the environmentalist reports on a car-sharing scheme that is reducing BT's carbon footprint and will save £250k a year in fuel costs
In 2011, BT was faced with a considerable challenge: moving up to 900 staff from different locations into a new office with just 75 parking spaces. The site, 1 Providence Place, is in West Bromwich.
Although not all the relocating employees would be moving at the same time, the vast majority would be coming from an environment where they had been used to ample, free parking at work.
Because the new building was subject to a s.106 agreement under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, BT had no choice but to implement a radical travel plan focused primarily on car sharing.
The s.106 agreement stipulates that single occupancy cars entering the site must be reduced to 47% within five years. But BT was motivated by more than just regulation. The company is committed to tackling climate change, and sustainable travel is a firm part of its strategy.
BT teamed up with liftshare, a social enterprise that helps individuals to travel more sustainably by sharing their journeys. The telecoms giant introduced a liftshare scheme based on just 45 dedicated car-sharing bays for staff.
The project has encouraged many employees to take a fresh look at their commute, and the results have been impressive. In addition to being well on the way to meeting the conditions of its s.106 agreement, BT’s scheme has already made significant CO2 savings – as well as helping staff to save money on a daily basis.
The drivers for change
The first tranche of people was due to move into the new building in October 2011 and so, from July, the car-sharing scheme was launched as part of BT’s overall relocation programme.
In recognition of the behavioural change that BT knew would be needed to implement the new scheme, business change manager Ian Coward led the project and held a series of workshops aimed at getting people on board with the relocation.
Car parking at the new site dominated proceedings, as Coward comments: “We had an impressive, purpose-built new office to show people but the main focus of our communications was parking, and the discussions became emotional at times.”
With just 75 parking spaces to play with, Coward knew the car-sharing scheme had to start as it meant to go on, regardless of the fact that there would be far fewer people working in the building initially.
Of the 75 available spaces, 45 were allocated for staff as car-sharing bays, 12 reserved for disabled drivers and the remaining spaces turned into visitor parking. Although the tight ratio of staff to car-parking spaces meant that, ideally, every car travelling to the office should be as full as possible, Coward had to take other factors into account when deciding on the requirements for the scheme.
“At first we thought the basic criterion should be a minimum of three occupants per car but because of initial resistance to the scheme we realised that we had to ease people in more gently, so we agreed on a minimum of two occupants per car for the first phase of the scheme,” he explains.
In August, before the move, BT carried out a poll to establish a baseline of car occupancy levels among the 400 or so employees who would be the first to move to 1 Providence Place.
The results indicated that the overwhelming majority drove to work and, among this sample, there was an 85%–90% single occupancy rate. This was a daunting statistic for BT to change but, by May 2012, it was reduced to just 65%.
However, BT’s commitments under its s.106 agreement apply not only to cars entering the on-site car park but to all employees’ driving patterns. So, for instance, the existence of a cheap, £2 per day car park close to the new office is a significant barrier to BT achieving its 47% single occupancy rate by 2017.
Working with liftshare
BT contacted liftshare quite early on in the project. Coward says the social enterprise’s expertise has been very valuable, as well as the software infrastructure that BT has been able to put in place.
Being part of the liftshare scheme means that BT has access to an online journey-matching tool. BT employees working at 1 Providence Place can register their details online (carsharesandwell.com) and search to find other commuters at the telecoms company who are travelling a similar route to and from work.
Representatives from liftshare helped BT to promote the scheme, giving presentations to staff. Coward says the people at liftshare are passionate about the environmentally friendly service they are providing, which can also help generate enthusiasm internally for the scheme.
Being part of a nationally run initiative means that Coward and his colleagues can tap into a knowledge-sharing hub and exchange information with other organisations that are part of liftshare.
Being part of the liftshare network also gives Coward access to the monitoring pages on the website enabling BT to evaluate the success of the system. “The ongoing support provided by liftshare makes a real difference to the scheme’s success,” says Coward.
“The website has given me the foundation tool to manage the scheme and help adapt employee behaviour, for example by being able to measure key metrics like CO2 and fuel savings on a car-by-car basis.”
Using figures from the 100 or so people that are already car sharing at the site, BT estimates its workforce will save 164 tonnes in CO2 emissions and £250,000 in fuel costs each year.
So far, BT’s liftshare scheme has 150 members, with 107 successfully converted into car sharers – this two to three conversion rate is considered to be good progress at such an early stage. It means, however, that 43 people are still waiting to join a suitable car share.
Sadly, says Coward, ‘there will always be a few individuals whose work journeys simply do not match up with any of their colleagues.’
On a day-to-day basis, the scheme operates by employees registering on the website and signing up for a potential car-share opportunity, and then forming suitable “BUDi groups”.
People need to create BUDi groups with colleagues where a lift share could work in practice because their buddies live in similar locations or on similar routes into work. In BT’s case, Coward encouraged people to set up BUDi groups before signing on to the site, giving the scheme a head start.
Coward says there was a small but firm shift in some people’s attitude to the scheme as soon as it was launched, with a proactive minority making links online and embracing their new travel arrangements.
