Sustainable Transportation: Eco-Friendly Commuting Options

By Ryan O’Connell

Commuting is an unavoidable part of the day-to-day grind for most people, and even though it’s commonly linked to environmental degradation and a general lack of sustainability, it isn’t inherently bad for the environment. Sustainable transportation refers to eco-friendly travel and commuting options that help reduce your carbon footprint and make our planet healthier. You don’t have to sacrifice convenience or comfort for sustainability either: there are many easy ways to incorporate green commuting into your daily routine. 

Anyone interested in improving their personal contribution to the three pillars of sustainability—environmental, social, and economic—can do so simultaneously by incorporating sustainable transportation methods into their lives. By taking an in-depth look at the environmental benefits of sustainable commuting, tips on how to commute sustainably, and the sustainable transportation options currently available, commuters, their employers, and their governments can spark rapid change for the good of the earth.

Environmental Benefits of Sustainable Commuting

Pretty much any method of travel aside from driving your personal vehicle—taking the bus, riding a bike, or walking to your destination—can drastically reduce emissions and save money. Doing so, therefore, is a win-win for everyone except, perhaps, oil and gas companies and gas vehicle manufacturers. Sustainable transportation is good for the earth, great for our air quality, and it even helps cut down on noise pollution!

Public transportation, at present, reduces CO2 emissions by a whopping 37 million metric tons annually. That reduction grows with each and every decision to ride the train or bus rather than hop in the car. Research from the University of Oxford suggests that choosing a bike over a car just once a day can reduce the average person’s transportation-related emissions by 67%.

It’s indisputable that sustainable commuting choices reduce air pollution and greenhouse gases, but if you need a more immediate and practical benefit, consider the money it will save you in the long run. Gas prices and parking fees are constantly rising. Swapping your Honda for a Schwinn will save you thousands—if not tens of thousands—annually. Traffic congestion is much less of a concern when travelling on two wheels or via public transit. Plus, taking active forms of transport like biking or walking can positively affect your physical and mental health.

Sustainable transportation options have significant impacts on our environment and our wallets, so why not try them? Taking action against climate change starts with small steps; if more people take up green commuting methods, we could see real progress toward healthier communities and a cleaner future.

How to Practice Sustainable Transportation

Making green commuting choices can help reduce your carbon footprint and benefit the environment, but doing so is easier for some than others. The largest and most densely populated cities typically have the most extensive public transportation systems, but public transit in Chatham-Kent, Ontario—a fairly rural area—is more robust than many large North American cities. 

Thankfully, your ability to commute sustainably isn’t dependent upon public transportation availability. These tips may require some planning but are worth considering if you want to lessen your environmental impact while getting around.

Walk or Bike to Work

Walking or biking to work, if possible, can be an enjoyable routine and one that forms the foundation of a healthier lifestyle. Cruising on your bike or lacing up the sneakers and strolling to your workplace is as good for your health as it is beneficial for the environment. Biking can be faster than driving in certain cities with heavy traffic congestion, and it’s typically the best sustainable option in areas where public transportation is ill-equipped or altogether lacking. 

With all these benefits, why not give walking or biking to work a try? While it will probably take longer than driving, many people find walking or biking to work while listening to their favourite playlist, a podcast, an audiobook, or simply enjoying the sounds of nature and the world around them can be a relaxing and meditative habit. For some, it’s a tremendous quality-of-life and physical health upgrade. 

Portrait of young businesswoman with briefcase and retro bicycle checking time on street

Use Public Transportation

Public transit can get you to work quickly, and its environmental impact pales in comparison to driving a personal vehicle. Utilizing sustainable public transportation allows you to diminish your environmental impact, cut expenses on parking and fuel, and engage with your community in ways that would be unattainable while driving solo. Plus, it’s often quicker than driving, and you can read a book, stream a show, or check emails while heading to and from work. With flexible timetables and routes in many cities worldwide, public transportation is an easy option for commuting more sustainably.

