Shift Happens! – A corporate story

On May 6, 2019, I had the honour of being one of the four speakers in the City Symposium Series – Sustainable Cities and Communities. It was a great experience where I had the opportunity to connect with many like-minded people. My 12-minute presentation sparked a lot of interest, maybe not as much as the presentation from my co-presenters, but while we wait for the official recording of the event, I’d like to share the presentation and the transcribed notes of my talk entitled Shift Happens!

The talk had four stories and I will share one story at a time here with you. Last week, I shared the first story and here is the second one.

A Corporate Story

Speaking of money, some people might say, “All those individual stories about people driving less are great, but it would be bad for business if we had less cars.” Well, let me tell you a personal story about a corporate story.

In 2006, a guy is going to work. He is 1 of 3 employees who bike to work in a company of 900 people. One day he was locking his bike in a dark corner of the underground parking lot when one of his co-workers comes up to him and says, “Good for you”. The next week someone asks, “How do you do that? Bike in the city!?”

That initial interest motivates him to suggest a bike-to-work day in his company. But the company says, “Nope, no bike-to-work day, but maybe you can show a movie about that.” He is disappointed, but it turns out that it was the best thing that could have happened. Many of his co-workers weren’t actually ready to bike.

And the movie was a great way to start a decade long conversation. After the movie, there is a little bit more interest, so they keep organizing events like that to engage more people: Q&A support groups, bike-related art shows, more movies. Then social bike rides, one-on-one mentorship. Slowly, instead of three people, there are 5, then 12, then 50.

Running a bike to work program is a two-way street, both with employees (sharing information and listening to what they needed) and with management (showing the benefits and listening to their concerns). Little by little, they change the corporate culture.  From the CEO to the intern, they all started seeing people who biked to work in a different way. Whether they biked or not. And unintentionally, at least in the beginning, the program employed a psychological model that recognizes that people go through different stages of behaviour change and each stage has its own needs and strategies. Meaning, not everyone is ready to jump on a bicycle, and that is okay. Change means progress, not action.

In 2016 there were over a hundred regular cyclists. In a city where only 2-3% of trips are made by bike, more than 10% of the employees were cycling! This is a huge difference. That year alone, it prevented 20 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions, and 6-digit personal savings in parking, gas and bus tickets. And for the company, savings were even higher with increased productivity, talent retention, reduced absenteeism and lower maintenance costs with the parking lot

The program won a National Award for Sustainability and Corporate Social Responsibility. To understand what that award means, some of the competitors were companies like Volvo, Kraft and the Bank of Brazil – big players. The city where the program was implemented is Curitiba, Brazil. Three months later, after winning that prize, that same guy who started the program quit his job and the program and moved to Canada. His name is Luis Patricio. In the following year, the bike-to-work program was presented at the ACT Canada Sustainable Mobility Summit 2017.

Other examples

Any company that promotes a sustainable commute can benefit. And there are a lot of companies doing that. In the United States, the 2019 list of employers, organized by the Best workplaces for commuters program, receive national recognition for offering exceptional commuter benefits to more than 1 million employees.

Do you want to know an institution that has great potential to make the number of bike commuters skyrocket? Universities! A significant portion of the population they serve have many of the conditions conducive to cycling: many university students are new to the city and significant life events like that motivates new travel behaviour. Young adults tend to have fewer family obligations; somewhat flexible schedules; limited incomes; and are generally fit enough for cycling. I am super excited to see what the Western Active Transportation Society will accomplish in the coming years.

Besides employees and students, customers and businesses can also benefit. Every street that implements a safe cycling infrastructure witnesses a boost in sales.

Next story – A community story

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