Snapshot on Sustainability: Transportation

This post is a based on research and discussions that are informing the 2016 State of Sustainability report. Similar to the 2015 report released by Sightlines and the Sustainability Institute, the new report will be published in February and will highlight key sustainability metrics for higher education.

A major component of an institution’s greenhouse gas inventory is emissions created by transportation-related activities, primarily commuting to and from campus by students, staff and faculty. There are a number of ways an institution can attempt to reduce these emissions by promoting new policies and programs on campus.

According to Second Nature, 69% of Carbon Commitment Signatories pledged to encourage the use of public transportation among campus users. A look at AASHE STARs reporting data shows that:

  • 84% of institutions have implemented public transit/shuttle services;
  • 72% have Rideshare programs;
  • 48% use telecommuting policies;
  • 57% have condensed their work week; and
  • 29% offer incentives to live closer to work.

While these numbers are promising, there is room for improvement. “STARS reporters are generally institutions with some of the strongest internal commitment to sustainability,” said Heather Finnegan, Sightlines Account Manager and Sustainability Expert. “Yet, adoption of most sustainable commuter programs strategies has been weak.”

Become Bike Friendly

One way for a college or university to reduce the carbon footprint of its users is by becoming a Bicycle Friendly campus.Sustainability blog image1

“Few institutions that report to STARs have become bike friendly institutions, although many already have programs in place that are integral to this designation,” said Finnegan. “Bike parking, storage, and accommodations like changing rooms and showers have become standard in many places because LEED construction gives points for having these attributes in new construction projects.”

According to AASHE STARs, submitting institutions report:

  • 23% are bike friendly,
  • 75% have accommodations (changing rooms/showers),
  • 69% offer Bike parking/storage,
  • 49% have Accommodation Policies (e.g. rules for sharing the road/sidewalks), and
  • 64% enable bike sharing programs.

While these numbers are encouraging, there is still more that can be done on campus. It is also worth noting that there is a strong correlation between states with strong Complete Streets Policies and higher education institutions that have the Bike Friendly University (BFU) designation from the League of American Bicyclists. According to Smart Growth America, “a Complete Streets approach integrates people and place in the planning, design, construction, operation, and maintenance of our transportation networks.”Sustainability blog image2“States with strong complete street policies are most often the same states with many Bicycle Friendly Universities,” said Finnegan. “Much like we found in last year’s State of Sustainability report, state policy plays a big part in local adaptation of sustainability initiatives.”

One state with a good Complete Streets Policy Score and a growing number of Bicycle Friendly Universities is California. Currently listed as a bronze medal achiever, Pomona College has been recognized as a BFU since 2014. To learn about Pomona’s Green Bikes Shop, as well as other transportation-related initiatives, please read our guest blog post from Leta Ames, Sustainability Intern, at Pomona College.