Cars have been such an integral part of work and our working lives for so long it’s hard to imagine a future where carless companies are the norm rather than the exception. But that future is fast approaching.

The company car (and carpark) has long been seen as the ultimate perk. But for most employees, cars, parking, and commuting are a cause of stress and frustration.

According to a report commissioned for the Employers and Manufacturers Association (EMA) traffic congestion in Auckland could be costing over $2 billion a year. And pollution from cars is linked to hundreds of thousands of deaths globally each year.

The Covid-19 pandemic and the lockdowns that emptied our roads and streets offered a unique glimpse into carless cities. Rush hour disappeared in Los Angeles, according to NRIX, a firm that analyses global traffic data, and 2020 saw the largest annual decline in carbon dioxide emissions.

In New Zealand, we had the second-largest drop in carbon dioxide emissions in the world, at 41% lower than the year before1.

Cities around the world are reimagining how people get around and restricting where cars can go. Some cities are redesigning streets to prioritise other uses including public transport and parks. In Barcelona, intersections are being replaced with playgrounds. Amsterdam plans to remove over 11,000 parking spots by 2025, using the space for wider sidewalks, bike lanes, trees and bike parking. This carless city trend will force companies that are not already moving towards more sustainable transport options to get on board.

The Covid-19 pandemic also prompted a massive shift in attitudes towards flexible working and working from home. Zoom meetings became the norm for many companies and employees. Where previously, some roles saw employees spending most of their working day commuting to see customers, now they can solve their problems more efficiently using online technology.

Other ideas to make the shift

Look beyond the four-wheeled solution

  • Give staff the freedom and flexibility to choose other ways to get around.
  • Phase out car parking as an employee benefit.
  • Encourage staff to walk to meetings or make it easy for them to take public transport by reimbursing their fare.
  • Provide secure bike parking and showers for cyclists.
  • Try offering a few pool bikes, e-bikes or e-scooters.
  • Find out whether you're eligible for funding(external link) to install EV charging infrastructure.

Align your fleet to the needs of your staff and organisation

Fleet optimisation means using actual usage data to make informed decisions about how to manage your vehicles. Forget the person-car relationship – having cars that spend all day in the garage is a waste of resources. Start by taking a pooled approach – car pool booking software can help to make sure the right vehicle is available for the right job.

Learn more about buying efficient light fleet vehicles

Mix it up

Record data on how your vehicles are used over a period of months. Use this to structure an efficient fleet that still meets your needs. If 1-2 staff members often take short trips, you may be able to switch a wagon or SUV for a fuel efficient compact car – or an electric vehicle.

Think beyond ownership

There are more creative transport options than owning or leasing a car. Car share schemes, e-bikes, e-scooters and public transport are cost-effective and flexible options that can save resources and still meet your needs. You can mandate that staff hire EVs or other low emissions vehicles when needed.

Encourage flexible working

Offering work from home options is an easy way to reduce your energy-related emissions. 1.9 million Kiwis normally travel to work by car – if a fifth of them chose to work at home at least one day a week, we could avoid 84,000 tonnes of carbon emissions each year which would have come from burning fossil fuels in our cars. This is the same amount of carbon emissions as taking 35,000 cars off the road – for good. Giving staff the option to work flexible hours and travel during off-peak hours is another easy win.

The benefits of working from home

Hold more meetings online

Set up virtual meeting options, such as web or video conferencing. Save time and stress – as well as emissions – by holding business meetings online or by video conference. This has the potential to achieve big savings in the emissions generated by flights and car travel.

People flying between Auckland and Wellington for business generate an estimated 65,000 tonnes of carbon in an average year, the equivalent of 27,000 cars on the road. By choosing online options when you can, you could help to take out a chunk out of those emissions.

Harness the power of your staff

Educating and motivating staff about energy efficiency is proven to help businesses save energy and carbon emissions for relatively low cost.

Inspire workplace action

More than 70% of New Zealanders are prepared to change their own personal behaviour in order to reduce climate change. You could inspire action among your colleagues by telling them what you’re doing to live Gen Less or sharing ideas in newsletters or online forums.

Walking the talk

EECA(external link) (the government agency that backs Gen Less) is Toitū carbonzero certified, having begun our emissions measurement and reductions journey in 2007. Transport has been key to achieving our emissions reductions of 35% in that time: we have offices in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, but no car parks nor fleet cars. We do have secure bike lock-up facilities and locations suited to public transport.

Travel is still a challenge, however, because our account managers need to travel as part of their work, to make site-visits to large energy-using businesses around the country. We’ve been chipping away at these emissions over the years by encouraging staff to consider opportunities to reduce travel, improving teleconferencing resources, and embracing electric vehicle (EV) car share schemes and electric rental cars. Our Auckland office now only uses EVs. This has helped us cut emissions from plane and car travel by 31% since 2007.

1Nature Climate Change: Temporary reduction in daily global CO2 emissions during the COVID-19 forced confinement(external link)