Getting from A-to-B sustainably

Greener TravelSafer roads, a cleaner environment and reduced costs to organisations present a highly persuasive case for implementing a sustainable travel plan, argues road safety charity Brake

Commuting and driving for work carries a substantial risk: at least one in three road crashes in Britain involves someone driving for work. Sustainable choices can help reduce exposure to road risk by reducing the number of vehicles on our roads, particularly during busy commuting periods.
In addition to the safety impact, driving for work comes with a huge environmental cost. According to WWF, business travel accounts for more than 50 per cent of the carbon footprint of non-manufacturing businesses. It is also a significant proportion of all road travel: commuting and business travel accounted for 37 per cent of miles driven by cars and vans in Great Britain in 2011.  

Sustainable choices can also help reduce fleet operating costs and travel reimbursement claims, not to mention the positive impact they have on employee wellbeing. The first step towards making sustainable choices is to develop and implement a sustainable travel plan.

Developing a travel plan
A travel plan is a strategy to address travel during the working day and to and from the workplace. It is not an anti-car policy, but rather a way of promoting safer, more sustainable alternatives to single-occupancy car travel, and ensuring the right type of transport is used for any necessary travel. A travel plan can also be used to assess whether travel is needed at all, or if alternatives such as teleconferencing could be used.

A travel plan should begin with a survey to establish a baseline for how employees and other site users already travel, and a site audit to identify possible alternatives. This information can then be used to identify new policies that may be required, and set targets for travel reduction.
Companies that run fleets can also address their journey planning, vehicle selection and the behaviour of their drivers in order to improve fuel efficiency and reduce environmental impacts. Different types of fleets may require different strategies within their travel plans. Some examples of appropriate policies for different fleet types are given below.

Bus and coach fleets
Bus and coach fleets already have strong green credentials as they carry so many people, helping to reduce congestion and emissions. Operators can make further gains by ensuring the operator’s own employees use company buses as transport, and promoting bus routes to local companies and offer discounted season tickets to businesses.
Bus and coach operators could also consider the benefits of biofuels, renewable fuels, and hybrid buses to reduce emissions. What’s more, they could monitor and reduce vehicle idling time to reduce fuel wastage; closely monitor tyre pressures to improve safety and fuel economy; and investigate the use of electronic acceleration control. Safe and Fuel Efficient Driver (SAFED) training for drivers could also be investigated to make sure drivers are driving in an economic manner.

Car and van fleets
To ensure car and van fleets are being used as efficiently and safely as possible companies should select the most fuel-efficient and safest vehicles that are fit for purpose. They could introduce SAFED training for drivers, and encourage the use of public transport for business travel wherever possible. They could also ensure meetings are scheduled in locations easily accessible by public transport.;
Organisations operating van and car fleets should also review mileage rates to ensure they do not encourage drivers to cover excessive distances. What’s more they could introduce time and mileage limits for business journeys by car to avoid employees spending too long behind the wheel. To help plan the most efficient journeys, organisations could use route planning software.

Managers should allow enough time for drivers to reach appointments, to decrease fuel use and crash risks. The organisation could also encourage vehicle sharing, rather than employees visiting the same customer in different vehicles; and ban all mobile phone use while driving: if employees need to make a call, they should take the train or bus to allow them to work.

Truck fleets
Much of the above advice for bus and car fleets will also apply to trucks. In addition, truck fleets can plan delivery schedules around the most efficient routes, taking into account peak congestion periods; and if vehicles are home-based, aim to schedule the last job of the day as close to the driver’s home as possible, to reduce wasted mileage.

The benefits of technology
Technology allows some journeys to be avoided entirely, through video conferencing and home working. Fleet managers should work with other departments to ensure video or teleconferencing facilities are available to employees, and promote the benefits with regular awareness raising initiatives. It can be useful to keep a record of mileage saved in this way, to promote the benefits of the system to the Board.
In-vehicle technology, such as telematics systems that monitor driver behaviour and provide feedback, can also be a good way to ensure that all drivers are as efficient as possible. Telematics systems allow events such as harsh braking and speeding to be recorded, to ensure that fuel-efficient driving techniques are utilised (see below). These systems often produce a driver ‘score’, based on the individual driver’s habits. These scores can be used to incentivise the safest and most efficient drivers, as well as indicating which drivers may require further training.

