Active travel and how it benefits you and the planet

Justin Shupe Justin Shupe
6 July 2023
9 min read

06 July 2023

How employees commute to and from work can have an impact on their health, wellbeing, and performance. The chosen mode of transport used to commute also impacts the planet. So, what is the best way to commute to work that improves health and wellbeing while reducing the impact on the environment? Active travel is the answer!

What is active travel?

Active travel relates to a journey being made by physical exercise, such as walking or cycling from your home to your office. Active travel also includes engaging in physical exercise to get to a transport hub to catch public transportation as part of a journey.

Our current commuting habits are not doing us any favours

During the last census in Australia (2021), over half (53.1%) of the working population travelled to work via ‘car, as driver’ whilst active travel (cycling and walking) only accounted for 3.2%. Though there were varying COVID-19 restrictions in place during 2021, this did not cause a higher commute by car due to people avoiding public transport in their attempts to social distance. Travelling by car has been the most common method of travelling to work since the question was first asked in 1976! The previous census in 2016 was the peak result with over 60% of the working population traveling by car.

New Zealand follows a similar trend with the majority (73.5%) of workers choosing to commute via ‘car, as a driver’ and 6.5% as a passenger in a car. While active transport by walking was 9.2%, 2.1% travelled by cycling and 6.5% commuted to work by public transport.
2023_Findex_active guide graphics-01The higher reliance on cars as a preferred mode to commute to work demonstrates Australian and New Zealand workers’ preference or perhaps reliance on private cars over other modes of transport, even with the cost of living and fuel prices continuing to rise.

This preference for travelling by car is also reflected in both Australia’s and New Zealand’s annual greenhouse gas inventory, with transport accounting for 19% of Australia’s annual emissions and 17% for New Zealand. Reducing emissions from the transport sector is one of the focuses of both the Australian and New Zealand Governments, in their plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and beyond – to contribute to global efforts of limiting the projected impacts of climate change.

One way to help reduce carbon emissions associated from employee commuting is to promote active travel.

Active travel no matter what size can have an impact, for example:

  • If the average person replaced one commute by cycling instead of driving a car for 200 days out of a year, this would save 0.5 tonnes of carbon being released into the atmosphere. While 0.5 tonnes of carbon might seem like a small amount, it would take 8.3 tree seedlings growing for 10 years to remove the same amount of carbon back out of the atmosphere.

  • If active travel replaced car commuting journeys of 16km in length – that would represent a 40% reduction in vehicle emissions.

For organisations seeking to be certified carbon neutral, by encouraging employees to take up active travel as part of their commute to work can mean that less carbon offsets are retired to cover staff commuting related emissions. These savings could then be rediverted to other carbon reduction initiatives or incentives for employees.

Other environmental benefits from active travel include reducing car and parking congestion whilst improving local air quality by removing cars and exhaust off the road.

Drivers of inactivity

While a modern life comes with limited time to meet all our life commitments and demands, the convenience of cars comes at a cost to the planet and our health as well - the cost being, inactivity. Sitting in traffic instead of walking or cycling, sitting at desks for long periods of time, and a lower need to leave the house to travel to work as a result from companies offering dynamic working environments are all aspects that can contribute to inactivity during the day.

Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic caused physical activity to drop 25% in Australia compared to before the pandemic, and New Zealand also saw a 20% drop in the number of physical activities being carried out during a week now, compared to before the pandemic.

2023_Findex_active guide graphics-02Risks of inactivity

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the fourth highest risk factor to mortality is physical inactivity – causing approximately 3.2 million deaths a year.

Inactivity has been linked to be a risk factor in contributing to cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, anxiety and depression, high blood pressure, certain types of cancers and falls in older adults.

How much exercise should we be doing?

Adults aged between 18-64 years are recommended by the WHO to incorporate during a week a minimum of either:

  • 150-300 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic physical movement,

  • 75-150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity,

  • A combination of moderate and vigorous intensity movement

  • Muscle strengthening activities involving all muscle groups should be included in the above at least 2 or more days a week.

What are the benefits of active travel?

The great thing about active travel is that the benefits are not only just to physical health but also, wellbeing, productivity and contributing to climate action!

Health, wellbeing, and productivity benefits

The links between physical exercise and health are well documented and recognised, including the benefits to health from active transport such as walking and cycling. Studies have shown that:

  • Walking for 30 minutes or more a day reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke by 35% and Type 2 diabetes by 40%

  • Cyclists have a 30% lower cancer related mortality.

Staying active can also improve concentration, increase energy, reduce fatigue, lower stress and improve mental wellbeing. Furthermore, it has also been found that employees that are healthier are more productive and alert at work.

Active travel can also increase social connections by walking with colleagues and or community groups and help in reducing the feeling of isolation.

Financial benefits

With the cost of living rising, incorporating active travel into your weekly commute poses a great opportunity to save money for those that drive a car to work, as well as those swapping out public transport for active transport.

With less use of vehicles to commute to work comes less wear and tear lowering maintenance and servicing costs and increasing savings from swapping a car and or public transport for walking or cycling.

How do we address our inactivity and commuting trends?

Developing and promoting an Active Travel Guide for your employees creates a resource that can be accessed to inform and support employees to take up active transport modes to work. As an employee, make the decision to change up your routine commute and cycle or walk if possible.

As part of Findex’s commitment to improving our sustainability and wellbeing of our people, we have developed and launched our first Active Travel Guide. Our Guide provides information, tips and resources for our people to access to help plan and integrate active travel within their commute to the office or within their day if working dynamically – such as walking or cycling as part of school drop-off/pick-up or being active during their lunchtime.

Now we have identified the benefits of active travel, let’s get into what is included in an active travel guide to help support realising the benefits above!

What is in an Active Travel Guide?

Findex’s Active Travel Guide was developed as an easily accessible resource for our people to use to raise awareness of the benefits of active travel across health, environmental and other factors (such as social, wellbeing and financial).

The guide covers walking, cycling and public transport as modes of transport to use over commuting to work in a car as a driver and or passenger. Public transport is encouraged to be paired with active travel for journeys that may be too long to complete just as an active travel mode.

Tips on how to get started, stay motivated as well as remaining safe during an active travel commute is outlined to help set our people up for a successful, enjoyable and safe active travel journey.

Our people are spread across both metropolitan and regional areas in Australia and New Zealand, the public transport networks that service these areas are run by different entities – as such to make it easier to combining active travel with public transport, links to all public transport services in each state, territory or region are provided.

Our Active Travel Guide will be reviewed annually to ensure resources matching the active modes used by our people are incorporated.

How to support an Active Travel Guide

Developing an Active Travel Guide is a great way to promote the benefits of different active commuting methods including the health and environmental benefits of each. A key aspect of supporting Active Travel is ensuring employees have access to end-of-trip facilities that allow them to get ready for their workday.

Ensuring the correct facilities are in place to support active transport is also important. Through Findex’s new Sustainable Property & Leasing Policy and Checklist, in addition to evaluating and considering a potential office sustainability performance and consumption of natural resources, it also includes considering end-of-trip facilities to support employees taking active travel to work.

End-of-trip facilities can include, showers and change rooms, bike storage and lockers to freshen up after an active travel commute and to store equipment (e.g. helmets) while at work.

Throughout the year Findex will seek to identify new and engaging ways with our people to encourage active travel and investigate on surveying and monitoring commuting trends to inform our carbon footprint calculations.

Further information

If you have any questions about Findex’s sustainability journey or our Active Travel Guide development, contact us here.

Justin Shupe
Author: Justin Shupe | Sustainability Manager