The Bike Pathway for Low Carbon Companies
Best practices and recommendations for a solid corporate bike program
The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently issued a grim ultimatum to humanity: Reverse the amount of carbon we’re pumping into the atmosphere within 12 years or face climate catastrophe. The report found that if greenhouse gases warm the atmosphere by as much as 1.5 degrees Celsius, coastlines will disappear, coral reefs will die out entirely, extreme droughts and wildfires will ensue, and famine will beget extreme poverty across the globe.
Since transportation is the largest source of carbon emissions in the US—most of which come from cars—the path to saving our home and (quite frankly) our lives is to change how we get around.
We all have a civic duty to respond to this climate crisis, but employers can play a bigger role in changing how we move. Think about this: If all the employees at a 500-person company rode a bike to work just one day a week (and drove the other four days), about 182,500 pounds of carbon wouldn’t enter the atmosphere. That’s about the equivalent of covering 28 footballs fields with trees (based on a 10 mile round-trip commute).
Here’s what you can do at your workplace to encourage employees to shift to bikes.
Incentives help change behavior, and they’re much easier to get behind than deterrents, also known as the “stick approach.” It’s much easier to tell your employees, “hey, if you ride a bike to work, we’ll give you something, instead of “if you drive, we’ll charge you for parking.” Below are various ways to incentivize desired behavior.
Cash: Cash is king, and paying employees money to ride their bikes for transportation is (unsurprisingly) one of the most effective incentive strategies. Employees usually stop and run the math when you tell them you’ll pay them a daily amount to ride vs. drive. And that small consideration—just getting them thinking about riding a bike—is already a win.
- Seattle Children’s Hospital employees who don’t mind pedaling through rain can receive up to $1000 a year not to drive.
- New Zealand-based Make Collective decided to pay employees $5 a day to ride to work or double that amount if employees rode in more than half their annual work days.
- The Gates Foundation took its drive alone rate from 90 percent to 34 percent in two years by charging for parking and offering a $3 daily reward for not driving alone.
Subsidies & Reimbursements: Another strategy is to pay a portion of employees’ bike expenses, including bike purchases, gear, repairs, etc. This keeps the reward bike-focused, unlike the more versatile cash option, and still removes some of the crucial barriers to biking, like the lack of a bike or gear.
- Trek employees can earn up to $4 a day (capped at $300 a year) in the form of credits to be used for Trek products or in the company cafeteria. Currently about 30 percent of employees take advantage of this benefit.
- New Belgium: Employees here get a limited edition Fat Tire Cruiser Bike upon their one year anniversary, a work tradition that dates back to 1995.
- Clif Bar: Employees can receive $500 toward the purchase of a commuter bike or a bike trailer for their child or dog. And those who were lucky enough to be on staff in 2012, got a free custom-branded bike (with their name and start date on the top tube) to celebrate Clif Bar’s 20th anniversary!
For many “interested-but-concerned” potential bikers, it’s the not knowing that keeps them driving day in and day out. Remove any apprehension by offering classes on biking at various levels, from the most basic to more advanced classes. Here’s a basic class curriculum that we’ve found removes most barriers to biking and creates confident cyclists:
- Adult Learn to Ride class: This class targets adults who never learned how to ride a bike.
- Safe Cycling 101 class: This is for those who know how to ride, but have questions on rules of the road and how to handle various biking scenarios.
- Safe Cycling 102 – road riding class: This is an on-bike class designed for those who have ridden before, but want to practice their road riding skills.
- Fix-a-flat class: Some students feel better riding if they know how to fix their bike. We’ve found that knowing how to fix a flat tire, the most common roadside repair, gives newbies the boost they need to become regular bike commuters.
An Adult “Learn to Ride” class at LinkedIn
Another way to encourage new riders is by connecting them with experienced daily bike commuters. We’ve found the best way to do this is to start a grassroots Bike Champions/Mentors group at an organization. These champions are then empowered to encourage new riders.
- Stanford Research Park created a Bicycle Champions group that has about 60 members and has been running for two years. The group has crowd-sourced a local bike routes map, provided critical input on infrastructure improvements, and encourage their colleagues to become bicyclists.
