ZC3 2022 round up: The only conference dedicated to decarbonising the commute

More than 900 people signed up for the second annual ZC3 (Zero Carbon Commuting Conference) in November. The online event boasted 30 expert speakers from across sustainability, transport, technology, academia, politics, human resources and law. The aim of the conference is to inspire large employers and transport and mobility solutions providers, to come together to make Zero Carbon Commuting a reality.

Mobilityways Director, Julie Furnell, opened the conference reaffirming the scale of the commuting challenges we face as employers, as individuals and as members of a global community. These emissions, categorised as Scope 3, generate 18 billion kg of CO2e annually – 5% of all emissions in the UK.

To garner real emissions reduction impacts, change must happen at a personal level –  and it must happen at scale. Julie highlighted the power and potential of bringing together such a diverse mix of professionals, and she was enthused by increasingly ambitious net zero commitments seen across the public and private sector.

This need for collaboration was echoed by Kirsty Austin, the Department of Transport’s Deputy Director of Strategy and Systems. The Transport Decarbonisation Plan, which was launched in 2021, carries more than 70 commitments to meet net zero before 2050. It’s clear many of these objectives can only be successful through strategic and coordinated cooperation.

Responding to climate change and the challenges it gives us; improving the air quality in the places we live and work, making the everyday commute easier and connecting more people into jobs, demands that we collaborate. That’s why the Decarbonisation Plan is framed around so many joint commitments like Commute Zero. The Government is committed to working with industry and businesses to help them monitor and reduce their emissions. In doing so we want to showcase the trailblazers in sustainable commuting so they can share their experiences, insights and knowledge.

Kirsty Austin, the Department of Transport’s Deputy Director of Strategy and Systems

The sessions proved to be fertile ground for conversation, exploring some of the key questions, challenges and solutions around the decarbonisation of the commute.

Recognising the complexity of commuting CO2e

Despite a varied and diverse agenda, many of the panels came back to the importance of recognising and acknowledging the scope of the commuter emissions challenge. Post-pandemic, this challenge is becoming increasingly complex. This was evident during the ‘Is WFH a Zero Carbon Commute?’ session.

Dr. Eugene Mohareb, Associate Professor in Sustainable Urban Systems at the University of Reading explored how the topic is not as clear cut as some may think. While remote working results in zero tailpipe emissions, it can, and in many cases does, result in higher emissions outputs. This is due to the use of heating and power in homes that would otherwise be empty.

Due to the many variables involved, including the age and insulation of your home, whether there are other occupants in the house, compared to the alternative commute frequencies, distances and mode, it’s very difficult for employers to quantify and measure emissions outputs to make an effective comparison.

The issue of trip chaining was also addressed, considering how additional journeys that used to be included as part of the commute, such as going food shopping or nipping to the post office, were now being made in addition to the emissions generated from home working.

Looking to the commuter emissions trailblazers

In terms of innovators, the NHS is proudly considered a sustainability pioneer having become the world’s first national health system to commit to becoming ‘carbon net zero’. This is in part because it needs to be. The NHS has around 3 million employees, with travel and transport accounting for c.18% of all NHS carbon emissions. Around 3.5% of all road travel in the UK relates to the NHS, equating to 9.5 billion miles.

The NHS has already made significant progress decarbonising our care, but as the largest employer in Britain, responsible for around 4% of the nation’s carbon emissions, if this country is to succeed in its overarching climate goals the NHS has to be a major part of the solution.”

NHS chief executive Sir Simon Stevens

NHS England has established a network of modal shift participants. These sustainable mobility champions are working together to establish the impact of a variety of initiatives in an effort to reduce the number of single occupancy car journeys being made by the NHS workforce.

Clare Winter, Senior Net Zero Programme Manager at North-East & North Cumbria Integrated Care System, and Andrew Bradley, Senior Delivery Lead at Net Zero Travel & Transport for NHS England joined ZC3 to discuss North East & North Cumbria ‘Step up a Gear’ project.

The North East and North Cumbria Integrated Care System (ICS) is a partnership of organisations including local councils, voluntary and community services that provide health and care across the region which is home to 2.9 million people. Alarmingly, the North East has more attributable deaths to air pollution per 100,000 people than London, despite the capitol having considerably worse pollution.

The ‘Step up a Gear’ project was launched in response to key commuting challenges.

