Accounting for Employee Commute

Sumday Team
February 22, 2024
5 Minutes
Photo by Nic Y-C

When it comes to accounting for the emissions from Employee Commute sometimes you need a steer in the right direction 🛞

In this article we are going to explore some of the key concepts underpinning the GHG accounting for Employee Commute related emissions.

Why are emissions from commuting activities important?

For businesses, especially service-based organisations employee activities can be a significant driver of scope 3 emissions. For individual employees, this is one of the main areas that they can have a direct impact on their company’s carbon emissions.

By being conscious of the climate impact of their commuting activities employees are able to make deliberate choices around how they get to and from work which can impact climate outcomes as well as result in co-benefits, including lower congestion or improved air quality.

By reporting on emissions associated with commuting behaviour companies are able to look more wholistically around the way their employees interact with their physical place of work, potentially provide incentives for behavioural change and collaborate with employees on their emissions reduction journey.

How do businesses account for emissions from employee commutes?

Employee Commute is accounted for under the Scope 3 category “Employee Commuting” in the GHG Protocol. The Technical Guidance for Calculating Scope 3 Emissions states that:

“This category includes emissions from the transportation of employees between their homes and their worksites”

The guidance also notes that this category of emissions can result from employees using the following modes of transport:

  • Automobile travel
  • Bus travel
  • Rail travel
  • Air travel
  • Other modes of transportation (e.g., subway, bicycling, walking).

Businesses should look to understand the modes of transport specific to their employees as this list isn’t exhaustive. Commutes via ferry, unicycle or flying car would still fall into this category.

It is also worth noting that under the GHG Protocol guidance emissions associated with employees working from home are also included within this category.

Under the guidance there are three methods for calculating Employee commute:
  • ‍Fuel-based method - Here the organisation needs to quantify the fuel or electricity consumption as part of the trip, apportion this to the individual passenger and then calculate the emissions based on a conversion of the quantity of fuel into an equivalent amount of CO2 using a representative emissions factor.‍
  • Distance-based method - Here the distance and the mode of transport are known and this information is used to calculate the emissions from the trip based on a representative distance-based emissions factor.‍
  • Average-data method - Here employee specific information has not been collected and instead average data associated with commuter behaviours in the geographic location where the company operates is used to estimate emissions.

As a general rule, the fuel and distance-based method represent more accurate estimates of emissions associated with commuting activities, however, this data might not necessarily always be available, especially if your company is only just getting started on your carbon accounting journey.

As part of their GHG Inventory organisations should disclose sources of uncertainty, estimates and methods adopted in order to calculate emissions, this applies to disclosure of employee commuting activities as well as other key areas of the inventory.

Where do commuting emissions factors come from?

Most of the time emissions factors will vary depending on the location of the company reporting emissions. If you are using the fuel-based method, the emissions factors will likely be consistent with where your Scope 1 and 2 factors have been sourced. Generally, employee commuting factors also incorporate the Well-to-tank emissions linked to the supply of that fuel.

If you are using the distance-based method there may be km/mile-based factors published by the government in your jurisdiction, if not many organisations will rely on the factors published annually by the UK government.

If you want to go a bit further down the rabbit hole, the UK government also publishes a methodology paper to accompany their emissions factors which outlines the overall approach adopted to come up with these factors.

For the average data method factors are often a composite of data from multiple sources including the government S1 & 2 factors and local commuting averages from research reports or government census data. Disclosure of the method used to calculate emissions under the average data method is important as approaches can vary significantly from organisation to organisation.

For select jurisdictions, Sumday has default factors to calculate emissions using the average data method or you can create your own custom emissions factors to meet your specific circumstances.

Collecting Commuting Data

In order to determine the most appropriate method for your organisation, it might make sense to understand what data you already have, any gaps, and what level of data quality you may need to meet your reporting goals.

Organisations may also want to send out an employee survey to collect the specific data they need to quantify emissions under various methods. It should be noted that organisations can use a combination of methods depending on the responses received from employees. It might also be a good idea to formalise this data collection process so employees are submitting answers frequently, and not having to try and remember their movements for the entire year come the end of the reporting period.

Most organisations who survey employees in relation to their commute behaviours won’t get 100% response rates, which is completely normal. To deal with these data gaps, organisations can look at statistical approaches such as extrapolation to estimate the emissions associated with the data gaps, or they can look to rely on the average data method in order to fill those data gaps. There is professional judgement associated with the most appropriate approach and as such, disclosure of the rationale for the approach adopted is important for transparency and auditability.

Arriving home

In this article we have taken the long way home, exploring the availability methods for calculating emissions from employee commuting activities, taking stock of the emissions factors that are typically used in the calculation, and discussed some of the practical considerations as part of the process.

If you are interested in finding out more about how to actually prepare a GHG inventory inline with the GHG Protocol sign up for a free trial with Sumday and explore our Academy full of learning resources.

Hopefully you have enjoyed the ride and we will see you soon! đźš—