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Tackling The Challenge of Transport Emissions

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By Camilla Sherwin, Senior Sustainability Consultant and Partnerships Manager at Investors in the Environment (iiE)
28 Jun 2024

The transport sector has been the largest contributor to UK greenhouse gas emissions since 2016 and one of the key areas targeted by government strategy in its bid to hit its carbon reduction targets. 

However, our economy and, for those living or working outside cities, our lifestyles have become understandably reliant on road transport – it is efficient, adaptable and affordable for most people.  Despite the growth of the low-emissions vehicle market and the efficiency gains of all new models of road vehicles, the battle to reduce road transport emissions is not yet won.  

In 2021, transport was responsible for over 26% of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions, 32% of Nitrogen Oxide emissions and 14% of the microscopic toxic particulate matter, PM 2.5, which, when inhaled, can enter the bloodstream and cause irreversible damage to vital organs. Of the emissions produced by the domestic transport sector (which excludes international air travel), 91% came from road vehicles, over half of which were emitted by cars and taxis. HGVs contributed 20% and vans contributed 17% of the total transport emissions. 

Finding ways to minimise road transport use (particularly journeys with a single passenger), increase the use of low-carbon transport and reduce transport emissions overall are proving to be difficult nuts to crack. A combination of incentives, impediments, ingenuity and investment are required to encourage a shift to more sustainable modes of transport.

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Focusing on business travel  

Whilst this is an area of focus for those who run the country, it is also an area of concern for the business sector. Transport is a significant contributor to most company carbon footprints and therefore any responsible business should be considering how it can reduce its own transport emissions as well as influencing those in its supply chain to do the same. 

Reducing car travel is beneficial not only from a global warming perspective, but also reduces congestion, pressure on parking spaces, cuts air, water and noise pollution and, particularly in the case of active travel, can promote healthier lifestyles, contributing to staff well-being.   

To create change at an individual business level, drafting an effective travel plan provides the foundation for a systematic approach to reducing emissions, providing a framework through which to define the areas of impact and provide guidance for staff making transport-related decisions – from choosing how to travel, to booking transport arrangements, to investing in fleet or infrastructure.

What should a travel plan cover?

Whilst all organisations will have different transport requirements, covering the following areas should be appropriate for most: 

  • Business travel – taking into account why and how staff are travelling for work, it should establish policies, based on the sustainable travel hierarchy, which will support choice making. 

  • Staff commuting – considering staff members’ commuting parameters and how they can be encouraged to make sustainable transport choices. 

  • Customer or visitor travel – evaluating how and why visitors travel to the business and consider how they could minimise their journeys’ impacts. 

  • Travel procurement – giving guidance about which mode of transport and type of accommodation should be selected. Those making decisions should understand how to plan and procure for minimal impact.  

  • Fleet and courier/freight procurement – the plan should link in with any green procurement and or fleet management policies, and should help those selecting and managing fleet vehicles and/or freight or courier contracts.

What should it include?

A travel plan applies to all staff, customers, other site users and contractors. Its content should therefore be relevant for all parties. It should be drawn up with input from staff, particularly in relation to their commutes and what changes might incentivise them to switch to more sustainable forms of transport. The plan should include guidance on:  

  • whether making journey is necessary; given the ease and availability of teleconferencing, its use should be prioritised before travel is considered. 

  • transport selection criteria – which will outline which forms of transport should be taken in different circumstances.   

  • the use of any vehicles under direct management control (company cars, fleet, or other vehicles).  

  • staff using their own vehicles for business travel (termed as grey-fleet). There should be advice or incentives to support reduced mileage (use of travel hierarchy) and fuel efficiency. 

  • incentives or programmes in place which encourage staff to commute using active or public transport, or which support the purchase of low carbon modes of transport. 

  • training on general usage, vehicle maintenance, and fuel-efficient driving. 

  • transport infrastructure or shared resources the business provides. This may include cycle storage, staff showers, car sharing bays, EV charge points, bike maintenance equipment and pool cars. 

  • public transport and cycling route maps can also be mentioned, but are best published on the organisation’s website. 

Measuring Impact

It is important to measure the effectiveness of the travel plan, primarily through the analysis of data and staff feedback.  This will indicate whether further adjustments need to be made.  A business should aim to collect data on all areas of impact, though given the size of this task for many, it may be sensible to adopt a phased approach. Collecting figures for business mileage, both in company-owned and grey fleet vehicles, and miles on public transport are recommended starting points.  This can be followed by staff commuting, freight/courier mileage and other relevant data sets in later years.  Data should be analysed: comparing annual figures gives the overall picture and assessing one month’s data against the next gives finer detail and the ability to spot any emerging trends. Gaining input from staff members will provide experiential evidence.  Depending on the results, the travel plan, related policies, investment timelines and action plans can be adjusted to bring about performance improvement in subsequent years.

Creating a Sustainable Travel Culture

Once the plan is in place, it is important to build a culture that values and supports sustainable travel.  To embed such a culture takes ongoing effort, commitment and time, but the following top tips will help accelerate the transition:   

  • Lead by Example: encourage senior management to actively participate in sustainable travel initiatives; visible leadership can inspire employees and demonstrate the organisation's commitment. 

  • Continuous Improvement: stay informed about new technologies and trends in sustainable travel. Test and evaluate a range of initiatives – whether that be introducing an e-bike hire scheme, staff challenges 

  • Celebrate Successes: publicise achievements and milestones related to your sustainable travel initiatives, sharing success stories to maintain enthusiasm and momentum. 

 A travel plan should not be a tick-box exercise – it should be a tool for supporting continual improvement. It should clearly link to any sustainable transport target or objective identified in an organisation’s environmental or sustainability policy but can also be a tool for making internal processes more efficient.  It can also act as a platform for staff engagement and participation; making elements of its delivery experiential and enjoyable will bring quicker results. It should evolve over time and bring about lasting change, staff collaboration and make a contribution to the UK being a healthier, more sustainable place to live.  To read case studies of what some Investors in the Environment members have done to reduce their transport footprint, visit Case Studies | Investors In The Environment (

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Investors in the Environment 

This article is the second in a series of articles which will be published in this newsletter over the year. It, and the previous article ‘Becoming A Sustainable Business’ was written by Camilla Sherwin, Senior Sustainability Consultant and Partnerships Manager, on the national green accreditation programme Investors in the Environment (iiE). iiE has 15 years of experience helping businesses of all sizes and sectors to improve their environmental management and gain recognition for their achievements. By using their easy-to-follow e-learning platform, and accessing the wealth of templates and tools members are backed by support from experienced advisors. The iiE programme gives organisations the structure and knowledge to enhance their sustainability performance, set carbon reduction targets, reduce costs and receive a third-party evaluation of their work.  

For those looking to upskill, iiE has developed its own green champion training, delivers Carbon Literacy training and is an IEMA certified training provider.   

To find out more, visit the website or email and request a meeting with one of the iiE team.

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Tackling The Challenge of Transport Emissions

The transport sector has been the largest contributor to UK greenhouse gas emissions since 2016 and one of the key areas targeted by government strategy in its bid to hit its carbon reduction targets.