One less thing (or why I started cycling everywhere)

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In my second year of university I was lucky enough to be involved in a design competition held by one of the big engineering firms. During our mid-semester break we pretended to be adults for a week as we worked with some of the engineers to design a self-sufficient green portable classroom.

One of the engineers gave us a presentation on a concept they used when considering sustainability – one less thing. As important as new technology is, sometimes it is considering what can be removed that leads to the greatest innovations.

At the same time as applying it to our design work, they encouraged us to thing about one thing we could minimise in our everyday lives. At the time this made me quite indignant. I liked to think my lifestyle was already pretty environmentally friendly – my family composted and had solar panels. But one aspect I kept coming back to was transport.

Like all Australian 18 year olds, having just obtained my drivers licence I was reluctant to stop driving and give up my hard earned freedom. Plus I had a million excuses why I couldn’t:

  • I lived 20 kilometres from uni and taking public transport took at least twice as long as driving
  • I worked early mornings and late nights, getting there any other way would be dangerous
  • I lived at the bottom of a massive hill!

Just as a side note, shall we have a look at some of the impacts of driving? I’m not going to go into a lot of detail here, but I couldn’t resist including some graphs (I am an engineer after all). This one, from the Australian Government Climate Change Authority shows the significant contribution that light vehicle (aka car) use makes to Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions. The comparative contributions of public transport seem tiny!

Australia's transport emissions by sectorImage: Climate Change Authority


But it still bothered me that there are some emissions from public transport. Looking at it from another perspective, the graph below shows the comparative emissions for a person travelling a kilometre on different transport modes. Specifically in Melbourne, it seems that while travelling by public transport does have less emissions than driving, it’s still not the greatest.

It is interesting to note that this data will really depend on where you live. Unfortunately in Melbourne the electricity that powers our trains is very polluting as its mostly from brown coal. Also our bus system often operates below capacity, which means there are less people to share the emissions between. The data I have collated in this graph is from a University of Melbourne study (if you are keen to recreate it, I have averaged all the values in Table 10).

So I started to consider cycling. I had a bike, and sometimes went for leisurely rides but had never considered commuting.

But one chilly morning my dad helped me put some lights on it and I struggled through the 3km ride to work. But I survived, and I grew in confidence. That summer I had the time and freedom to ride everywhere, and by the time uni started the next year I was ready to tackle the daunting 20km commute.

Several years later, cycling has become a habit that I love. It brings me so much happiness to whiz past gridlocked cars and packed trams on my way to work. It started as one less thing – but cycling has had more benefits for me than I had imagined.

What’s your one less thing? If there is something in your life that you have changed or are considering changing for the greener, I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

Related resources:

  • Check out the emissions intensity of your car on the Green Vehicle Guide
  • This fact sheet from Deakin University outlines some of the environmental benefits of cycling
  • If you cycle in or around the Melbourne city, you might be interested in sharing your views for the new cycling strategy

34 thoughts on “One less thing (or why I started cycling everywhere)

  1. hi. I too am intersted in sustainibility sector. how does one start in this sector? and what are the scopes in this field?

    1. Hi Navaneeta. I studied a degree in environmental engineering, but I am sure there are many pathways into the field. In terms of scope, sustainability is pretty broad! I guess it just depends on what particular aspects interest you. Hope this helps 🙂

  2. Hi Kara!

    Nice Article with wonderful combination of statistics and sustainability in everyday life… It’s crisp and specific. Congratulations for being the Official WED blogger 2015!

    Keep Connected!
    Prof. Joystu Dutta (INDIA)

  3. Hi congrats. I would like you to give a few suggestions for .
    In a country like India with vast diversity in all aspects, getting all to understand these ideas is a very big task. With the large population coupled with deficient infra, economy, inclination how to get along. If everything are put in right prospective may be things will improve.
    In a recent article it is said the environment is at stake for the economy.
    Mohan

    1. Mohan, that is a big question!! And one that I hardly feel qualified to answer, given the effort that governments and global NGOs are cuurently directing towards this issue. But I guess leading on from my blog post my suggestion would be to not underestimate the influence your own actions can have. My decision to start cycling inspired at least three of my colleagues to give riding to uni a go. Sometimes your small action can be the thing that makes others realise what is possible. Hopefully if we keep making enough small actions it will add up to a big difference from the bottom up, while the governments and NGOs make progress from the top down.

  4. First of all let me congratulate you for being the Official WED blogger 2015. Thank you so much for this inspirational post. I am planning to organize a “green cyclothon” in our college (Christian College, Chengannur, Alappuzha, Kerala, India) as part of this year’s WED celebration.

    1. Thanks Abhilash! Best of luck for your cyclothon…what a great idea!

  5. Very good efforts you took to make this earth greener.Congratulations to win the blog contest.

  6. Hey, Kara!

    Nice work on the UNEP competition, it’s a wonderful reminder that our government is simply out of touch with Australian sentiments on sustainability (rather than embarking on their assault on the environment with the blessing of the Australian people). I recently completed a degree in Environmental Humanities at the University of New South Wales. It’s like Environmental Studies but with a real focus on culture and the social context of environmental issues. It seems to me that it doesn’t lead to much employment because most require engineering or scientific backgrounds. Without these, is there any scope in environmental consulting for someone with my background? I know this is not why you write a blog, to give employment advice so forgive me! You just seem like a great resource. Good luck in Milan! Noah Verin

  7. I always like to do the same which you do / did. We also like to clean our Soil from Chemicals that’s is what we are focussing right now and looking for more people to support us. Sri Lanka

  8. Nice initiative , I have always have the desire to do cycling but the challenge is the energy even to cycle 10km.
    Kindly advice

  9. Hi Kara,
    Congratulations for being the Official WED blogger 2015!
    Very motivational post.Thanks for the inspiration.
    I am writing a poem focussing on the theme as part of this year’s WED celebration.At present I am at Boston,but sending this to my college,”Indian School of Mines”INDIA for the Environmental magazine, trying to create more environmental awareness there.Here at my part, I decided to reduce food waste in my kitchen and dining-out.
    Good Luck for your Millan trip 🙂

  10. This is great sir. More people need to give up their cars and start biking. Not always a possibility, but when it is, it should happen! 🙂

  11. By shifting your focus entirely to your dominate hand, you can do this. This somehow causes a mentality that you are stronger and that you can lift more weight.

  12. Very good efforts you took to make this earth greener.Congratulations to win the blog contest.
    Thank for this post !

  13. Thanks for post and your idea, I dont cycling but always use public transport instead of private car. It’s make me feel happy everyday

  14. Does anyone know what a compatible bike basket would be for this model? Ordered 1 that didn’t fit the front right due to the wires…Thanks in advance

  15. what kind of tools do i need to put it together & what would be good to keep on hand for long trips to go to work? (2 hours there & back home)

  16. I’m same height as you and I feel the bike is excellent in terms of reach and handling. But as with everything else, we are all unique; it’s a matter of personal taste and feel. Hope this helps.

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