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Planes, trains and automobiles: Keeping HMRC moving in the right direction

by Alex Hilton, Head of Sustainability at HM Revenue & Customs

With a workforce of more than 61,000 people in all four nations of the UK, travel plays a big part in the day-to-day work of HMRC. Many of our colleagues are responsible for meeting with our customers, wherever they may be, and with that, comes the responsibility of choosing the most sustainable way to travel.  

Driving the change  

For HMRC, road travel has historically had the single biggest environmental impact of all transport options. Back in 2010, HMRC colleagues travelled more than 36 million miles by road alone – equivalent to travelling around the Earth 1,450 times. 
This is divided between colleagues using their own cars for business purposes, hire cars and our dedicated fleet of cars, used by colleagues who engage with customers on a daily basis.     

The good news is that the last decade has seen us make significant progress in reducing the environmental impact of our road travel. In 2018-19, we reduced our total road miles by more than 39% compared with 2010-11. We also saw emissions from our fleet drop by more than 10% compared with the previous year. This was thanks to a 14% fall in emissions from diesel fleet vehicles which we moved away from, and which was counterbalanced by a 43% increase in hybrid vehicle emissions. The overall reduction in road travel, combined with improvements in our fleet and technological advances in the motor industry, means we have almost halved our road travel emissions and reduced our contribution to poor air quality in our local communities.
Choo Choo Choosing The Train 
Most of our business travel is now done by rail and we journeyed 74 million miles by train in 2018-19, more than double the total miles of 2010-11. This shift from cars to a more sustainable method of travel bolstered by the electrification of rail further reducing carbon emissions, has contributed to a 13% reduction in HMRC’s travel emissions – a saving of 2,285 tonnes of CO2e. 

Checking in on domestic flights  

One area where there is work to do immediately is domestic flights, which account for 15% of our global travel emissions. We have targets to reduce our domestic flights and we are on track to achieve these targets.

COP26 and beyond 

Despite this progress, we know there is more to do to be a truly responsible organisation. As well as maintaining the steps that have led to reductions so far, we are exploring further changes to make a difference.   

We are investing in IT conferencing improvements and in the first half of 2019-20 colleagues held over half a million meetings on our conferencing platforms. Over 56% of our rail bookings and 51% of domestic flights in 2018-19 were for colleagues travelling to internal meetings, so we have an opportunity through our technology to change our behaviour and switch as many of these face-to-face meetings to video calls.

Early indications from our move to newly located regional centres show positive signs of staff changing their commuting habits and we hope to be able to confirm a reduction in commuter carbon emissions accordingly. 

We already have six electric cars in our fleet, a small first step, and we plan to order more to achieve our ambition of electrifying the entire fleet by 2030.  

But the work will not stop there. As our customers change their habits, so will we. As businesses innovate to find environmentally-friendly solutions, we will be alongside them. We will be bold and ambitious in the face of the climate emergency to truly drive change for the better of the communities in which we, and our customers, live.  

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