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Measuring employee commuting emissions to meet carbon neutrality goals

New Zealand’s Carbon Neutral Government Programme (CNGP) has been set up to accelerate the reduction of emissions within the public sector. Waka Kotahi is one of those organisations committed to the CNGP and reducing emissions.

Leanne Hartshorne is the Manager of Business Operations at Waka Kotahi and leads their corporate sustainability programme. She explains how tracking travel emissions fits their big picture.

Waka Kotahi is committed to the CNGP and reducing our carbon emissions. We’ve recently completed our third year of the Toitū Envirocare carbonreduce certification for our corporate activities to accurately measure our greenhouse gas emissions and put in place strategies to manage and reduce impacts.

Waka Kotahi is tasked with reducing transport emissions across Aotearoa, New Zealand, and leading by example. So, it’s crucial that we also look at what we’re doing to reduce our own emissions. We’re now expanding what we’re measuring and looking at the carbon emissions from our peoples’ commute to and from work.”

Waka Kotahi looked at several tools to measure commuting emissions, seeking a ‘one-stop shop’ to capture data and calculate emissions quickly and efficiently. With so many staff spread across Aotearoa, doing different work activities, they needed something able to capture a complex array of commutes.

“We landed on Abley’s CarbonWise tool, which was able to capture the complexity for us, and could be customised to meet all our requirements”, says Leanne. “Now it provides an easy tool we can send out to our people to survey commuting behaviour.”

The first commuter survey

Leanne describes how Waka Kotahi managed their first commuting survey using CarbonWise.

For our first survey, our key focus was ensuring we were able to accurately capture our different locations and the different ways people travel, but in a way that was user-friendly for our people. We achieved all those goals with an accurate one-week snapshot of our winter commuting emissions as a starting point.”

The ease of use was confirmed with 52% of Waka Kotahi staff (1,279 people) responding to their first commuter survey. With regards to this excellent response rate, Leanne explains: 

Our people are excited about reducing carbon emissions and were keen to get on board with the survey. We’ve found that with our staff commuting survey, but also in all of our other sustainability initiatives. We’ve got support from executive leadership level through to individual members of the team. And that enthusiasm shows in the good response rate to the survey.”  

“We landed on Abley’s CarbonWise tool, which was able to capture the complexity for us, and could be customised to meet all our requirements. It provides an easy tool we can send out to our people to survey commuting behaviour."

Leanne HartshorneManager of Business Operations, Waka Kotahi

Waka Kotahi winter commuting survey results

The winter survey was carried out in August 2022, just as New Zealand was experiencing heavy rain throughout the country. This makes it even more impressive that 22% of trips were walked or cycled, and only 30% of trips were by solo car drivers, with strong levels of active travel and relatively low car use compared to most New Zealanders.

Based on results from this initial survey, Waka Kotahi annual commuting emissions would be 1,362 tonnes of CO2 equivalent. This means each member of the team emits 560kgs of CO2 equivalent per year on average for their commute. However the CarbonWise dashboard also shows emissions vary from person to person, with about half of the team emitting less than 200 kgs CO2-e.


Figure 1: Breakdown of annual commuting emissions of Waka Kotahi employees

Understanding how far employees live from work is key to providing good commuting options. The Waka Kotahi mix of urban and rural workplaces means every commute is different, so the CarbonWise survey allows Waka Kotahi to drill down and plan workplace specific initiatives.


Figure 2: Breakdown of commuting distances of Waka Kotahi employees

Leanne explains next steps:

We’re taking a phased approach. Once we have our baseline carbon emissions data for staff commuting, we aim to set up workshops to look at how we can support our people to reduce their commuting emissions. We plan to do another survey in summer. Those two surveys will provide us with our 2022/23 report, and a solid baseline for improvement. It will be fascinating to see how numbers change in summer.”


Getting great buy in for your survey

Leanne has advice for other organisations surveying their staff: “Plan your survey launch well and take a good look at the best way to roll the commuting survey out. We worked closely with our internal communications team who provided a comprehensive communications plan.”

Messages were twofold, both communicating to our people about why we were doing a commuting survey and how to take part. Doing many corporate sustainability projects over the last few years, we’ve learned the importance of good engagement. Using a variety of communications methods is key and helped us get good cut through and therefore a good response.

The survey wasn’t set and forget. Yes, we put messaging about the survey on our intranet, but we also had our chief executive remind staff about it in her fortnightly video update, included a reminder on our computer lock screens and in all relevant email newsletters. We were conscious we didn’t want to send the commuting survey out at the same time as other surveys, so made sure to plan the timing of the survey so it had good visibility.”

We also communicated the survey launch in a standalone email, then sent a reminder prior to the survey close. We noticed an uptake of responses after that reminder. We’re now about to communicate the results of the first survey back out to our people. Closing the loop is an important part of maintaining engagement.”


Measure your organisation’s commuting emissions with CarbonWise

One of the most powerful things many organisations can do to slow climate change is reduce their employees’ commuting emissions.

CarbonWise makes it easy for you to track emissions both from your team’s commute and working from home, and to encourage your employees to use more sustainable travel options.

If you’re looking for a way to measure commuting emissions for your organisation, we’d love to introduce you to CarbonWise. Book a demo with our team to learn more. 

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We look forward to talking with you.