Building a Culture of Bicycle Commuting at your Workplace

World Resources Institute’s Innovative Active Commuting Program

Last year, World Resources Institute won goDCgo’s 2018 Ambassador Award for Bike-Friendliest Workplace for their active commuting program. Now in its second year, here’s why and how World Resources Institute’s summer commuter program makes their office one of the bike-friendliest workplaces in the region.

Align bicycle commuting with your organization’s values

World Resources Institute is a global research non-profit organization whose mission is to promote environmental sustainability, economic opportunity, human health and well-being across the globe. Sustainability is central to the World Resources Institute’s work. It was the first non-governmental organization to complete the Greenhouse Gas Inventory in 1999.

Then, through 2000-2010, WRI pushed organizations across the world to adopt their Greenhouse Gas Protocol which establishes a comprehensive, global, standardized framework for measuring and managing emissions from private and public sector operations, value chains, products, cities, and policies.

Anna Bray Sharpin of WRI’s Road Safety team connecting the organization’s work to their internal initiatives.

In 2010, WRI started to “walk the walk” and adopted their own Sustainability Initiative to implement culture changes and achieve zero carbon emissions by 2020.

The 2016 annual commuter survey results revealed significant opportunity to reduce carbon emissions through active commuting. The Sustainability Initiative at WRI used in-house expertise on topics like behavioral economics, cities, transportation, and mobility to launch a holistic bike program at WRI, and further the organization’s sustainability objectives.

Understand your organization’s unique challenges

To build an effective active commuting program, WRI established a comprehensive understanding of general behavior patterns around commuting, biking and walking for transportation, and the specific challenges their organization and staff faced.

WRI used data from their annual commuter survey that has had a 90% response rate among their 300+ DC-based staff to understand the unique staff commute patterns and interests. WRI used their commuter survey, thoughtful coworkers, and other data to answer some of the most important questions any organization needs to understand before implementing an active commuter program:

  1. How do your employees commute?
    • The survey showed relatively consistent transit mode share of 70% (Metro, VRE, MARC, and bus).
    • The survey identified a growing trend in the biking and walking at 14% of mode share!
  1. What commute incentives are there?
    • WRI worked with their benefits manager to learn that the staff in WRI’s DC office had several commute benefits available, including the pre-tax transit benefit and a $20 / month bicycle reimbursement.
    • WRI also learned that more than 200 staff used the transit pre-tax benefit and no one used the $20 / month bicycle reimbursement.
  1. What are the interests and limitations in biking and walking?
      • In WRI’s commuter survey, over 75 survey respondents noted an interest in biking for health and environmental reasons, but also a concern about safety and low comfort with biking.
      • WRI’s Road Safety team found that in the US, people have fairly low confidence bicycling compared to other countries.

Start small

In response to their research and the survey, WRI designed a 12-week summer bike program that not only incentivized biking but offered social support and training to increase confidence in city riding. WRI had three goals with their summer program:

        1. Get more people at WRI to bike,
        2. Encourage staff to help each other bike, and
        3. Increase biking confidence.

The bike commuter program included components to set social norms and garner enthusiasm:

  1. Subsidized Capital Bikeshare Memberships;
  2. A 12-week bike and walk commuting pledge (with data tracking) with prizes and events;
  3. An Everyday Biking Seminar with WABA over lunch;
  4. Bike maintenance workshops and free shared tools;
  5. A Bike Ambassadors program to pair new commuters with seasoned bicyclists;
  6. Weekly Bike Coffee Chats and ride-along happy hours; and
  7. Tours of bike amenities (showers, lockers, maintenance stand and tools, Capital Bikeshare stations, local bike resources, etc) for new and curious staff.

Measure, track, improve

World Resource Institute’s hosted an Everyday Biking Seminar for employees during lunch

The program was highly successful during its 12-week period in 2017. One hundred participants (approximately 50 staff riding more than they ever had and 50 serving as Bike Ambassadors) tracked weekly commute data. Data collected each week as part of the competition showed:

        • An increase in bike miles per person by 8%;
        • Increased rider confidence by 6%;
        • Reduced commute-related carbon emissions by 24% (accounting for 75 staff increasing their biking by 1-2 days from other modes); and
        • Resounding support for rider incentives, Bike Ambassadors, and route and gear recommendations.

Take the things that work and encourage them year-round

WRI used this entry period to help build confidence and establish habits. Even among those who already owned a bike or were already regular commuters, the program provided additional motivation and energy around biking.

Following the 12-week launch, the WRI Sustainability Initiative is maintaining many of the bicycle benefits and features, including the Capital Bikeshare memberships, Bike Ambassador pairings, and trainings and maintenance workshops throughout the year.

If you’re interested in learning more about WRI’s Sustainability Initiative, hosting a WABA Everyday Biking Seminar at your workplace, or have questions about how to make your business bike-friendly, contact business@waba.org.