Carbon Free Commute: Is the daily commute a thing of the past?

Monday, 21 June 20215 minute read
Pure Planet

It's our annual Carbon Free Commute Day. With things a little different this year, we're exploring the impact remote working has had on the environment.

Three Pure Planet team members canoeing into the office on Carbon Free Commute Day

All the way back in 2018, we introduced our first Carbon Free Commute, challenging our team to get to work without emitting CO2. And they didn’t disappoint.

In the past our team has walked, ran, cycled and even canoed into the office. But a lot's changed, and while some of us have started to venture into the office occasionally (and safely), it’s unlikely things will return to ‘normal’ for a while yet.

So we thought we’d approach things a little differently this year, exploring how the pandemic has affected office cultures in the last 12 months, and the lasting impact this shift could have on the environment.

What’s changed?

Photo of an empty crossroads in London Photo by Dimitry B on Unsplash

16th March 2020. A date that, for many of us, marks the last time we saw our work best friend in real life, stepped inside a Pret a Manger, or forgot our door pass when we went to the loo. And while we packed up our laptops, grabbed some pads and pens, just in case, and jokingly said we’d see each other in a month or two, little did we know that more than a year later many of us would still be working from our kitchen tables, bedrooms and front steps.

And while offices have begun to reopen with restrictions, businesses and employees are wondering if the way we work, and where we work from, has changed forever.

What impact have the lockdowns had on the environment?

While the Covid-19 pandemic has had a devastating effect around the world, it’s impact on the environment and climate has been a positive one.

Air pollution is the biggest threat to public health — up to 36,000 people die annually in the UK as a result of long-term exposure to it.

In 2020, global reductions in travel led to a decrease in air pollution in many regions, with air pollution in the UK dropping to its lowest levels in decades. In fact, in the early days of the first lockdown road travel decreased by 73%, to levels not seen since 1955.

Commuting is a major contributor to the unhealthy levels of air pollution seen in many of our towns and cities — it accounts for 25% of the UK’s transport emissions. But these figures suggest that, if we were all to travel less, we could see a huge benefit for our health and the health of our planet.

Of course, it’s important to note that while home working has become the norm for office roles, for many businesses and employees, working away from the workplace simply hasn’t been an option.

And while working remotely is great for those with the space, their employers’ support and company at home, for others it’s been challenging. Many people who live alone have felt isolated, while others without the luxury of a spare room or office space have struggled to switch off, the closed laptop on the bedside table a constant reminder of the work still left to do.

So while there are certainly benefits to working more flexibly, for individuals and the planet, these benefits need to be carefully weighed up against the negative impact remote working may have on our physical and mental wellbeing. And that’s not to mention the impact the lack of office worker footfall in towns and cities is having on local economies.

Pure Planet’s approach

A Pure Planet team member with her bicycle on Carbon Free Commute Day

Here at Pure Planet, we’ve always encouraged our team to work wherever they work best, whether that be in the office, remote, or a mixture of the two.

And if a team member does decide to travel into the office we’ll continue to carbon offset 100% of their commute, and support them to lower their emissions through our cycle to work scheme and electric vehicle discounts.

How can I lower my carbon emissions when commuting?

Whether you need to travel into work everyday, or plan to adopt a hybrid approach to working when restrictions are lifted, there are plenty of ways to reduce your carbon footprint when commuting:

  • Swap your diesel or petrol car for an electric vehicle or public transport - travelling on the London Underground emits around a sixth of the emissions a car does for the equivalent journey
  • Introduce a carshare scheme at work - car sharing not only cuts CO2 emissions but reduces congestion on the road too
  • Have a car-free day - the huge reduction seen in air pollution during the lockdowns last year could, to some extent at least, be replicated if we all chose to reduce the amount of journeys we take by car. Commit to just one car-free day each week — it’ll help reduce your carbon footprint and, if you choose to walk or cycle instead, will help boost your fitness levels too
  • Encourage your employer to carbon offset the team’s commute - you can offset your own commute, but why not ask your employer to make the commitment to offset everyone’s travel into work instead?

Sadly, we don’t have a magic ball, so it remains to be seen what lasting effects, if any, the pandemic has on our working habits. But it’s certainly got us all thinking and talking about how we work, and more importantly how we want to work in the future, which has got to be a good thing.

Do you see the daily commute becoming a thing of the past?

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