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Post-pandemic business travel, commuting and home working

Project contact
Monica Dearden
Consultancy Manager: Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences

When the Scottish Government commissioned mixed-methods research to discover how they could facilitate more sustainable business travel and commuting practices post-pandemic, environmental consultancy LUC sought insights from University of Edinburgh expert, Dr Rachel Howell.

The challenge

Commissioned by Transport Scotland, this project was designed to provide a snapshot of employers’ experience of their staff working flexibly and/or from home, and of business travel and commuting over three distinct periods: before the COVID-19 pandemic; during the lockdown in March-June 2020; and in the longer term as Scotland continues to recover. The aim was to develop an understanding of employers’ long-term travel intentions and to identify what currently prevents and enables more widespread home working and sustainable travel, so that Transport Scotland could implement measures to support employers in making changes that are beneficial to staff, their businesses, and the environment.

Tailored expertise

Dr Rachel Howell, Lecturer in Sustainable Development at the University of Edinburgh, frequently advises the Scottish Parliamentary Environment, Climate Change and Land Use committee on climate change legislation and plans that require behavioural and societal changes in order to cultivate a sustainable Scotland. The depth and breadth of her research knowledge, and her commitment to applying it to real-world problems, made her the ideal choice when Nick James and Melissa McGinley of LUC – who were hired by ClimateXChange to complete the project for Transport Scotland - were looking to involve someone with behavioural change expertise. As well as offering the benefit of her behavioural change research, Dr Howell was also able to provide survey design and research interview skills, all of which came into play when drafting the survey, in follow-up interviews and in putting forward recommendations for the final report.

With only three months to complete the project and with several competing demands on her time, Dr Howell was able to put her consultancy fee and contract negotiations in the experienced hands of Edinburgh Innovations, leaving her to focus on finding solutions to a complex and vitally important issue.

Research for a better world

The project’s findings were published by ClimateXChange, the centre of expertise connecting climate change research and policy funded by the Scottish Government. In the report, Dr Howell and her partners made several recommendations for long-term social, organisational and environmental benefits, ranging from the improvement of active travel infrastructure and broadband provision to supporting the development of local co-working spaces and making work-related journeys by private vehicle less attractive. These recommendations have provided Transport Scotland with comprehensive, clear-sighted research that will enable the Scottish Government to make an informed policy change that will nurture a sustainable Scotland.

While LUC has extensive experience of applied research and stakeholder engagement, we are always open to developing working partnerships with academics where this coincides with their research interests.

Bringing Dr Howell into the team allowed us to draw on behavioural science expertise, which helped shape the online survey we developed together. Dr Howell was also instrumental in conducting follow-up interviews with questionnaire respondents, and in providing critical friend inputs to the data analysis and reporting.

Nick James, co-investigator and Director of Planning, LUC

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