Jumping into a car every day is still seen by most people as a hugely convenient way of getting to work. At the same time, though, it can also be frustrating, expensive, unhealthy and damaging to the environment.

Clearly in some parts of the country – the more remote parts of rural Scotland, for instance – finding a more sustainable alternative to the daily drive is going to be challenging. But for many of us, it only needs willpower and a bit of thought to make a change.

Encouragement to switch to greener and healthier ways of commuting and travelling on business comes from initiatives such as the Sustrans Workplace Challenge, organised last month by the active travel charity in partnership with Transport Scotland.

In total, more than 85,000 greener journeys were recorded, including walking, cycling, taking the bus, car sharing and even kayaking and canoeing.

Employers involved in the challenge included Visit Scotland, the investment management company Baillie Gifford and RBS. It has been calculated that over the month, carbon dioxide emissions were reduced by over 75 tonnes and more than 10 million extra calories burned by those taking part.

There was a 54% rise in active journeys over the month and a near-30% increase in the levels of participation compared to last year’s event, making it the most successful yet.

The exercise reduced spending as well as carbon: it’s calculated that savings employees made added up to more than £89,500.

HeraldScotland:

John Lauder, Scotland Director of Sustrans, explains the rationale behind the programme. “We’re committed to transforming the way people, employers and businesses think about urban travel and want to play an integral role in the active travel revolution in Scotland.

“Investing in staff wellbeing is a major part of this transformation, as we know through our research that employees who cycle or have an active route to work are healthier, happier and take nearly half as many sick days as their colleagues who drive or take public transport.”

With absenteeism costing UK employers nearly £3 billion every year, Lauder adds, it is important that employers get behind their staff to encourage alternative routes to work in order to help boost health, wellbeing and productivity.

“Luckily, with these things being at the heart of many employers’ focus now, the challenge continues to go from strength to strength.

“While [the challenge] was on for just one month, we work with both employers and employ-ees throughout the year to encourage change.”

Janie Neumann, whose role as industry development manager at VisitScotland focuses on sustainability, said staff were delighted to become involved with the challenge. “We were part of the challenge last year and thought it would be a great thing to do again. We’re very much in support of actions to reduce carbon emissions and this has been a very practical way for staff to be involved.”

VisitScotland has calculated that transport accounts for some 20 per cent of its carbon emissions.

Employees are based at a number of locations around the country, from Shetland and the Outer Hebrides to Glasgow and its head office in Edinburgh.

Staff employed a number of alternative methods of getting to work. “The biggest difference has been to people making short journeys of fewer than five miles, as that’s a practical distance for cycling or using public transport.”

Combating climate change, Newmann points out, may not necessarily involve changing a method of commuting. “One colleague told me that they had decided to work from home and to make conference calls more often instead of travelling.”

The reaction from employees has been positive, with some deciding to continue with their lifestyle changes beyond the month of the challenge. “People have been encouraging each other to participate and sharing their photographs and experiences. Some of them have been cycling through the most beautiful parts of Scotland.”

Clearly staff working in more remote areas have no choice but to use cars to travel, though VisitScotland is working to change its carbon footprint here too by looking at leasing hybrid vehicles in the future.

“About half of our people work in our Edinburgh head office and we’re lucky enough to have showers there. We also have bike racks but they’ve been getting busy of late. If we have to ask for this facility to be extended, then that’s a great problem to have.”

As was the case last year, Baillie Gifford took the top spot for logging the most company journeys in the 1,000 staff-plus category.

Gareth Owen, Team Leader in IT, drove the challenge at the firm. He explained that it was vital for encouraging a healthier, happier and more productive workplace.

“The initiative has been a great way for our employees to get fit, save money and reduce congestion,” he added. “We do work hard to ensure that we are carbon neutral and to encourage our people to commute in a sustainable way.

“About 150 people took part, amounting to some 14% of our workforce, and they used a mix of sustainable commuting methods. It went really well.”

HeraldScotland:

The Herald’s Climate for Change initiative supports efforts being made by the Scottish Government with key organisations and campaign partners. Throughout the year we will provide a forum in The Herald newspaper, online at herald.scotland.com and in Business HQ magazine, covering news and significant developments in this increasingly crucial area.

If you are interested in contributing editorially or interested in becoming a Climate for Change partner, please contact Stephen McTaggart on 0141 302 6137 or email stephen.mctaggart@heraldandtimes.co.uk