Challenge 1: Commuting

Approximately 16% of Canadian household carbon emissions are attributed to personal transportation, so for this challenge our households explored ways to drive less and green their commutes.

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Everything has a footprint. Some are just bigger.

If we were to ask you where most of our transportation emissions come from, would you say?

  1. The extraction, production, and transportation of gasoline and diesel fuel.
  2. Burning that gasoline and diesel fuel when we drive our vehicles.

We suspect most people will choose Number 1 – hands-down. In fact, the fuel we burn in our cars, trucks, vans, and motorcycles accounts for approximately 80% of the total lifecycle emissions from extracting it out of the ground to the exhaust puffing out of your tailpipe. This total lifecycle is also known as well-to-wheels emissions. 

Get the facts

Is your office job killing the planet?

The average Canadian commute is 8.7 km each way and produces 3.6 kg of CO2 emissions – without accounting for idling.

EV emissions vary depending on where you live

Powering electric vehicles (EVs) comes with a carbon emissions footprint as well. However, its carbon intensity varies depending on how electricity is generated in your province or territory, whereas the amount of CO2 emitted burning a litre of gasoline is the same wherever you live, 2.3 kg.

For comparison, we’ll use the information in Volvo’s Carbon Footprint Report which compares the internal combustion version of their XC40 crossover vehicle with its EV counterpart, the XC40 Recharge. Based on the reported emissions of the average ICE XC40, driving for 100 km would produce 16 kg of CO2. At an efficiency of 24 kWh/100 km and charging at the national average carbon intensity of 110 g CO2/kWh, the XC Recharge would be responsible for only 2.6 kg of CO2, which is 6 times less!

Intensité carbone de l’électricité, 2020 (grammes d’équivalent CO2 par kWh). Source : Régie de l’énergie du Canada
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Even natural-gas fired electricity is greener than gasoline

The above calculation is based on the national average. If you charged the same car in Alberta, where most electricity is generated from natural gas, you’d still be reducing your emissions by 2 kg/100km over the gasoline engine (12%), and if you recharged your XC40 Recharge in a hydro-rich province like Manitoba or Quebec that reduction grows to around 95%.

In Canada, personal vehicle transportation accounts for 10% of our national carbon emissions, or about 4.6 tonnes of greenhouse gases (GHGs) per vehicle per year. With a vast landscape, sprawling cities, and sparse rural areas it’s not practical for everyone to stop driving altogether, but there are actions everyone can take to start making a positive difference.

The household challenge

In the Commuting Challenge, families were tasked with finding ways to decrease their household emissions connected to commuting. This included: Examining their usual routes and routines. Determining how their family could drive less. Exploring mobility options with fewer, or even zero, emissions. By making smart choices, changing old habits, and investing in new technologies, households could dramatically reduce their commuting carbon footprint.

See what they learned…

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    Commuting tips for your household

    On average, a reduction in driving a gasoline powered vehicle by a mere 20 kilometres per week decreases carbon emissions by 13 kg. If 1.5 million vehicles remained parked for those 20 kilometres the annual reduction in emissions would be 234,000 tonnes of CO2. So, how can we drive less and still get to where we need to go?

    Don’t drive / Drive less

    • Choose alternative modes of transportation: Active travel is vital to making substantial reductions in the emissions connected to shorter commutes. What is active travel? For most journey purposes active travel covers short to medium trips – typically 2 km for walking, 5 km for cycling, and 10 km for e-biking.
    • Embrace micromobility: Whether you purchase your own or use ride-share services if they are available in your area, there are plenty of e-mobility options available that aren’t EVs. These include electric bikes, scooters, skateboards, and more.
    • Take public transit: How green your public transit system is depends on what powers your local buses and trains, but even for a diesel-fuelled bus, the emissions are divided across many people so everyone’s personal emissions are lower compared to driving individual vehicles.
    • Work from home: Remember all those early-pandemic photos of smog-free skies around the world? EVERYONE suddenly stayed home and stopped driving. If it is an option, choose to reduce your number of daily commutes to work and watch your emissions savings add up.

    With a little planning and preparation you can make small changes that still make a difference in your driving footprint.

    Be more efficient

    • Plan your trips: Group errands to reduce the overall distance travelled to achieve them, or carpool commutes to work, school, or leisure activities.
    • Drive smarter: There are many things you can do to increase your vehicle’s fuel efficiency and in turn decrease emissions, including: avoid hard braking and acceleration; remove unnecessary cargo weight; perform regular maintenance; and don’t idle.
    • Upgrade your older vehicle: Though not nearly as much as an EV, a new internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle still helps reduce your CO2 footprint when driving, due to better fuel efficiency, improved emissions controls, and features like auto stop-start to reduce idling.

    Switching to an electric vehicle (EV) eliminates all tailpipe emissions since they don’t burn fossil fuels – and don’t have a tailpipe – so as a long-term investment against an EV’s lifecycle it is one of the most significant changes you can make to reduce your commuting carbon footprint.

    Re-EValuate your ride

    • Be a leader: Canada is banning the sale of new combustion engine passenger cars and light trucks by 2035 which is only 13 years away. This target comes with milestones of at least 20% zero emissions sales by 2026 and 60% by 2030. Get ahead of the curve and inspire others to make the switch to an electric vehicle.
    • Even “grey” electricity is greener than burning gasoline: The carbon intensity of power generation varies considerable depending on where you live but even in province like Alberta, currently reliant on natural gas, there is an approximately 12% reduction in driving related emissions over gasoline.
    • Green your charge: See if your current utility provider has green energy plans, or install solar panels to charge your EV and power your home.
    • Don’t sweat the EV production carbon footprint: The carbon footprint of a vehicle as it comes off the assembly line is currently larger for EVs than a comparable gasoline-powered vehicle, so it takes a little while to hit the break-even point in an EV’s lifecycle to make up the difference. In Canada you hit that break-even point in about 2 years of charging vs gassing up, but tailpipe-related emissions are eliminated from the start.
    • Find the right fit: Take a look at your expected use for an EV and find the one that fits your needs, your typical range, and your pocketbook. If suitable, a compact, short-range EV is not only a lot less expensive than a larger, long-range e-SUV, its production footprint is a lot smaller which helps you get to net zero faster.

    Did you know?

    • If you use Shell’s mobile payment app, they offset the end-use carbon emissions for your fuel purchase.
    • Researchers from Dartmouth found that commutes involving more physical activity, such as walking or bicycling, correlated with less stress and better performance at work. – Bloomberg
    • According to Natural Resources Canada, using a block heater in colder months can increase your fuel efficiency by 10% overall and up to 25% for shorter trips. 
    • The price gap is continuing to close between ICE vehicles and EVs and with federal and provincial incentive programs some vehicles are pretty much at par.

    Contest Rules & Regulations

    Get yourself to zero

    To help your own household get closer to a zero-carbon lifestyle, see how our five families navigated unique journeys to net zero and learn from their shared their personal tips and tricks.