The Green Commute

Change how you commute to reduce your footprint

written by

Tim Ozkurt

Each morning and evening across the globe, we cast an immense carbon footprint on the Earth when we commute to work.

The following practical and easy tips can turn our daily trips into a green commute.

Carpooling

It is projected that just under 45 million vehicles will be in global carpooling programs by 2025.

I first read about carpooling when on a trip to California in the late 90s. It was a cynical scoop on businessmen strapping inflatable ‘adult’ dolls in their passenger seats, so as to access the free-flowing carpool lanes restricted to cars with 2 or more passengers. Besides the surge in latex lady sales, carpooling or lift sharing as it’s known in the UK has come on a long way. It’s a no brainer solution to reducing vehicle numbers on the road, minimizing CO2 emissions, and shortening commute times. What’s more, it’s a great way to make friends or socialize with colleagues while cutting out the faff of queuing for public transport. We recommend liftshare for our UK members and BlaBlaCar for our U.S. counterparts and other European countries. Both free to join, user profiles, and ratings help you choose who to travel with, and you can save on average £1000 per year.

A lady and a man sharing a ride as part of a carpooling scheme. A social and cost saving way to a green commute.
Carpooling reduces emissions, commute times and the number of vehicles on the road.

Cycle or e-bike

Nowadays bicycles are becoming a style of living, easing the commute within urban areas without polluting the environment.

There’s no better way to start the day than being high on endorphins and adrenaline from your green commute to the office. With more and more cycle lanes popping up in cities and a greater awareness on the roads from car drivers, cycling offers an affordable, carbon free, and fitness friendly commuting solution.

For those that like the idea of cycling but are put off by the distance or that unforgiving hill, you should consider an e-bike – the long-awaited green solution for lengthy or intense commutes. You can enjoy exercise on the flat, while the on board battery can bolster your efforts, making hills or the long commute more manageable. The extra oomph also means you can breeze away from traffic lights with minimal exertion. Ranging from £850 to £2500 there is an initial outlay but with regular use, it will pay itself off within one year – an annual train pass can cost anywhere between £900 – £4000 in the UK.

For more information and practical tips on cycling, or even running to work, be sure to check out our Walk, Run or Cycle to Work guide.

A row of e-bikes lined up along a city's sidewalk. With all modern cities offering e-bikes, the idea of a green commute is that much more realistic.
Feel like you beating the system by exercising as you commute.
A man cycling through the city on an e-bike. E-bikes are at the forefront for the green commute.

Electric Cars

"I really do encourage other manufacturers to bring electric cars to market." Elon Musk

Electric cars have made huge technological strides since they were first introduced, and they are more popular than ever before. The advantages of owning an electric car arguably outweigh any cons. With no exhaust system they have zero emissions and so a green commute option. Electricity is cheaper than both petrol or diesel. In the UK we pay an average of 15p per mile for petrol but just 4p for electricity. What’s more, maintenance is less frequent and also less expensive, a 75% reduction according to Phoenix Motorcars.

Tax credits are also available to the original owner of an electric vehicle. In the U.S. electric cars can also shorten your commute time as you have the privilege of using carpool lanes any time of day — even if you are driving alone.

To get a full rundown on the advantages and disadvantages of going electric, head over to our Electric Cars guide.

An electric Tesla car charging. With no exhaust system they have zero emissions and so a green commute option.
If you have to drive to work, have you considered going electric?

Public Transport

National averages demonstrate that public transportation produces significantly lower greenhouse gas emissions per passenger mile than private vehicles.

Using public transport is the stalwart of the green commute, but for good measure too. It’s more environmentally friendly and cheaper than the trusty old motor car. One fully occupied bus replaces 57 single-occupant cars on the road while one subway or train can replace 1100 to 1500 cars respectively. In the UK, it costs an average of 16p per rail mile vs 31p per road mile (This includes the costs of running a car such as fuel, tax, insurance, car loan payments and maintenance).

