2020 was certainly an unprecedented year. For many of us COVID-19 forced us to alter our transportation commute habits - no longer reporting to the office and instead making work work in the comfort of our own homes.

We adapted to the new reality quickly and without much preparation. Many of us discovered that it was in fact possible to do our jobs from home, even for roles we previously thought incompatible with telecommuting. And while many of us are so eager to get back into the office, let’s be considerate in how we get there. 

As we slowly transition out of the global pandemic, take some time to pause, and consider what your transportation habits will look like in a post pandemic world. Are your pre pandemic habits worth returning to? Do they align with your values? And if the answer is “no” to either of these questions, can you find a way to adopt a new and improved routine that better serves both you and the community?

There is no better time than now to start incorporating changes into your weekly routine. Missoula In Motion, our local agency dedicated to increasing the use of sustainable transportation, is here to offer a little motivation to kickstart healthy, sustainable transportation habits with the Clear the Air Challenge.

For the month of January, challenge participants compete against others with similar commute lengths to see who can divert the most CO2 to win prizes. Who doesn’t love prizes? With the pandemic still dictating many aspects of our lives, there are ways for all to be involved.

Those working from home are reminded that, yes, telecommuting is included as a sustainable commute option. A silver lining of pandemic related shutdowns and shelter in place policies was the unprecedented reduction in emissions. A recent study in the journal Nature found global emissions were down 8.8% in the first half of 2020 compared to the previous year.

That’s more than decreases from previous economic downturns or even World War II! Consider that telecommuting just 1 or 2 days a week equates to a 20%- 40% reduction in drive alone commutes. Eliminating the commute all together can certainly have a tremendous impact on reducing our carbon footprint, and there is opportunity to continue to benefit from reduced trips even after the pandemic.

An inversion fills the Missoula Valley. (Missoula in Motion)
An inversion fills the Missoula Valley. (Missoula in Motion)

In addition to significantly reducing emissions, a sustained increase in telecommuting would also have a noticeable effect on congestion and relieve parking pressures. Furthermore, telecommuting opens up sustainable options for people who might otherwise not have access to other modes due to distance or lack of safe, accessible facilities.

The approximately 25% of Missoula’s workforce who commute from outside Missoula County could save time, money and pollution by continuing to work from home. Missoula In Motion encourages employers and employees to consider the environmental benefits associated with adopting at least part time telework options as a permanent employee benefit.

Errand trips are included as well, so let the challenge motivate you to bike, walk, bus or carpool for those non-work related trips if that seems like a more attainable goal. While you may not be able to choose sustainable habits all the time, even leaving your vehicle at home for just one trip per week can help immensely!

Another component of the Clear the Air Challenge is a pledge to refrain from idling your vehicle. Idling cars harm the environment and threaten the health of our community by releasing pollutants into the air we breathe.

Contrary to popular belief, letting a vehicle idle for more than 10 seconds burns more fuel than turning it off and restarting it. Furthermore, it wastes money - up to $115 annually for an individual. So next time you find yourself doing curbside pick-up, in the drive through or picking up your kiddos from school, make the move to turn your car off and do your part to keep our air clean.  

Also happening this month, Missoula In Motion will celebrate Missoula’s uniquely robust community of winter sustainable commuters with Winter Clean Commute Day on January 14th. Rather than hosting a centralized commuter breakfast station, agency staff will be greeting commuters on bike, foot, and bus to recognize their commitment with a small gift card prize and a Winter Clean Commuter sticker.

Commuters are encouraged to share their routes on social media to increase their chances of being celebrated.

So, as we look towards brighter days in 2021, let’s make a community wide effort to redefine our transportation habits. And remember, all change starts with the small habits we adopt, whether it is reduced idling, telecommuting one day a week, or riding the bus for a personal errand.

Katherine Auge is the Transportation Demand Management Program Manager for the City of Missoula. This Sustainable Missoula column is brought to you – via the Missoula Current – every week by Climate Smart Missoula and Home ReSource.

Sustainability Happenings

As COVID-19 has altered many community events, some have moved on-line or found creative outlets. Here we offer ideas about sustainable ways to stay involved in our community. If you like these offerings, consider signing up for Climate Smart’s eNewsletter here. And sign up for Home ReSource’s eNews via their homepage here.

Month of JANUARY. Clear the Air Challenge. Missoula in Motion’s effort to help us all breathe easier. Join. Details here.

January 14. Winter Clean Commute Day. Use sustainable transportation on January 14th to celebrate Winter Clean Commute Day! Missoula In Motion staff will be out and about giving away $5 MDA gift cards to those we see biking, busing, and walking! Didn't see us, carpooled or still working from home? Log your trip on Way to Go! Missoula to enter a raffle!

January 28. Families for a Livable Climate Systems Change event: Localized Living 4 - 5:30 pm

Through April. Montana Legislative session. To follow efforts for clean energy, climate, conservation and sustainability, consider connecting with (and getting the low down and action alerts from):

Through April. Missoula Valley Winter Market. Located in the Southgate Mall (in former Lucky’s Market). Market hours: Saturdays, 9am-2pm through April 17.

Periodic thru February 13 (dates added periodically). Virtual Fixit Clinics. Want to try fixing from home? Present your broken item to a global team of expert community repairers and get suggestions for things to try. After all items are presented, participants move to Zoom breakout rooms to implement the suggestions and, hopefully, fix the items.

Find more activities and events at Missoulaevents.net and on Montana Environmental Information Center’s Conservation Calendar.