Fuel-efficient driving
There are simple steps that all drivers can take to save fuel while driving. These include going easy on the accelerator and avoiding over-revving and using an appropriate speed for the conditions, which will often be slower than the speed limit. Maintaining a safe distance, allowing time and space to anticipate potential hazards to avoid having to slow down and speed up frequently; and using the highest possible gear for the speed travelled will also make for more efficient driving.

Take the Pledge
The Pledge is Brake’s campaign to reduce dangerous and unnecessary driving. It’s a key tool for fleet managers, who can attend a low-cost one-day course equipping them to deliver ongoing safety and sustainability campaigns to their at-work drivers. At its heart are six promises drivers are encouraged to commit to. Firstly it’s to drive slow: at 20mph or slower around communities, slow down on rural roads, avoid overtaking and never break speed limits.

  • The next pledge is to drive sober, not impaired by any amount of alcohol, illegal drugs, or medication that can affect driving.
  • The next pledge is to drive sharp: never drive tired, or when in pain, groggy or stressed, and have an up to date eyesight test.
  • The next pledge is to drive silent: put phones on message service and out of reach when driving, and never fiddle with sat navs or other electronic equipment.
  • The next pledge is to drive secure: drive a well-maintained vehicle, wear a seat belt (or helmet if on a motorbike), and ensure passengers do so as well.
  • The final pledge is to drive sustainably: avoid unnecessary driving to reduce pollution of the planet.

Drivers can make the Brake Pledge online, to show their commitment to driving safely. For further information on Pledge courses for managers and to make the Pledge online, visit

Case study: the Environment Agency
The Environment Agency has 11,000 employees across 279 buildings and more than 2,500 other sites. In 2005/6 agency employees drove about 58 million miles. The agency has introduced a travel hierarchy, to encourage employees to choose carbon-efficient travel and thus reduce its carbon emissions.
Employees are first asked to consider if travel can be avoided, for example through teleconferencing. If travel is unavoidable, the next step down the hierarchy is public transport or cycling, facilitated by an in-house rail booking system, and a business mileage allowance for cycling.
If travel by car is necessary, employees must choose vehicles with the lowest carbon impact and cost. Employees may only use their own car when all previous options have been exhausted. Own-car use is limited to less than 75 miles per trip, and 3,000 miles each year.

Since 2005/06 the agency’s car mileage has reduced by 21 million miles, saving about 5,000 tonnes of CO2. All of these policies and organisational tools have reduced the impact of the Environment Agency’s travel as well as reducing the cost.

Case study: Brake
Brake is clear with its employees that it requires them to avoid driving for work in all but the rarest circumstances. Employees who work in the Brake head office must live within a reasonable commuting distance and are encouraged to travel to work by public transport or on foot or bike. Commuting by car for specific reasons, while abiding by Brake’s Pledge, must be agreed on a case by case basis with managers.
Meetings are always arranged to happen in the Brake office (which is easily accessible by train) or at a time and location elsewhere that is easily accessible by public transport.
Brake employees are required not to get into any vehicle that they consider to be old and in a potentially dangerous condition, and are required not to travel with any driver that they consider may not drive safely.
Parents who work for Brake are required to respect Brake’s campaigns for parents to reduce congestion around school and nursery gates, and to contribute to alleviating this congestion by walking to the school or nursery gates wherever possible.

Advice for fleets
Sustainable travel plans can benefit employee safety by reducing risk exposure to crashes. All types of fleets can address their impact through journey planning, vehicle selection, and driver training and engagement. By encouraging public transport use, and implementing flexible working, companies can reduce the need for business travel, benefitting the environment and the company’s reputation.

Further information

Please register to comment on this article