What is active and sustainable travel?


Sustainable travel encompasses active travel, public transport, and shared transport.


Active travel refers to making journeys in a way that is physically active.


This could be walking, wheeling (using a wheelchair or a mobility aid), cycling, or scooting. 


Public transport refers to public networks such as buses, trains and trams.


Active travel often compliments public transport, with most journeys requiring a walk or a cycle at either end.


Shared transport can mean sharing a journey, such as through lift sharing.


It can also mean sharing the mode of transport, like car clubs or bike sharing schemes.

What is the context in Scotland?


Climate commitments


Scotland has committed to achieving Net Zero emissions by 2045.  


Changing how we travel needs to be a priority, if we are to reach this target.


Currently domestic transport accounts for more than 25% of Scotland’s CO2 emissions – making it our biggest carbon culprit.  


Road transport is responsible for the largest share of these emissions, with cars contributing the most. 


In fact, over 50% of journeys between 1km and 2km in Scotland are made by car 


A shift away from driving the car as the default option is urgently necessary, if we are to cut carbon and truly address the climate crisis.


Find out more in our Climate Emergency section


Sustainable Travel Hierarchy


Transport Scotland’s National Transport Strategy promotes walking and wheeling, cycling, public transport, and shared transport in preference to the private car.


This is shown clearly in the Sustainable Travel Hierarchy, which sits at the heart of the strategy.


Sustainable Travel Hierarchy showing the prioritisation of walking and wheeling first, followed by cycling, public transport, taxis and shared transport, and lastly the private car.

The Hierarchy frames how we should approach changing our travel behaviour.


It is a great tool when it comes to decision-making and implementing changes within your workplace.


It prompts us to first consider active travel.


Walking, wheeling and cycling often work best for short journeys – such as the commute (or a part of the commute), or local business travel.


If the journey cannot be made actively (e.g. if it is too far to walk or cycle), we can work down the Hierarchy to consider public transport and then shared transport options.


At the very bottom of the Hierarchy is the private car, which should be given the least priority.


Reducing car travel


The Scottish Government’s decarbonisation plans for transport set out a range of actions.


These aim to make sustainable travel ‘the instinctive first choice for people’.


Particularly in urban settings, the commitments aim to reduce reliance on cars and make active, public, and shared transport the travel modes of choice.


One key policy action is to significantly reduce car travel.


In January 2022, Transport Scotland published ‘A route map to achieve a 20 per cent reduction in car kilometres by 2030’.


Improving access to active travel options and public and shared schemes will be crucial in supporting this.


In rural settings, where public transport is less accessible and people do use private cars, these will predominantly be electric.


It is important to note that electric cars are not the silver bullet to making travel ‘sustainable’ or ‘zero-carbon’.


Although it is crucial to make all of our vehicles electric, this is only a part of the solution.


Watch this video from The Guardian for a useful explainer.



Developing an Active Nation


Encouraging active travel is also part of the Scottish Government’s commitment to developing an Active Nation.


This envisions Scotland as a place where where walking, wheeling, and cycling become the norm for short, everyday journeys.


And where our towns and cities are friendlier, safer, and more accessible for people of all ages and abilities.


What is the role of workplaces?


Workplaces have a big role to play in helping Scotland make this shift.


By doing more to prioritise active and sustainable modes for commuting and business travel, employers can drastically reduce their carbon footprint.


Specifically their indirect emissions that come under what is known as ‘Scope 3’.


It is expected that reporting on Scope 3 emissions will eventually become a requirement for some organisations.


By getting started now, workplaces can get ahead on their climate targets.


And remember, choosing active and sustainable travel not only protects our planet – it brings so many other benefits too.  


These benefits are far-reaching such as reduced congestion, better air quality, improved accessibility and inclusivity, more social and vibrant communities, and better physical and mental health. 


Find out about the benefits for you and your workplace.