In places like New York City, Chicago, or Boston, trains and subways enable commuters to completely avoid vehicle traffic congestion, making the potential for quality-of-life improvements as appealing as the environmental and financial benefits!

Work from Home

Working remotely, whether it’s telecommuting or simply working from home, is a super convenient way to shrink your environmental footprint. When you choose to work from home, you not only save precious time but also completely cut out the massive amount of fuel that would have been used during your daily commute. Working from home can provide many personal benefits, and the environmental benefits are significant.

Switch to a Four-Day Work Week

Use the increasing popularity of flexible and unconventional work schedules to your advantage. By adjusting to a four-day work week or working remotely one day a week, you can cut the time and energy expended on commuting by 20%. The prospect of implementing this change is less daunting than one might assume. 

Float the idea of working four ten-hour days instead of five eight-hour ones to your higher-ups—it can’t hurt and the benefits are considerable. If you’re commuting to college, arrange a four-day class schedule. Many bosses will care more about what work you do than when you do it. If that’s too much for your current situation, explore shifting your hours so that you commute when traffic is light or share rides with friends.

Consider Carpooling

Carpooling saves fuel, reduces pollution, and even helps ease traffic jams. On top of all that, it’s a nice way to bond with your coworkers and add socialization to what is normally an isolated part of the day. 

Maintain Your Car Properly

Keeping your car in top condition comes naturally to some and can seem impossible to others, but regardless, it can save you money and hassle. Regular car maintenance is the only way to ensure peak fuel efficiency and encourage long-term durability. 

Check your tires’ air pressure frequently, as this can significantly impact how much gas you use. You should also regularly change the oil according to your car manufacturer’s recommended schedule. And try to remove unnecessary items from your vehicle; even if they don’t seem particularly burdensome, they still add weight and decrease fuel economy. All of these tips will help ensure you’re getting the most out of every ounce of gas.

Sustainable Transportation: A monorail in Germany
monorail in Germany
Blick von der Station Westende der Wuppertaler Schwebebahn am 6. Oktober 2019.
Credit: Leonhard Lenz – Own work

Types of Sustainable Vehicles

Advances in technology are making the affordability of electric vehicles better by the day. You can save money and reduce emissions with fuel-efficient vehicles: hybrid electric vehicles can offer up to three times better fuel economy than traditional cars! Hybrid electric vehicles combine a gasoline engine with an electric motor that runs on batteries. Plug-in hybrids are like hybrids, but they’ve got beefier batteries that you can charge up using an external power source. But if you’re serious about going green, all-electric vehicles (EVs) represent the pinnacle of sustainable personal vehicles. They run solely on electricity, meaning zero emissions! 

Do some research and even test drive available sustainable vehicles: there may be an option on the market that suits your needs and budget. When shopping for any vehicle—gas, hybrid, or EV—it’s important to compare models based on their estimated fuel economy ratings.

Offer Incentives for Sustainable Commuting

A great way for employers to encourage sustainable transportation is by offering incentives like reimbursements, free transit passes, and ride-share discounts.

Incentives are a great way to encourage people to use public transport or other green alternatives as they offer additional financial benefits. Employees might see the direct benefit of using these methods rather than driving their own cars while remaining hesitant to change due to convenience. By offering incentives, an employer can do the world a service by pushing commuters who are on the fence about changing their habits over the edge and into sustainable transportation.

Employers can also benefit from encouraging eco-friendly commuting options. With incentives in place, employers can reduce traffic congestion around their workplace and help improve air quality in their area. Incentives go a long way in showing that a business is making efforts towards sustainability and reducing their carbon footprint by encouraging alternate commuting options. So not only do the incentives benefit employees financially, but they also help employers demonstrate their commitment towards environmental responsibility.

In the Green

You can make a difference and reduce your environmental footprint by using sustainable transportation options. You don’t need a car to get from point A to point B—hop on an electric scooter, a bike, public transit, or strolling along to your favourite playlist. By doing so, you’ll be helping the environment, saving time and money, and even improving your quality of life. So why not give green commuting a try? You’ll be doing yourself, future generations, and Mother Nature an enormous favour!

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