Shifting employees’ mobility behavior is at the heart of corporate sustainability

Published: 10 Sep 2021
Author: Milena Klasing Chen
Type: Insight

Businesses and citizens are increasingly engaged in reducing their environmental impact and the way people move around play a key role in reaching emission reduction goals.

By encouraging sustainable commuting options among employees, companies can reduce emissions and costs and become more attractive employers. Businesses can improve sustainability through concrete actions like shuttle services, public transport subsidies, carsharing, communication on transport options and comprehensive sustainable mobility policies. To support companies in this endeavor, WBCSD has just launched a use case and best practice database highlighting practical solutions implemented by our member companies to foster more sustainable transport choices among employees. This article details why such solutions should be part of every company’s sustainability strategy and how to address some of the challenges related to behavior change.  

Work-related mobility is every company’s business

Sustainable work-related mobility has a positive impact on three levels: individuals, businesses and society. Studies on commuting show that work-related mobility has an impact on employees’ well-being, positively for active modes, or negatively when the commute is long and done alone by car. A 2018 study, highlighted that 23% of US’s workforce had quit a job because of the commute. Incentives for sustainable mobility can improve a firm’s attractiveness and talent retention.

Transport emissions represented 24% of direct CO2 emissions from fuel combustion in 2019. Of these, more than 50% were linked to people movements.  A large part of this mobility comes from commuting and work-related travel. The overall reduction of human mobility and the shift to remote work during the pandemic, greatly reduced emissions in 2020, leading many organizations and individuals to consider how to permanently decrease their mobility-linked carbon footprint.

Reducing scope 3 emissions, which are emissions in a company’s value chain that they do not control directly, can be a challenging task. For many companies, emissions linked to employees’ mobility represent a great part of their environmental impact, particularly for service providers, like consulting firms. WBCSD member Arcadis declared in its 2019 annual integrated report that 73% of their greenhouse gas emissions were related to employees’ mobility. These estimates include direct emissions from business vehicles and indirect emissions from flights, private cars and public transport. Arcadis has already reduced these emissions by 19% between 2015 and 2019, partly by proposing more sustainable work-related mobility. They are currently working on a global road map to amplify this effect.

What prevents making work-related mobility sustainable?

Evaluating work-related mobility impact remains a challenge, as the recently-published report on reducing work-travel emissions by the Anders Reizen coalition, shows. Gathering data on employees’ mobility can be difficult and resource-intensive without adequate tools.

Commuters need effective information and incentives to consider changing behavior. Solutions for more sustainable mobility evolve quickly and their effectiveness depends greatly on the context, as shown in a study from Belgium.

Sustainable mobility options are not always the most convenient. In many contexts, commuting by car is still the preferred option for workers and this can also become more sustainable. A great array of options exists and can often be implemented by the private sector. Carpooling for example can lower the environmental impact of commuting and replacing internal combustion engine vehicles with electric cars can help reduce emissions and local pollution.

Public authorities in cities traditionally encourage sustainable transport. Through congestion charging, public transport development, bike lanes and other measures, cities like London and Paris have reduced the share of single-passenger car commutes. Working in collaboration with transit and public authorities can help companies improve employees’ well-being while reducing emissions.

What can companies do?

There is a wide array of actions businesses can take to improve their employees’ mobility. For example, shuttle services are useful to connect the workplace to public transport and improve traffic and parking, as Volkswagen did at their Wolfsburg plant. To maximize adoption of shuttles, the company provides incentives to use public transport, and gives access to a website for employee mobility, making sure information on sustainable options and incentives are available to all employees.

Teleworking can reduce the distance traveled but isn’t the silver bullet for sustainable corporate mobility. BNP Paribas, for example, has reduced the need to come to the office through flexible work schedules allowing employees to work from home or other locations. This has helped the company to reduce emissions and cut costs related to real-estate and mobility. During the pandemic, BNP furthermore made electric cars and bikes available to some employees who could not work from home.

The number of people biking and walking increased during the pandemic and this could offer an opportunity for employers. An active commute positively affects employees’ health and well-being. Measures to encourage active modes range from building shower facilities at the office to providing e-bikes and maintenance and even aligning the corporate culture to the dress code that comes with biking.

Creating scale through aggregation platforms and apps across small businesses to offer a sustainable mobility portfolio can increase mobility options for employees. GoWithFlow for example, provides end-to-end sustainable mobility solutions to firms. Through their platforms, companies can do their mobility planning, fleet management and track their mobility impact in real-time. These solutions can help create a comprehensive mobility plan.

WBCSD is committed to supporting businesses in tackling sustainable mobility challenges. Through our Commuting Behavior Change project, we are working with our members to provide businesses with the tools and skills needed to develop ambitious sustainable mobility policies. As part of this project, we have just launched a database containing use cases and best practices to make corporate mobility more sustainable. The project also offers opportunities for cities and businesses to collaboratively work on the topic of sustainable commuting in Corporate Mobility Pacts. Businesses and public authorities can collaborate on implementing mobility-related actions to support a transition to a safer, greener and more efficient mobility system for all. Every action matters, and business is part of the solution.


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