By KATHERINE MOSTACCIO
Some walked. Others biked. Some took public transportation. Others carpooled. If they had the means, some drove electric vehicles. What they didn’t do, was drive alone in a gas-powered vehicle. On May 17, a record number of state employees came together to fight climate change during the 2019 Green Your Commute Day (GYCD), and did their part to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The initiative was organized by PEF Member Brendan Woodruff, an environmental program specialist at the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) in Albany. “GYCD is an annual event that encourages state employees, and the general public, to voluntarily use a more sustainable mode of transportation to get to work, including walking, biking, taking transit, carpooling, or driving an electric vehicle,” Woodruff said. “Participants register their commutes so the overall amount of carbon emission reductions can be calculated and shared.”
This is Woodruff’s fourth year at the helm of the event, which is organized by the Interagency Executive Order 4 Committee on Operations and Engagement and made up of representatives from DEC, the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York, the state Office of General Services, the state Department of Health, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, and other state agencies.
According to Woodruff, transportation is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in New York state. It is also the largest part of a New York resident’s personal carbon footprint. “We’re trying to tackle that head on by having state employees lead by example by lowering emissions by green commuting,” Woodruff said.
Employees are asked to register, pledging to green commute, so that staff can calculate the emissions reductions and say, “’Here’s the impact,’” Woodruff said.
If the weather wasn’t conducive to walking, biking, and other means of green commuting, or if a participant’s schedule didn’t work with May 17, Woodruff said participants were encouraged to green commute another day that week.
And it didn’t have to be their entire commute. “They could drive to a park and ride lot, and take the bus,” he said. “They could enter the portion they are greening.”
In addition to the day-of reduction in emissions, Woodruff said the goal of Green Your Commute Day was to instill the practice in state workers. “We’re trying to spur habits in folks,” he said. “We’re hoping that once they do it once and they figure out how it works that it turns into something they do more often.”
Last year on Green Your Commute Day, state employee participants saved 19.5 tons of carbon dioxide emissions in just one day, according to the DEC website. This year, the 2,768 state employees registered for the event — the largest number in the event’s history — directly offset 41.2 tons of carbon dioxide emissions. That’s the equivalent of burning 4,348 gallons of gas.
“There was a jump of more than 80 percent in this year’s Green Your Commute Day for both the amount of carbon dioxide emissions prevented and gallons of gas used,” a DEC release stated, “which is attributable to many workers travelling farther or taking mass transit than in 2018.”
PEF members are getting involved and for Woodruff, that’s encouraging. “The overall spirit of having PEF members on the front lines of not only the work we do but also fighting climate change and helping preserve our community is huge,” Woodruff said. “Not just from DEC but from practically every agency participating. I like seeing our members take a leadership role.
“I’m really proud of how PEF members stepped up to the plate and took action to fight climate change by participating in Green Your Commute Day,” he said. “This year’s record-breaking participation once again demonstrates our commitment to making New York a better and more sustainable place.”
At DEC central, PEF environmental conservation members put on a breakfast for participants. Other PEF locals did similar events for their participating members, Woodruff said.
Woodruff said participating agencies held a competition to see which could boast the highest employee participation. When the results were tabulated, DEC won for agencies with more than 1,000 employees; the state Liquor Authority won for agencies with 100 to 1,000 employees; and the Governor’s Office for Employee Relations won for agencies with fewer than 100 employees.
New York’s goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent by 2030 and 80 percent by 2050, from 1990 levels. If you are interested in learning more about green commuting, or how to green portions of your commute, click here.