Taking the train needn’t be inactive either, one can take advantage of this time by working offline uninterrupted, tuning into an informative podcast, Ted talk or audio book, or by taking a good old-fashioned nap – sleeping enhances productivity, and doing something that actively encourages your brain to switch off from work can be good for your creativity and well-being.

Passengers taking advantage of their commute by reading or listening to podcasts. Public transport is the stalwart of the green commute.
One subway or train can replace 1100 to 1500 cars respectively.

Working From Home: The Ultimate 'Green Commute'

The David Suzuki Foundation found that if a million telecommuters worked from home just one weekday a year, Canada could save some 250 million kg of CO2 emissions; 100 million litres of fuel; and 800 million fewer kilometres of mileage on our roads. And that’s just in Canada!

Modern technology makes it easier than ever before for us to work from home. Working remotely not only reduces travel emissions and commuting costs, but a digital nomad saves time with no commute nor time spent getting ready for work. What’s more, one can wear comfortable attire (no suit required), listen to their own music, enjoy flexible working hours at their own rhythm (early birds vs night owls), while also finding the time to eat properly and make it to that gym session. It all seems too good to be true? Well here are is an in depth and balanced guide to Working From Home.

A work from home office complete with laptop, mobile, glasses and a fresh coffee. Instead of a green commute, eliminate the commute by working from home.
Eliminate the commute by working from home.

My own experience commuting on foot, by bike and train

I didn’t start my working life with my carbon footprint in mind when I took on a horrendous 120-mile drive to work every day just to save on rent. Although I shared the ride with my mother, who also commuted insanely far, we still racked up a fair few emissions over a year.

Gradually, I’ve managed to reduce my mileage and impact with each job being closer to home and making my means of transport greener each time. I now work from home but do miss the commute by bike to my last job which was often the highlight of my day cycling along the charming Cascais coast in Portugal. Being able to snake through traffic meant it was quicker than driving and I arrived at work with a spring in my step from the boost of energy it gave me. Kit yourself out in suitable cycling gear and you will feel fresher when you switch to your office attire.

I have also commuted by foot and train, based on these experiences I hope I never have to get back behind the wheel again to commute. Despite longer average journey times without a car, I could always trust timings using my legs to get from A to B. I also enjoyed the morning’s brisk walks which gave me a chance to fill my lungs with fresh air and healthily raise the heart rate. Travelling by train provided a great opportunity to regain headspace before and after work, getting my mind set for the day and allowing it to unwind at the end of it by reading, listening, or simply switching off!

Inevitably, there will be days when you lack enthusiasm to jump on the saddle or trudge along the streets in the rain and hop on a crowded train, however, the pros outweigh the cons in many other ways, mainly economically, physically and environmentally. I always bear this in mind on those lazy days and reward myself with either a coffee at my favourite café or a break en route to notice and enjoy a moment of nature, the simple things in life!

An aerial view of a cycle lane by the coast in Cascais. Many people use this lane to green commute to and from Cascais, Portugal.
Cascais cycle lane ...I can think of worse commutes.
Safety Hand

The Green Commute

Carpool with liftshare or blablacar
Walk, run or cycle to work
Invest in an e-bike
Take public transport
Swap your fossil fuel car for an electric car
Work from home

Sources & further reading

Peer Reviewed Research Section
  1. 7 Unique Ways to Convince Your Boss to Let You Work Remotely - FlexjobsExternal link
  2. David Suzuki Foundation - David Suzuki FoundationExternal link
  3. Tesla - TeslaExternal linkIcon Peer Review
  4. Blabla Car - Blabla CarExternal link
  5. Liftshare - LiftshareExternal link
  6. Phoenix Motorcars - Phoenix MotorcarsExternal link
  7. Advisory Fuel Rates from 1 December 2018 - UK GovernmentExternal link
  8. Greenhouse gas emissions from transport - European Environment AgencyExternal link
  9. Number of carpooling vehicles worldwide from 2015 to 2025 & Electric bicycle usage in Europe - StatistaExternal link

Continue reading about travel

see All Guides