Some staff have been creative in their car sharing by not limiting their travel buddies to those who live nearby. One four-person car share begins its journey in Sutton Coldfield and picks up passengers in Walsall before reaching its West Bromwich destination.
Flexibility is the key to the scheme’s success, says Coward, which is why it needs ongoing monitoring and tweaking. “It is not a static system because the working lives of people are subject to change,” he says.
For instance, one current car share involves at least six BT trainers sharing a ride to and from work for a four-month period as that is the length of their assignment. Once they have moved on, their allocated space needs to be reassigned to a different group.
Another car share is a seasonal arrangement, made up of some keen cyclists working in IT who only want to travel by car in the winter months
Although the online tool acts as a big coordination prop for people, there is still some onus on individuals to take responsibility for setting up precise arrangements, typically via a follow-up email.
Driving forward the scheme
Currently, 32 of the 45 available car-share parking bays are taken by two-person car shares. There are five three-person journeys and seven four-person car shares in the scheme.
Although Coward took the decision at the outset to allow car shares with just two people to qualify under the scheme, to get it off the ground, now the scheme is more established this decision is up for review; to progress the scheme and ensure it achieve its potential, the minimum number of individuals sharing one car needs to be raised.
“In practice, a two-person car share is open to abuse if one person is on leave or individual circumstances change,” says Coward. “Unfortunately, there are a few people who are not following the spirit of the scheme and it is not easy to monitor every single car journey.”
At present, around 65% of the workforce at 1 Providence Place travel to work in a car, so there is plenty of potential to increase the car-sharing population towards the target of 47%. This is another reason why a car-sharing scheme needs ongoing monitoring and review, as well as reinforcement, according to Coward.
Although the mood around the car-share scheme has palpably shifted among staff since it was first mooted, there are still pockets of negativity about it – a fairly inevitable result of any business and behaviour change programme, says Coward.
In the majority of cases, however, the mood has moved to a much more positive “can do” attitude and most negativity now is directed at individuals who are perceived as abusing the scheme, demonstrating clearly how it is now widely accepted by employees.
Inevitably, as the scheme has become established, it has reached something of a plateau and Coward intends to change hearts and minds to raise it to the next level – mainly by increasing the qualifying car-occupancy rates. “We are learning as we go and can’t assume that the scheme is now ‘done’ – it will need constant review and change,” he says.
BT’s car-share scheme is already well on its way to being a real success story but, looking back, Coward says that if he were to launch a similar scheme again, he would focus even more firmly on promoting the initiative on a green platform and its potential for a significant reduction in carbon emissions, rather than focusing mainly on the s.106 agreement.
His final recommendation for other organisations considering a car-share scheme is that you cannot do enough marketing and promotion to get the scheme off the ground and employees on board. “There is a lot of ingrained behaviour around single-car occupancy in society,” he advises, “and it is not easy to change that behaviour.”
liftshare was founded in 1998 by Ali Clabburn while he was still at university. Like a lot of students, one holiday Clabburn did not have the funds to travel home from Bristol to Norfolk and so he posted a lift request on the student noticeboard. The concept “grew a bit” among the university population and, 14 years on, is now a sophisticated but user-friendly online tool with more than 500,000 individual members and 600 corporate liftshare schemes. Around 100,000 people share lifts through the site every day, ranging from regular work drives to one-off festival trips or occasional weekend journeys.
Although the early impetus for setting up the car-sharing scheme was based on promoting social networking to a practical end, liftshare very quickly embraced the significant environmental goals that could be achieved from car sharing. As Clabburn says: “Efficiency and sustainability go hand in hand and sharing more, like car journeys, can have a huge impact on saving the planet’s resources.”
Sustainability is now a key part of liftshare’s mission, with the company already having won a number of prestigious environmental awards, including, in June 2012, the Eurostar Ashden award for sustainable travel and the EU’s Sustainable Energy Europe award in the travelling category.
When liftshare was first set up, before the internet boom, the site was hosted in Canada as the capability to manage a database-driven site did not yet exist in the UK. That is no longer a problem and the “back-office” element of the site contains a wealth of data that can be analysed and mapped to help organisations manage their car-share schemes.
Clabburn says the average commuter logging on to the site has 36 potential matches for their journey. And members have options on how they search for companions to share with – for example, female commuters can limit their search to other women drivers.
“You don’t need your own car to join – many drivers are happy to offer a lift in exchange for a contribution to running costs,” Clabburn adds. Generally, those who car share tend to stick with the same car and BUDi team indefinitely.
For organisations that want to introduce a car-share scheme, Clabburn mentions several critical success factors:
- appoint a car-share champion and/or manager – someone who believes in the scheme and can publicise it to staff;
- promote the incentives of being part of the scheme – such as the benefits to the environment, fuel-cost savings and the opportunity for social networking; and
- use every opportunity to raise awareness of the incentives of the scheme – such as clear signage for the car-share parking bays and recognition for being part of the scheme.
“Organisations should consider introducing a car-share scheme even if they do not have a pressing parking problem,” advises Clabburn. “The investment in a corporate car-sharing scheme is minimal and is far outweighed by the potential benefits for both the environment and staff.”