive. Each plan is unique to the employee’s circumstances, revealing the most viable active travel (walking and cycling), public transport (bus, train, tube, tram, coach), and private car journeys – including Liftshare results within 1 mile of the employee’s house. PTP’s also account for multi-modal journeys, such as cycling to the train station or walking to the bus stop.

PTPs are a value-adding benefit that provides employees with a full view of their local mobility landscape. This allows individuals to make informed travel choices, often highlighting new routes or modes they didn’t know were available to them. Whether modal shift is prompted by personal health aspirations, environmental concerns, or the desire to reduce travel costs, PTPs serve to signpost sustainable commutes while appealing to employees’ personal motivations.

Surrey Council’s Active Travel Programme Manager, Roger Williams, turned to PTPs as a means to highlight new infrastructure to Surrey locals after being awarded over £6m from the Active Travel Fund to use throughout the county. “We have an ambition for 65,000 Personal Travel Plans to be sent to residents and businesses across the county. This will give people the opportunity to see their alternatives. If they want to make that journey, they don’t have to make it by car’.”

He went on to highlight how many sustainable commuting options are available to recipients. “There are lots of alternatives, walking cycling being one of them but of course, there are car clubs and all sorts of other opportunities – and that’s really key because lots of people don’t know what their options are. We’re building shiny new infrastructure and we want to be able to get people on it.”

Apply metrics

Ahead of COP26 in October 2021, an ONS survey found three-quarters of adults were worried about the impact of climate change. It also found those people were more likely to make lifestyle changes in response to those concerns. The increasing urgency surrounding climate change discussions means we all know we have a role to play in reducing our environmental impact but often, people aren’t sure how.

Organisations with net-zero targets understand the value of applying metrics to emissions reduction – after all, what can be measured can be managed. PTPs empower employees in much the same way, assigning a carbon value to each trip. Those who may be encouraged to change their commute on environmental grounds are able to see which journeys are carbon neutral or compare how much CO2e each mode generates.

For employees who may be more motivated to change their commuting behaviours on health grounds, PTPs offer an approximate calorie breakdown for active travel modes. This helps individuals understand how they could incorporate walking and/or cycling into their commutes to become healthier.

And it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. A study led by the University of Oxford’s Transport Studies Unit found that swapping the car for walking, cycling and e-biking even just one day a week makes a significant impact on personal carbon emissions in cities. When employees have an understanding of how their behaviours directly impact climate change – and their own health – they can make informed decisions and be accountable for those choices.

Measuring modal shift

Following the PTPs launch, the recipient will receive two follow-up communications: one after two weeks and another after three months. PTP emails can be sent out in bulk and are highly customisable, allowing Transport and Travel teams to avoid silos within Communications departments.

This ‘no-touch’ data-collection exercise allows employers to track behavior change and where none has occurred, the barriers to sustainable commuting. This information is stored in the PTP dashboard and can be used to support business cases for sustainable commuting initiatives, measure their effectiveness, and drive employee engagement for teams who are or will be commuting into the workplace.

Why support employees make sustainable travel choices?

In August 2020, Reuters conducted a survey of 2,000 UK office workers. 72% of respondents stated that they were concerned about the environment, with 83% of workers believing their workplaces were not doing enough to address climate change. Sitting idly by on the climate change issue is no longer an option for employers competing for the best talent against a backdrop of Covid-19, changing working environments and rising expectations.

There are also statutory net-zero commitments to consider. Commuting emissions account for 5% of the UK’s total emissions – 18 billion kg of CO2e annually. As Group Environment & Sustainability Manager at Royal London, Joanna Walker puts it, “A net-zero strategy that doesn’t include Scope 3 emissions isn’t a net-zero strategy.”There are also the practical challenges that come from unsustainable commutes. Fears around public transport use have driven a rise in private car ownership, which will likely see an influx of people driving alone to work. A 2021 study found 47% of employers identify employee parking as a problematic issue for their business, and is particularly challenging for companies with over 1,000 employees. 30% of companies asked believe that employee parking will be considerably harder to manage when employees return to the office due to increased flexibility.

Supporting teams to move away from single-occupancy commutes in favour of more sustainable modes, such as active travel, public transport, and car-sharing, are solutions to practical and environmental challenges. Helping teams understand which sustainable solution is right for them and getting them to adopt it, is a case of addressing their personal commuting needs. The commute may only be one part of the working experience but it is one that has huge ramifications for the future of our planet and the personal health, wealth and wellbeing of your staff.

You might also enjoy:

Six incredible car sharing benefits – even if it’s just for one day

Understanding Offsetting

Book your free demo of Mobilityways

You may also enjoy reading

Start your Zero Carbon Commuting journey with a free consultation with one of our Commutologists