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

By Erin Heenan, Marketing Consultant

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

Over half of employees could use public transport

Scoping data showed 53% of employees had an accessible public transport route available to them. A number of employers in the sample expressed surprise at this figure considering travel survey responses regarding public transport were considerably lower.

This reflects a wider trend of passenger journeys falling – even before the pandemic came into effect. The historical challenges of encouraging people to opt for public transport have largely been around the perceived lack of convenience and the unreliability of services in conjunction with a societal ambition toward private ownership.

Unfortunately, public transport and other shared mobility services, now face additional safety concerns which has seen their use drop dramatically. This threatens to exacerbate the climate crisis by fuelling an increase in single occupancy vehicle usage long term. Bus usage alone saw journeys falling 38% between July and September in 2020 compared with the same period of 2019.

The Department for Transport’s Decarbonisation Plan noted, “While the reduction in use of public transport has been a short-term necessity, we want to ensure a speedy return to public transport and to support a growth in patronage as our rural areas, towns and cities return to life.”

The Government must bolster confidence in public transport if we’re to see more people revert back to their previous travel behaviours and encourage other users to embrace public transport as a viable and sustainable commuting option.

Public transport is a critical service – particularly for demographics who can’t drive, can’t afford private ownership and/or live-in rural areas. Increased patronage of buses, trains, trams and coaches can dramatically reduce the number of vehicles on the road, minimising congestion and the associated commuter emissions.

Many employers strategically setup their workplaces close to public transport links in order to broaden their prospective candidate pool. It can therefore be frustrating for HR/Facilities managers and their teams when car parking facilitates are oversubscribed and under strain. How can employers encourage their teams to consider making the shift to buses, trains and trams?

The Government must bolster confidence in public transport if we’re to see more people revert back to their previous travel behaviours and encourage other users to embrace public transport as a viable and sustainable commuting option.

One method is to provide individuals with the full information and allowing them to make their own decisions. Personalised Transport Plans (PTPs) make commuting personal by showing the most efficient and sustainable means to travel between any two points.

PTPs make it easy for individuals, removing the ambiguity and leg work of analysing multiple travel options. Employers can support their teams make an informed personal choice through a widget on websites and internal intranets, or plans can be individually emailed to each employee to secure the highest possible levels of engagement and visibility.

Upon hearing the term “travel benefit” many will immediately think ‘company car’ – but forward-thinking employers with a sustainability ethos should consider public transport first. There are numerous examples where employers have experienced success using subsidized public travel as an employee benefit. That can include providing paid for rail cards, season tickets and fare subsidies, travel expenses and season ticket loans. Depending on how you choose to proceed, this can result in tax savings benefits and/or additional reporting obligations to HMRC.

Encouraging employees to make the switch to public transport can even be as simple as introducing some flexibility around shift start and end times. Inevitably, extraneous circumstances may delay public transport from time to time, (much like cars) but employees will be more inclined to utilise the services available to them if they know workplace can accommodate those issues. A 360 degree view of the mobility landscape also allows leadership teams to adapt shift patterns or resource demand to better align with public transport services.

As a tool, Scoping has shown it’s not only possible to identify the opportunity for public service usage, but also as a means to start a dialogue with local public transport operators to improve the patronage of their services. This was the case with the Cheshire Constabulary, whose Scoping report found that only 9% of Winsford HQ workforce could commute to work utilising public transport. Close analysis of the data indicated that minor adaptations to Arriva’s routes would allow substantial increases in Police Staff patronage.

*Liftshare Group research shows that if a public transport journey takes more than double the driving duration then people are very unlikely to change behaviour. Mobilityways scoping report analyses which employee postcodes have a viable public transport option within 2x, 3x and 4x the time it would take to drive. The modes analysed include, bus, train, tram and underground.

91% of employees could share a lift with a colleague

Nearly all of the employees from the 532,214 post codes analysed could share a lift to work with a colleague. The PMs Transport Advisor, Andrew Gilligan said “The vast majority of road space is given to the least efficient users of it.” This is certainly the case when it comes to single occupancy vehicles with 47 million empty seats on the road every rush hour. Many of these journeys can and should be shared – particularly when employees often make the same journeys every day.

“Employers are going to be key in achieving our net zero goals, particularly now organisations are looking to return their teams to offices and workplaces.” Says Ali Clabburn, CEO of the Liftshare Group. “Car share schemes are a huge well of untapped potential for so many employers – over 700 of our corporate clients have experienced some huge successes, collectively saving over 1 billion miles. The pandemic has shown we have the propensity for change. It’s time to commute back better.”

Some employees naturally make informal car share agreements over time, which is great for developing colleague relationships but doesn’t maximise the ACELO (Average Commuter Emissions Level Opportunity) in the same way a formalised car shame scheme can. Encouraging employees to share a lift saves an average of 1 tonne of CO2e every year – the same amount generated for one passenger flying from London to New York.

Liftshare, the UK’s first and largest car sharing Platform, has operated for two decades, using technology to support

behaviour change and promote the sharing economy. The app makes it easy for employees to connect and match with colleagues who are regularly travelling the same way. The ease of the app affords greater flexibility arranging lifts around shift scheduling, moving house or any changes in circumstance that will affect a user’s commute.

Filling empty seats is one of the quickest and easiest ways for employers and individuals to reduce their commuting emissions. Organisations who experience the highest levels of employee engagement scheme uptake are environmentally-led, often with a dedicated Liftshare champion to manage the scheme, widely promoting the benefits of sharing across the organisation.

Colleagues who share can often save hundreds or even thousands in travel costs every year, making it one of the most affordable commuting modes. Some organisations with limited parking capacity have designated parking for sharers, or even free parking if a charge is usually applied.

*Scoping Smart Mobility recognises a viable Liftshare opportunity within 1 mile of the colleague’s home. The feature highlights all the opportunities available and breaks postcodes down into groups of 10+ car share opportunities, between 4 and 9 car share opportunities and 1 and 3 car share opportunities.

Thinking about implementing a car share scheme? Use Liftshare’s savings calculator and see how much you could save.

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