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Talking the walk

I consider myself a bit of an activist. I recycle. I have a worm farm. Our household uses under 50 litres of water per person a day. And I recently went vegan. So when WWF announced that it would be running a staff ecomobility project to reduce the organisation’s carbon emissions, I immediately stuck up my hand.

WWF's Alexis Scholtz-Wheeler committed to walking to work once a week for the ecomobility challenge.
Why did I say yes?

I live only 700m from the office, so I figured I could pack in 20 minutes of exercise a day and walk to work. I’d be aware of nature, reduce traffic congestion, and feel really good about reducing my carbon footprint. How hard could it be, right? Wrong. In fact, I am totally humbled by my colleagues who were part of the project because so many of them are doing so much more to reduce their carbon impact on the planet. I soon realised it was not as easy as I thought…

​What did we sign up for?

After filling in a baseline staff survey, the WWF ecomobility volunteers gathered for a briefing session.

The project had two main objectives. The first was to reduce the overall carbon footprint of staff travelling to and from work. The second was to conduct research around volunteers changing their mobility behaviour.

For three months, we each had to set weekly ecomobility goals and try to stick to them. The goals could be small or big. Obviously the more aspirational the better, but the project design took a carrot rather than stick approach. 

How did it work?

Each week we completed travel logs to record the time, distance, mode of transport and cost.

In response, we’d each receive our weekly-calculated carbon footprint in return. We also had bi-monthly sharing sessions, combined with the luxury of working with a personal ‘’travel coach’’ to help us achieve our goals.

We received practical information to assist us. This includes a guide to all the public and non-public transport options around both the Cape Town and Jo'burg offices, as well as mobile apps which could be used to ride share, plot the best route or get updated info on public transport schedules.

What do cars have to do with it?

I have a private car and take regular single passenger trips to and from work.

I’m part of the problem. I’m a privileged South African. I am a beneficiary of unjust apartheid spatial planning in that I can afford to live in affluent suburbs which are close to work opportunities and my transport costs don’t bust my budget.

Cape Town was built to be a car-dominated city. Combined with the lack of investment in safe, comfortable, reliable and accessible public transport, it has failed to attract the privileged car owners out of the convenience and comfort of private vehicles.

Listening to my colleagues’ public transport stories put me to shame. Some who also had cars made the effort to use public transport. They ran into issues with train delays, endured long travelling times and were often in fear for their safety. 

So what’s my problem?

Some of my reasons for not shifting my behaviour were valid.  Like I often go to meetings during office hours and the WWF pool cars are in high demand. Some of my other reasons were shaky. 

What did I learn?

One thing that participating in the project did, for me, was to deepen my awareness of environmental consciousness.

Previously, I knew the facts. I know that we all need to reduce our carbon footprint. I know that taking public transport is the ideal way to do so. And now I was more aware how easy it would be to action this. This was personal – and I felt guilty.

I also know that this is what a sustainable behaviour change programme wants to do. It wants to shake me out of my comfort zone and to get me to engage with a new way of doing things. I know that it aims to challenge my assumptions and fears of changing, and hopefully make it very difficult for me to justify continuing with old, bad and dare I say selfish habits.  

So even though I’ve only managed to walk to work twice so far, and I haven’t diligently filled out every week’s travel log – the days of blissful denial of my contribution to the carbon footprint are over. 

Alexis Scholtz-Wheeler Photo
Alexis Scholtz-Wheeler , Communications, research and outreach specialist

Alexis Scholtz-Wheeler is a communications, research and outreach specialist with WWF's Policy & Futures Unit.