By Nicki - posted on September 8, 2021

More on Transport and Travel

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The Problem 

In 2019, domestic transport was responsible for emitting 122 MtCO2e – more than a quarter of the UK’s total carbon emissions. This means transport is the largest emitting sector of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the UK. And that’s before taking into account any emissions from international flights, which have more than doubled in the last 30 years.  

The majority of the UK’s domestic transport emissions (91%) come from road vehicles, mainly cars and taxis. For the average person in the UK, private car travel accounts for almost a third of our carbon footprint, second only to heating our homes. And whilst we might only spend a few hours each year in the sky for holiday air travel, those flights create 12% of emissions. It’s also the fastest growing source of CO2e, with just 1% of English travellers accounting for 18% of international flights

Carbon emissions and other GHGs are causing climate breakdown (read about the problem of climate change in our Go Green article). But it’s not just carbon that is released when we drive or fly. Air pollutants, like nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5), are also created from exhaust emissions as well as tyre- and brake-wear. In the UK, an estimated 40,000 early deaths are linked to air pollution, specifically PM2.5 and NO2in Southampton, that figure is about 110, mostly as a result of particulate matter. 

The Solution(s) 

Research suggests that some of the most impactful individual actions we can take to reduce carbon emissions revolve around transport. These include living car free, avoiding air travel and upgrading to more efficient vehicles. Many of us have already adopted these practices, whether through necessity or preference. 

But small changes to our travel habits can also make big improvements to the environment and to our quality of life. We’re not saying scrap your car and cycle everywhere, especially if you’ve never ridden a bike before! But by replacing short car journeys with a sustainable alternative, you’ll start to improve your local air quality, create quieter and safer streets that are more community-focused and improve your physical and mental well-being.  

Most journeys are under 5 miles, and active transport, including walking, cycling and public transit, could (in many cases) easily be used for these trips in place of cars. Not everyone, however, can part with their vehicles and, in such cases, an effort should be made to increase fuel efficiency by carpooling, not idling, performing routine maintenance and minimising acceleration and braking. Electric vehicles also have a place in addressing air quality.  

Below are a number of ways you can transform your transport and travel habits: 

Active travel

A third of our daily journeys are less than a mile away, so walking, cycling, running and scooting could be a great alternative to getting in the car. Active travel can make you feel better, reduce and avoid air pollution, benefit your health – all with no carbon emissions. To further encourage active travel, new changes to the Highway Code are prioritising walking and biking

Cycling is cheap, quick, it keeps you fit…and it’s usually a lot easier to find a bike rack than it is to find a parking space. Why not dust the cobwebs from your bike, pump up the tyres and give it a go? Dr Bike stations are popping up across the country, providing free bike maintenance and safety checks. Cycling can seem daunting at first but there are lots of resources online for getting started. Learn the secrets to building a nation of cyclists from the Dutch. 

If cycling isn’t your thing, electric scooters are just as convenient and offer flexibility in getting from A to B. Be aware, however, that unless your local authority has made special allowances, UK legislation currently limits the use of e-scooters to private land. 

Public transport

Using public transport, like buses and trains, reduces congestion by getting more cars off the road. This helps minimise air pollution and carbon emissions, removes some of the stress of driving in traffic and gives you an opportunity to read a book or catch up on a TV show or podcast.  

It’s become easier than ever to ride public transport – contactless travel using apps or bank cards as well as live bus times on arrivals boards and handheld electronic devices make planning bus journeys a breeze. Train tickets can be confusing because of the vast selection of ticket types – from rail cards and season tickets to split ticketing and advanced tickets. But a number of websites, including trainline, help you simplify the decision-making. As well as practical advice to get the best train and/or ferry deals, Seat61 also offers advice about the best seats to destinations around the world. Traveline is also useful for planning journeys, including on buses, coaches, trains and ferries. 

Driving less

The average UK commuter would save around £220 and 470 kgCO2 by sharing their commute with two other drivers. Could you set up a car sharing scheme at your place of work, or join forces with other parents to transport the kids to school? This could save you money and give you a chance to get to know new people. Car clubs or car/van hire are a good alternative to owning and running your own car. Read up on car clubs and car-sharing on the Sustrans website. 

