Calculating your carbon emissions from commuting

January 7, 2022
Article

Find out how bad daily commutes are for the planet.

AT A GLANCE

What you need to know to calculate your company’s carbon footprint from commuting

What to include: Employee travel between home and the workplace via personal vehicle, public transit, and other vehicles (e.g., motorcycle, electric scooter).

Why measure: Transportation is the most significant contributing sector to greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. Understanding your employee commuting behaviors will inform company policies to reduce emissions from daily travel.

Emissions scope: Scope 3

How often: Annually, quarterly, or monthly

What to do next: Calculate your roundtrip commuting emissions with our carbon footprint calculator tool, then decide how to curb those emissions with work from home policies and transit benefit programs.


The single largest emissions source in the U.S. is transportation. And commuting accounts for about 30% of all miles driven in the U.S. While business travel may be easier to document, employee commuting typically falls through the cracks.

While employee commuting emissions might seem like the individual’s responsibility, the emissions are part of a company’s scope 3 emissions profile. If that has you frazzled, fear not—below, we detail everything you need to know about how to measure those emissions.

Calculate your commuting emissions

Plus, Sustain.Life includes other carbon calculators to measure and manage your GHG emissions.

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If you can think back to a time before the coronavirus pandemic, commuting was likely one of your work week displeasures. On average, the U.S. Census says it ate almost an hour of our day.  

Time-suck aside, an internal study done at Sun Microsystems in 2008 found that daily commutes accounted for more than 98% of employees’ work-related carbon footprint. While your company’s mileage may vary (pun intended)—especially with the shift to remote and hybrid work—many employees still create GHG emissions from their commuting behaviors, which contribute to climate change.  

Why should you track your commuting emissions?

Commuting emissions typically come from car and other vehicle exhaust but can also come from the electricity used to charge an electric vehicle or power your city’s metro system. And whether you have a fully remote, hybrid, or traditional workforce, you should consider how much your employees travel to get to work so you can help do it more efficiently.

If you’re able to track or at least estimate how your employees commute—both the transportation mode and distance—it means you can calculate commuting-related emissions (more on how to do that below).

And understanding your company’s CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent) emissions from employee commutes means you can then decide how to reduce those emissions. For example, encourage employees to trade carbon-intensive modes of transportation (here’s looking at you combustion engines) for active, carbon-free, and low-carbon alternatives that eliminate thousands of pounds of carbon emissions and improve air quality. In short, by measuring and tracking your commuting emissions, mitigation strategies become apparent.

QUICK NOTE

Track commuting and business travel (e.g., air travel for business trips and meetings) and separately. Read how to calculate business travel emissions.

What emissions scope is employee commuting?

Commuting emissions are scope 3 because they’re created indirectly by your company. Again, while your business doesn’t directly create these emissions, the people supporting it do.  

If you’re curious to learn more about emissions scopes (you’ve probably heard about scopes 1, 2, and 3) and why you should care about them, this three-minute video will get you off on the right foot.  

How to calculate your company’s commuting emissions:

1. Find out your company’s total number of employees.

2. Estimate the percentage of your employees that work remotely.  

3. If you’re able, conduct a commuting survey to determine the total number of car, bus, and rail miles traveled for the month. If you’re not ready to conduct a survey, estimate the percentage of employees that travel on each mode.

Sustain.Life’s automatic employee commuting carbon calculator

4. Sign in to your Sustain.Life account and go to the employee commuting emissions calculator and enter the data you gathered.

5. That’s it, Sustain.Life automatically calculates your carbon footprint in metric tons (MT) of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e). If you’ve calculated and recorded your employee commuting emissions based on estimates, you can always come back and add actual miles traveled.  

What’s next?

After you see how much employee commutes contribute to your company’s carbon footprint, you can get to work reducing those emissions. That will look different for everyone. For some, it might be creating a bike-to-work program or incentives for carpooling and rideshares or taking public transportation. You could even dovetail your efforts to reduce your electricity use by formalizing a work from home plan.

And if you’re still stuck when it comes to reducing your commuting emissions, our Full Sustainability Platform includes over 100 step-by-step guides to help you reduce your carbon footprint.

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The takeaway

• Commuting emissions come from travel between home and the workplace via personal vehicle, public transit, and other vehicles.

• Employee commuting emissions are scope 3 indirect emissions, which means they’re outside your company’s direct control.