End of Trip Facilities (EOT)
This is more than a simple U-rack outside your building lobby. Building high-end bike facilities—that include secure bike and gear storage, showers, lockers, and more—will increase the likelihood that existing employees will actually bike. For an EOT how-to, check out Bike Parking for Employers & Developers: A Guide to End-of-Trip Facilities.
- Accessibility: If commuters need to carry their bikes up and down a flight of stairs to access the bike room, they’re less likely to ride. We suggest installing bike facilities in places where riders experience the least amount of friction. For instance, like nearby shower facilities, or on the ground level next to the lobby. When Pembroke Real Estate designed all-new bike facilities, it paid attention to the details, like installing automatic doors so cyclists can easily wheel into the room.
- Gear storage: Time and time again, we hear bike commuters gripe about having to store sweaty cycling clothes at their desk. Providing lockers or cubbies designed to hold helmets and other gear are unanimously applauded by the cycling community. Microsoft, based in Redmond, WA, went even further by including a dehumidifying drying rack in one of its bike facilities and Facebook Seattle installed a marine-quality drying rack in its bike room. Hundreds of rain-pummeled bike commuters rejoiced.
- Visual Interest: We blame parking culture, but one oft-overlooked element of EOT design is aesthetics. We are huge fans of murals, colorful paint on cement floors, and powder-coated bike racks in vibrant colors. One of best examples we’ve seen is Saleforce’s bike room in San Francisco that features cute characters from company lore. You could also hire David Byrne, like Stanford University did for its Cloud, @, Rocket, and Infinity racks-of-art.
The bike room at Salesforce in San Francisco.
Having bikes to loan to employees—either for on-campus trips or for commute transportation—can really help employees make the shift to riding. Having bikes on-site also helps normalize their use, exposing folks to biking who never would have considered it otherwise. For a how-to on running a corporate shared bikes, check out Company Bike Fleets: A Guide to Bikes As Business Tools.
- Facebook has thousands of bikes on campus, including a fleet of company bikes to get from building to building and bikes available for interns to borrow.
- Google was one of the first companies to provide its employees shared bikes to help them get around its expanding campus in Mountain View, CA. Now the tech company also provides loaner e-bikes to enable more bike commuting.
- Nike has GPS-equipped bikes that employees can use to get around HQ in Beaverton.
Kaiser Permanente has a fleet of branded bikes for its employees.
Classes will help build confidence, but events really make biking fun. And fun is probably the best way to sell the concept of biking. Events, like Bike to Work Day, help new cyclists connect with the larger community, make friends, and feel a sense of accomplishment. We suggest hosting regular and varied bike events, that are well-marketed, for the best engagement.
- Bike to Work Day is the high holy day of the entire year for bicyclists. There’s so much to consider when it comes to BTWD, that we’ve created a how-to guide.
- After an initial bike program launch party, employees at PATH in Seattle participated in the Chilly Hilly Ride, complete with an after party at the CEO’s house.
- When LinkedIn achieved a Platinum Bike-Friendly Business designation for the first time, it threw a party in it’s campus courtyard complete with free T-shirts (for all employees) and bike-blended smoothies.
- Many companies have wellness or transportation fairs that feature a bicycle booth staffed by a local bike expert or champion. Stanford University has regular bicycle safety pop-ups where passersby can stop in for free bike lights, maps, information or to register their bikes with the city.
Facebook Seattle employees on a group ride.
Employee Communications & 1:1 Support
In order to communicate effectively with all employees at a company, there needs to be dedicated resources. We’ve found it’s best to have a centralized spot where bike information lives, like an internal wiki or commute tracking app, and a person (or better yet, a whole team of people) responsible for helping their peers ride bikes. Many companies, universities, and government agencies are hiring dedicated bicycle commute coordinators to help field bike-related inquiries, run programs to get more employees riding, and be “the face” of a corporate bike program.
- Facebook uses (you guessed it) Facebook to coordinate group rides, promote bike events, and relay other bike information to it’s growing community
- Clif Bar has a custom commute tracking page, an internal Microsoft Sharepoint, where employees can earn and redeem rewards for bike commutes.
Need help developing a company bike program that will help combat climate change? Bikes Make Life Better is dedicated to helping large organizations use bikes for healthy sustainable transportation. They’ve helped design bike programs for some of the world’s most innovative companies, including Facebook, Salesforce, Airbnb, Microsoft, LinkedIn, Netflix, and many others.