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The green commute: Why net zero starts with everyday action

Published on September 20, 2022
As we return to offices and workplaces, the means by which we commute to work will play an important role in ambitions to achieve net zero targets. But we, as corporations and businesses, also have a vital part to play in facilitating action towards these goals. Green travel plans developed in line with science-based targets offer support to colleagues in achieving net zero actions each and every day. Ian Wickett, Senior Associate Director at RSK Transport Planning, tells us why everyday changes, supported by business, are of vital importance and are not just a box-ticking exercise.

In the UK, transport is the largest emitter of greenhouse gases, producing , 24% of total emissions that year. Road transport – cars, vans and lorries – contributes the greatest share of this, 103 MtCO2e (or 90% of transport emissions) in 2020, and is most often the means by which we travel to or for work.

In the transport sector, limited progress has been made to reduce emission levels. We have seen investment in rail infrastructure that strengthens local rail links, such as the ongoing Northern Powerhouse Rail and Midlands Rail Hub projects, which will help encourage a shift towards greater use of public transport services. While there is big ambition here, how this and other needs have translated to real actions has been slower than may have been expected. Especially with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic now lessening and typical working patterns returning, it is unsurprising that travel is once again contributing significantly to emissions. In the context of the working world, employee travel is one of the largest contributors of carbon emissions. But why does tackling this matter to the employer as well as the employee?

In the UK, many businesses are becoming increasingly aware of the need to report against environmental, social and governance (ESG) metrics, including carbon and greenhouse gas footprints. For large businesses, it is already a requirement via the Streamlined Energy and Carbon Reporting guidelines and it is expected that the reach of these policies will only widen to include smaller companies, many of which may already be voluntarily measuring impacts. These emissions reports are broken down by scope to differentiate and show which area of the business’s operations has resulted in the emissions recorded. Scope 1 and 2 emissions cover those directly produced by company-owned sources and indirect emissions from purchased electricity, heating and cooling consumed by the company, respectively. It is scope 3 that encompasses all other indirect sources across the wider value chain, including employee commutes. The science-based targets initiative offers a pathway to take to tackle these scope 3 emissions, as well as scope 1 and 2, in line with leading climate science.

These scope 3 emissions are often the majority of a company’s footprint and are the most challenging to reduce. Of course, merely measuring the emissions footprint of business travel is only part of this challenge: once you know the extent of carbon produced across your business, measures then need to be taken to reduce it. It is here that businesses and corporations can play a significant role in facilitating effective and long-lasting positive change. Transforming existing sustainability policies to go that step further and increase focus on encouraging behavioural changes will take companies closer towards more sustainable travel.

While I continue to develop RSK’s own travel plan, I have seen the need for targeted measures to support and encourage sustainable action – action that can become everyday habits in efforts to reduce our emissions footprints and take positive steps towards limiting global warming to below 1.5°C.

Reducing travel and commuting emissions through targeted measures includes policies such as cycle to work schemes, cycle parking space and subsidised public transport tickets – policies many companies have in place to support their employees. But to encourage a truly green travel plan, consideration also needs to be given to where offices are located: can the office be feasibly accessed by public transport, on foot or by bike? Are offices in rural locations that mean employees are reliant on their car for access?

Taking a much wider, holistic approach to developing green travel policies opens the opportunity to establish long-lasting change. Considering why the car is used and how we, as businesses and employers, can take measures to reduce the need for each car journey is intrinsic to reducing emissions and encouraging a greener commute. There is a real need to create and embed a culture across businesses that encourages the uptake of more sustainable travel through behavioural changes, rather than viewing emissions reductions as a box-ticking exercise. If we are to continue making progress towards achieving net zero emissions, the policies introduced by business will be vital in encouraging everyday actions that, when taken together, have a big impact.

Ian Wickett, Senior Associate Director at RSK Transport Planning, provides specialist transport planning services, including travel plans and traffic management plans.

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Ian Wickett

Associate Transport Planning Director, RSK

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As an associate transport planning director at RSK, Ian provides a range of services to clients: site due diligence and feasibility, through the planning process, during construction and supporting the operation of a site. He deals with all aspects of traffic, highways and transport on sites in the UK and abroad.

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