Combining trips into a single journey, for example by shopping on your way back from work, or replacing one leg of your journey with a more sustainable transport mode (e.g., park & ride) are also great ways to lessen your environmental impact. 

Smart driving

It may not be possible to ditch the car completely, but remember that if you do drive you can easily reduce your impact by doing a bit of ‘smarter driving’. This means getting more miles to the gallon by: 

  • Keeping your car in tip top condition: checking your tyre pressure regularly and keeping up to date with services. 
  • Driving more slowly, especially as you approach junctions and traffic lights – less accelerating and breaking means less fuel burnt up. 
  • Using your gears correctly – change up or down at between 1500-2000 revs to get the best out of your engine. 
  • Not idling when stationary. 
  • Removing unnecessary weight from your car. 

Check out these eco driving tips from the Environmental Transport Association. 

Swapping an ICE for a battery 

Electric vehicles (EVs) offer numerous benefits over a standard internal combustion engine (ICE), from cheaper running costs to improved local air quality. Even longer journeys are possible in EVs, as proven in a record 840-mile EV journey from John O’Groats to Land’s End. They’re not a silver bullet for sustainable transport but can offer an appealing alternative, especially with current financial incentives to increase their uptake. 

But just because it’s electric, doesn’t mean it’s sustainable. EVs still have an embodied energy – the energy it takes to mine the materials, manufacture the vehicles, transport them to market, maintain and dispose of them. Better recycling of spent EV batteries for their valuable minerals is particularly important to avoid the leaching of e-waste in landfills and to reduce the need for new mining, which can be unethical in some parts of the world. New advances in battery technology may also reduce the need for scarce and expensive resources. 

Learn more about the benefits, potential drawbacks and alternatives to EVs.  


Cheap flights accelerated the growth of short, frequent tourist trips, which have wide-ranging economic, environmental and social impacts. Whilst the UK government plans to decarbonise aviation, its Jet Zero strategy is still in its infancy. Although it alludes to an Emissions Trading Scheme and use of biofuels, there is no mention of fuel/air passenger duties or frequent flier levies despite the support of a Citizens’ Assembly – a group of about 100 people who reflect the UK’s population – for charging more for flying more. 

Offsetting emissions from flying is when you pay others to reduce or store carbon in order to compensate for your travel. This sounds appealing (and there are plenty of options to do so). Projects often involve planting trees to absorb carbon as they grow or installing energy efficient measures in developing countries. But you can’t really offset fossil fuel use by planting trees, not least because of the biological timescales. There’s also no guarantee that a natural disaster won’t just wipe out that newly-planted forest. The carbon offset market is also hugely unregulated. 

So when it comes to your next holiday, pledge not to fly to an exotic destination but instead consider a staycation or a lower carbon way to travel. Some employers even offer climate perks – extra holiday (i.e., travel days) when employees choose to travel without flying. 

Hidden transport costs 

Ordering goods online and having them delivered to your door is, without a doubt, quick, easy and convenient. But it comes at an environmental cost – and not just from the excess packaging waste.  

The ‘last mile’ of the delivery – the journey from a local fulfilment centre to the customer – is one of the most costly and polluting segments of the supply chain. But it also poses significant opportunities to improve efficiency, cost and sustainability. The Sustainable Last Mile report suggests greener practices – from retailers to consumers – can significantly lower last-mile emissions. Consumers can, for example, choose the greenest delivery method available, bundle deliveries and consolidate trips to pick up packages at local centres. We can also consider whether we actually need to purchase an item in the first place and, if so, is it possible to shop local? 

What Next 

Join a challenge, make a pledge and find out more about sustainable transport and travel. 





Promoting Sustainable Travel 

  • Sustrans is the UK’s leading sustainable transport charity. 
  • My Journey (SouthamptonHampshirePortsmouth) offers travel information and advice.  
  • My Journey Workplaces promote active and sustainable travel at your workplace. 
  • Living Streets is the UK charity for everyday walking. Their ambition is to get people of all generations to enjoy the benefits that this simple act brings and to ensure all our streets are fit for walking. 
  • Love to Ride encourages bike riding using their online platform and app, local promotion and interaction. 
  • ACT TravelWise is a UK network for organisations working to promote sustainable travel. 
  • Find out the carbon footprint of travel per kilometre here.