HMFH Architects

Change Starts at Home - With Our Commute

Carb-Unloading, our initiative to reduce HMFH’s carbon footprint, challenges us to look at our own contribution to global warming. Transportation accounts for 28% of greenhouse gas emissions, leading us to ask:

How do our commutes contribute to this statistic? 

What can HMFH do to reduce our high carbon commutes? 

The first step we took was to ask staff about their commuting habits. We sent a survey to the whole office to gather data about our collective commuting habits – how far we travel, the means of transportation, and the consistency of those habits. We also asked about the factors that influence these choices and for suggestions on how to encourage lower carbon commutes.

Carbon emissions vary dramatically by commuting method, ranging from zero carbon commutes of walking and cycling, to lower carbon public transit commutes, to carbon intensive solo driving.


I like the headspace I get from my commute.

Justin VigliantiHMFH Architects

We knew that we’d have a lighter footprint than offices in suburban locations because of our central location in Cambridge, but we were surprised to find that 37% of the staff have a zero-emission daily commute and 35% use lower carbon public transit. Only 22% of HMFH employees drive solo to work, a fraction of the national average.

With all commutes combined, HMFH’s 45 employees are responsible for emissions totaling 35 metric tons of CO2 annually. For perspective, we would need to plant 175 trees to counteract the effects of our annual commuting.

Our second step was to look at how we can reduce our commuting carbon footprint from this baseline. While only 22% of our employees drive to work on a regular basis, those drives account for 62% of the emissions. It was clear from our survey that people have good reasons for driving to work. While we understood the reasons that most people drove we wanted to explore operational changes that HMFH could make that would encourage people to consider driving less. We invited the whole office to come up with suggestions, and as with any creative brainstorming session, ideas ranged from small to large, and from practical to impractical, but it did prompt us to think beyond the obvious.

On days when I could take public transit, I still choose to drive because I would need to pay for transit out of pocket, on top of my monthly parking fee.

We realized that our parking payment structure inadvertently creates a disincentive to taking transit. If people only paid for parking on the days they drive, would they drive less often? Can we provide a company transit pass for people to use on days they don’t drive? Is there a practical way for two drivers to share one parking spot, encouraging them to use transit some of the time?

I drive to work on days that I need to go to a job site, otherwise I’d take public transit.

Traveling to client meetings and project sites is a major component of HMFH’s carbon footprint – big enough for an investigation of its own and a different set of creative solutions. What our commuting survey pointed out was that job-site travel also impacts the choice to drive to work. Some of the ideas to reduce project related carbon emissions include purchasing an electric vehicle for company use, asking our local car rental office to provide low-emissions vehicles, and enhancing our video conference capabilities to reduce off-site meetings. Look forward to a later post on how we are tackling job related transportation.

I have a crazy long drive to work. I hate it, but there’s not a reasonable transit option from my house.

Telecommuting is common in many industries, but design requires collaboration that is hard to replicate remotely. When it makes sense, allowing HMFHers to work from home can be a benefit for them mentally and be the most effective and efficient option.

I live close enough to bike but…

… I don’t have a place to shower

… there’s not enough secure bike storage

… I can’t afford a bike right now

Suggested solutions ranged from asking the local gym to provide access to showers, to an office loan to to support bike purchases. We’ve started discussions with our landlord about adding bike racks within the garage and renovating a long-abandoned shower room in the building.

Through the rest of the year, we’ll continue to track office commutes and look at what the office can do to facilitate the transition to lower carbon options. At the end of this year, we’ll share how well we’ve done… and the creative changes we’ve made to get there.