Happy Earth Day!
Earth Day is an annual event held on April 22nd to demonstrate support for environmental protection. More than 1 billion people in 192 countries participate in Earth Day activities each year, making it the largest civic observance in the world.
The theme for this year’s Earth Day is ‘Restore our Earth’ which focuses on natural processes, emerging green technologies, and innovative thinking that can restore the world’s ecosystems.
As social enterprise committed to decarbonising the commute, we wanted to share why it’s important and how you could reduce your own commuter emissions.
Why does decarbonizing the commute matter?
Commuting is responsible for 5% of all emissions in the UK. That means if we fail to decarbonise the commute, we will fail our net zero goals. The impact of climate change can already be seen across the world. From the extinction of animal species, extreme weather events and the melting ice caps, we must take action to reduce our environmental impact before it is too late.
A huge amount of work has been put into tracking and reducing industrial emissions and thankfully many nations are successfully reducing their CO2e output from these sources. However, transport is the UK’s biggest polluter so we must identify and embrace more sustainable means of getting from A to B.
Localised congestion causes high levels of pollution in urban areas which is a serious threat to our respiratory health. This is a particularly acute issue for places where vehicles congregate at high traffic times, such as the commute to inner city offices and the school run. There have recently been links drawn between high levels of air pollution and Covid-19 mortality rates.
Despite increasing efficiencies and the adoption of use of greener technologies, we can only achieve Zero Carbon Commuting if we change our behaviour. Lockdown showed us it is possible to adapt our travel habits if we need to – and the climate crisis demands that we do. Despite an unprecedented reduction in emissions during lockdown, 80% of cities returned to pre-pandemic levels of air pollution.
What can you do about it?
We famously underestimate the impact our actions have on the environment as an individual, but it all starts with you! Firstly, look at how you travel now, could you make greener transport choices? Car use is so ingrained in our habits and behaviours that even for distances of less than 2 miles, 60% of journeys are made by car.
If 10% of us replaced one car trip every day to use a bike, overall transport emissions would decrease by about 10%. And choosing to walk or cycle over jumping in the car isn’t just great for the environment – it’s shown to drastically benefit our health and wellbeing.
If you’re a parent, it’s critical you impart these behaviours early on which is why it’s so beneficial for children to walk to school if they can. Children who walk to school are shown to not only be healthier but also have better attention spans when they get to class. A YouGov poll recently found 49% of UK school pupils are worried about air pollution near their school. Our partners at Sustrans are gearing up for the Big Pedal – the UK’s largest inter-school active travel competition! Why not get your kids involved?
Active travel offers a huge win-win for individuals and the environment and is going to be key if we are to achieve Zero Carbon Commuting. Covid saw a 20% rise in people walking regularly and cycling levels increased by 9% on weekdays and 58% on weekends compared to pre-pandemic levels in the UK – Let’s keep it up!
Of course, it’s not always possible to walk or cycle if we’re travelling further afield or have limiting mobility issues. Public transport is also going to be essential to ensuring we avoid a car-led recovery as we return to business as usual.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, recently announced an ‘Acceleration Unit’ to speed up transport infrastructure projects and a £20 million “rural mobility fund” which will pilot on-demand transport for regions failed by traditional services. Public transport initiatives are being rolled out across the country to add and improve services connecting people and places.
Do you have a bus, train or tube service that meets your commuting needs? Choosing one of these modes over driving alone every day would reduce your CO2e dramatically. And so could sharing a lift.
Whether it’s an informal lift with a friend or through a service like Liftshare which connects sharers for ad hoc and regular commuting journeys, you are helping to reduce the impact on the environment. Our community of sharers save it’s billionth mile over the last decade!
Lastly, working from home has taken millions of us of the roads. If you have the options to work from home permanently or even just some of the time, it all contributes to reduce your personal Co2e.
We hope that was some food for thought! If you’re interested in what the ACEL (Average Commuter Emissions Level) is in your area you should check out the ACEL map and see how your region compares! Earth Day is a great way to highlight the environmental challenges we face but in reality, we’re facing these challenges every day. It’s time to take action to halt the impending climate crisis – will you join us?
You can learn more about Earth Day and it’s history here.
Author Erin Heenan