– A benchmarking exercise found 5 Trust’s had a travel plan in place but these pre-dated the pandemic and as a result, were out of date and ineffective
– They identified an urgent need for up to date travel information
– Free car parking at NHS sites during the pandemic caused a return to reliance on sole car occupancy
– NHS car share schemes were almost entirely eliminated from March 2020

Already underway, the ‘Step up a Gear’ initiative intends to address these challenges through;

– An ICS Wide Travel survey to enable the North East and North Cumbria ICS and 11 provider trusts, which is around 120 sites, to set modal shift targets
– The examination of pre and post pandemic data, as well as aspirational commuting of around 81,000 staff across the 120 sites
– The project has successfully secured funding through the Healthier Futures Action Fund
– Partnering with Mobilityways to deliver the travel surveys which will enable the calculation of North East and North Cumbria ICS’ ACEL
– Data will support discussions on strategy and with third parties such as bus operators, local authorities and micro mobility providers.
– The ICS will collaborate with Transport North East (TNE)
– Each Trust is invited to work with Mobilityways independently for the implementation of personalised travel plans (PTPs) to further support modal shift

The scope and scale of the ‘Step up a Gear’ initiative is an ambitious undertaking, but one that promises great rewards. There are some fantastic takeaways from these actions, even for employers that don’t have these kinds of resources available. It starts with data collection in an effort to understand the local mobility landscape. This helps organisations assess what changes can be made to engage commuters, encouraging and supporting greener travel habits.

Examining what’s worked well before

Establishing best practice and learning from others is not limited to other organisations or industries. Lessons can be learned by examining the progress being made elsewhere within the wider emissions problem.

The ‘Transferable Lessons from Decarbonising Supply Chains’ panel examined how ESG regulation has seen increasing numbers of employers seek to manage their carbon liabilities arising from supply chains. By their own admission, this is in a bid to be more resilient to a rapidly changing regulatory environment.

Broadcaster and telecommunications company, Sky, committed to be net zero carbon 2030. They have made ‘significant’ progress towards this target. The transparency of their aims have contributed to this success, which allows the business and their suppliers to align behind the same goal.

Some of their most recent actions include introducing a fleet of 10 electric buses running shuttle services between local transport hubs and its regional headquarters. These are free for all staff to use. The business has also taken action to encourage active travel by providing shower and cycle storage facilities on site.

As a cycle friendly employer, Sky also offers free repairs for staff at their on-site bike shop in Osterley. They also support a shift to electric, implementing over 100 EV chargers across UK sites with plans to install more nationwide.

Sky’s Sustainability Manager, Tom Parrot, defined 4 key takeaways from the session. These are things employers can implement now to start making an impact on their organisation’s commuting emissions in the short term.

– Data – Emissions reporting for staff commuting doesn’t have to be perfect. It’s OK to start with averages and work from there. Surveys undertaken during lockdown can be a great place to start to understand trends and average commute distance. Learn more about Average Commuter Emissions Level (ACEL) here.
– Make it simple – Clearly label cycle and showering facilities. Provide suitable lockers and secure bike parking. Don’t forget to communicate about the employee benefits and mobility services you provide. The simpler the offering, and the more people who know about it, the greater the change.
– Users Groups – Create colleague groups to hear about barriers to sustainable commuting and drive ownership over specific projects. If people have input into the ideas and projects, they are more likely to accept them and make them part of their routine. Bicycle user groups are always popular.
– External stakeholders –Engaging with local authorities and bus companies can be a great way to leverage change. Make sure you participate in local consultations for travel and road improvements, so your employee’s voices are heard.

One size doesn’t fit all

Whether it’s ‘carrots’ (incentives such as reduced public transport fares), or ‘sticks’, (like the prohibitive cost of parking), sustainability activities need to be tailored to the specific commuting needs of an organisation’s workforce. ZC3’s specialist behaviour change panel suggested it is usually a balanced combination of both which secures the best results.

Pete Dyson, the Principal Behavioural Scientist at the Department for Transport, remarked on the ‘messiness’ of people’s travel behaviour. “It can be a frustration to policy makers and employers that people don’t follow clear rules or have similar preferences for their commutes. But looking on the bright side, it means we can offer lots of ways to travel that spread people out and suit different needs. There’s a bright future in having multiple sustainable commute options to choose from.”

This case-by-case approach has to be considered due to the different challenges faced by different employers. Organisations based in urban hubs for example benefit from good public transport provisions and limited parking which makes sustainable travel more appealing.

Those on the outskirts of towns and cities in business parks or rural areas are more reliant on their employees using cars. This is where solutions such as Liftshare’s car sharing Platform can help reduce emissions and help employers attract and retain talent. This was demonstrated in a sustainable commuting case study of Prologis, the leading industrial logistics buildings provider to some of the UK’s biggest brands.

Moving forward

Celebrating its second year, ZC3 brought together industry leading minds, providing a valuable platform to fight against one of the leading causes of climate change. Follow Mobilityways for news and updates for the third instalment of ZC3 in 2023.

To understand the issues impacting the future of the commute, download Mobilityways 2022 Commuter Census – a survey of more than 10,000 commuters providing greater insights into commuter travel behaviours and sentiment.

Download the full Commuter Census Report.