Measuring carbon emissions at the NZPI conference

The annual New Zealand Planning Institute (NZPI) conference, New Zealand’s premier planning conference was recently held in Nelson and attended by Jo DraperRuby KimBenjamin WalchCarl O’Neil and Fraser Dixon. Abley’s exhibition booth (below) enabled us to connect with delegates and was a great opportunity to get attendees to participate in a commuter survey, the results of which are outlined below.

conference, booth, carbon emissions

Fifty delegates completed the survey from a wide range of places in Aotearoa. We asked:

  • how long their commute is;
  • how they commute;
  • and how often they work from home.

Using this data, we calculated an estimate of their annual commuting emissions based on the Ministry for the Environment’s standard commuting emission estimates.

An urban versus rural divide quickly emerged: the highest emitting commutes at 4.7 tonnes of CO2-e per year (equivalent to an Auckland – Dubai return flight) were 40km one-way commutes driven alone to countryside towns.  At the other end of the scale, most of the 18 attendees with zero emissions (walking or cycling) commutes work in NZ’s cities (Auckland, Wellington, Tauranga, Hamilton, etc).  These contrasts are reflected in the average commuting emissions grouping respondents by location:

The small sample set provided interesting anecdotal results. The data shows that commuting emissions are highest at around 0.8 tonnes of CO2 amongst Auckland and Hamilton commuters, relative to around 0.5-0.6 tonnes amongst Wellington and Christchurch commuters.  The difference between cities is equivalent to around three Christchurch to Auckland flights per person.

The survey initiated interesting conversations as we learned about people’s personal circumstances that make their commute emissions intensive or not:

  • A team that routinely carpools into the rural town of Amberley managed to keep their emissions in check despite the long commuting distance.
  • An attendee from Kerikeri lives on a farm with poor internet access and has to drive kids to school in town on the way to work. Working from home is therefore not an option here and an electric vehicle may be the solution.
  • Several attendees were shocked as we detailed their commute’s equivalent in international terms of consumption of kgs of beef, litres of water boiled in an electric kettle, or Auckland-Christchurch flights (see screenshot below). Indeed, commuting can be a major part of one’s personal greenhouse gas emissions.
Workplace travel

Mode share

Workplace travel mode share

The limited dataset reveals a relatively high proportion of walking and cycling commuting modes, significantly higher than national journey to work data suggests. The darker green travel modes in the graph emit zero CO2 emissions as compared to higher emitting modes such as those commuting by car alone. 

Working from home

Working from home even once per week can substantially reduce CO2 emissions from commuting. Around half of our respondents indicated that they worked from home at least once per week. No attendees indicated they typically worked from home more than twice a week.

Workplace travel working from home

Beyond this fun and constructive raising of awareness around individual commuting emissions, we have been developing a methodology to measure commuting carbon emissions for organisations. More employers are now taking responsibility for reducing and offsetting these to meet their climate commitments.  Understanding our current travel patterns is the first step in understanding impacts at both the individual and organisational level.  Abley can help organisations understand current travel patterns and develop action plans to reduce transport related carbon emissions.

Get in touch with Benjamin Walch to find out more about our methodology or to discuss commuting and business travel in your organisation.