"Why tackling the school run is so important for meeting Net Zero commitments".
It’s almost been a year since the Department of Education released its Sustainability and climate change strategy, outlining how all schools need to get to NetZero by 2030.
The government outlines key aims, among them, “reducing direct and indirect emissions” and “improving air quality”. These are admirable targets. Reducing carbon emissions and looking after the planet for future generations is something we all want to achieve as a matter of urgency, particularly after the most recent IPCC report. But how do schools position themselves to achieve this target?
Key to cutting school emissions is transport, which a government report suggests makes up an estimated 30%* of schools’ direct CO2 footprint. HomeRun’s data backs this up: we know that every year, each of the UK’s 9 million school pupils is driven an average of 780 miles to get to school, covering 7 billion miles – and generating 2.5 million tonnes of direct CO2 emissions*.
Clearly then, it’s impossible to target NetZero without tackling the school run. But how, practically, can schools work to reduce it?
There are initiatives that are trying to help: Let’s Go Zero, a charity focusing on reducing carbon in schools, has so far recruited just over 2,000 schools nationwide. It takes a holistic look at what schools can do to improve their carbon levels, including promoting active travel, such as walking or cycling. However, to date, this only makes up some 6% of the nation’s schools.
And with an issue this important, the approach needs to be as rigorous as possible. To be able to fully understand the problem – and then to benchmark against it – we need to be able to measure it, and to know that the data we are using is fully reliable.
At HomeRun, our data is generated, anonymously, by the parents that use our app. Once a term, we survey them about how they travel to school, with the option to also share related data, such as their vehicle registration number and usual drop off or parking point. We are then able to use our algorithms to simulate these journeys, including the most likely routes used, to calculate CO2.
The current industry measurement standards are based on as-the-crow-flies data, often collected via Hands Up surveys, which don’t reflect the true carbon cost of school journey. We believe that when we are dealing with something as important as Net Zero, the measurements need to be as robust and as transparent as possible.
We take a similar approach to measuring active travel: for example when modelling a bus journey, we include the walk to the bus stop, the bus journey itself, and the walk from the bus stop to school.
By repeating this process through the app, once a term, we can measure seasonal trends and changes in travel habits, including the impact of any transport initiatives.
However, while running the data can show progress, as well as measure carbon, it can also, of course, highlight issues. Our data has revealed, for instance, that for distances over one mile, active travel diminishes hugely, especially in primary schools.
Here at HomeRun we want to help find solutions to solve problems like how to provide sustainable transport for distances over a mile. But currently, many of these types of challenges are being ignored as too tricky to deal with. This has led to many national and local baselines not including school travel - and other hard to tackle CO2 emissions - making many measurements towards net zero targets, inaccurate. Little wonder that the Climate Change Committee’s (CCC) assessment of the UK’s progress towards net zero was so damning.
With all this in mind, is the target of reaching NetZero by 2030 even possible?
At HomeRun, we believe we need to change our approach. This is not about ‘accounting tricks’, or a checkbox to be ticked, but a vital commitment in our fight to address climate change. We need real action – and we need it now.
HomeRun wants to do everything it can to support this: to take the first, key step of providing the data so that we can start measuring and understanding the size of the problem. We can then support with real solutions, which are already tried and tested, and proven to reduce the CO2 footprint of engaged schools by 20% or more.
*Total road travel mileage and emissions data from 2019 ONS Environmental Accounts and school run mileage data calculated from National Travel Survey 2014; Travel to School Factsheet