Commuter Challenge

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Commuter Challenge is a national, week long event in Canada and is held annually during the Canadian Environment Week.[1] Formatted as a friendly competition between workplaces and Canadian municipalities, the national and host city coordinators announce winners based on the highest percent participation. The event has a strong workplace focus where employers promote the event in-house to support their employees in leaving their cars at home in favour of more sustainable commuter modes including walking, jogging, cycling, in-line skating, public transit, carpooling and teleworking.

The first Commuter Challenge was hosted in 1991 and the Canadian Commuter Challenge tracking tool was launched in 1999 and is currently coordinated nationally by the Calgary-based environmental group, the Sustainable Alberta Association.[2] Participants record their commutes and are ranked via Sustainable Alberta Association's web-based tracking tools. In 2014, Commuter Challenge drew participation from over 26,675 individuals and 1,803 workplaces.[3]


Small sustainable transportation events started emerging in Canada in the early 1990s in different cities across the country; all under different names and in different formats.

In 1991 in Calgary, Andrea Main, then curator of the ERCB’s Energeum (Energy Resources Conservation Board, now Alberta Energy Utilities Board), organized an interdepartmental competition to promote alternative transportation options for that year's National Environment Week. In 1992, the ERCB challenged three other energy companies in Calgary to a friendly competition to see which workplace had the highest percent of sustainable commuters. By 1995, the Calgary Challenge had mushroomed to include 25 workplaces, primarily oil and gas companies.[4] Andrea Main drafted the original proposal for the challenge and coined the name "Commuter Challenge". In its inaugural year, the ERCB’s Gas Department won the competition—the prize for which was the adoption of one acre of rainforest. Individual distance winners won T-shirts donated by Mountain Equipment Coop.

At the same time in 1991, cyclists from Ottawa and Hull, Quebec, organized the first commuter challenge in the National Capital Region. The annual event was founded by Mike Buckthought, a programmer-analyst and avid cyclist.[4] During National Environment Week, participants from Environment Canada and Forestry Canada reduced emissions by an estimated 1 tonne of carbon dioxide. Reductions in emissions were estimated using Environment Canada's Mobile 4C model. In 1992, the challenge expanded to include four organizations in Ottawa-Hull (Environment Canada, Forestry Canada, Bell Canada, and Bell-Northern Research). Participants reduced greenhouse gas emissions by an estimated 8 tonnes of carbon dioxide.

In 1995, the event expanded to include the first inter-city challenge, with Ottawa-Hull competing against London, Ontario. That year, the event included participants from Ottawa-Hull and London, as well as other cities in Ontario, British Columbia, Alberta and the United States. Reductions in emissions were estimated using Environment Canada's Mobile 5C model. On May 18, 1995, participants reduced emissions by an estimated 5 tonnes of carbon dioxide.[5]

In 1997, Calgary challenged Vancouver, Ottawa and London to an informal intercity challenge which attracted the attention of the Canadian Broadcasting Association (CBC) demonstrated the need for a national challenge.[6]

In 1998, over 14,500 people in Ottawa-Hull, London, Calgary, Vancouver and Victoria used environment-friendly transportation to get to work during Environment Week.[7]

In 1999, Sustainable Alberta Association received Federal Government support through the Climate Change Action Fund to launch a national event and website over three years. The project, led by Kathryn Winkler, made it possible for regions, workplaces and individuals anywhere in Canada to participate and see the impact that they have as a result of their commuter choices. The impacts that are available by region, by workplace/team and for individuals include GHG reductions, calories burned, liters of fuel saved as well as regional and workplace participation levels.

By 2000, twenty Canadian cities had signed up for the event with host organizations ranging from not-for-profit environmental groups, municipal offices and health authoriteis.[8]

In 2001 the national program coordination was handed off to an Ottawa-based non-governmental organization, Auto Free Ottawa.

In 2002 it was passed on to Go for Green, another Ottawa-based non-governmental organization. Go for Green coordinated the Commuter Challenge from 2002 to 2008.

In 2003, a total of 48,764 people joined the Commuter Challenge. The event was launched by Environment Minister David Anderson on May 30, 2003.[9] The Commuter Challenge was now a national event, with participation from all provinces and territories. A number of cities showed strong support for green transportation, with high numbers of participants: Ottawa-Gatineau (10,807), Winnipeg (10,058), Vancouver (9,219), Central Okanagan, BC (6,560), Waterloo Region (4,146), and Calgary (1,659).

In 2006 Justin Trudeau was the National Spokes person for the event [10] and endorse the program.

In 2009 Sustainable Alberta Association took on the national coordination once again. Today the Commuter Challenge is delivered by a small team of dedicated volunteers and occasional contract help out of the SAA office in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. The program is primarily funded by fees paid by corporate participants in Calgary and corporate sponsorships. Other financial support includes contributions from regional coordinators, the City of Calgary, foundations and local funding sources.


Year Number of Participating Workplaces Number of Employees Number of Participants CO2 Emissions Prevented Calories Burned Kilometres Travelled Sustainably Fuel Saved

2014 1,803 564,464 26,675 394,375 kg 18,881,881 2,602,144 194,975 L
2013 1,789 549,857 25,051 408,651 kg 19,336,197 2,567,433 185,024 L
2012 1,524 540,187 25,037 443,828 kg 21,956,938 2,679,423 190,670 L
2011 1,203 586,163 29,169 551,646 kg 26,119,159 2,923,252 234,691 L
2010 - - 20,327 530,000 kg 22,197,375 1,708,575 -
2009 1,700 - 41,580 484,719 kg 11,572,008 3,168,922 115,811 L
2008 - - 20,493 - - - -
2007 1,757 - 42,000 - - - -
2006 - - 38,549 - - 3,589,636 -
2005 - - 38,168 729,986 kg - 3,345,916 -
2004 - - 61,672 614,843 kg - 2,834,729 -
2003 1,260 - 48,764 746,863 kg - 3,711,272 -
2002 - - 46,437 - - - -
2001 - - 38,200 - - - -
2000 - - - - - - -
1999 - - - - - - -

Partner organizations[edit]

Commuter Challenge has had many partners over the years. Significant long-term partners include: Better Environmentally Sound Transportation (BEST),[11] a non-profit organization that coordinates the Commuter Challenge in British Columbia; the Green Action Centre,[12] an organization that coordinates the event in Manitoba; and Clean Nova Scotia,[13] a foundation based in Nova Scotia.

Government partners have included the Province of Manitoba, the Province of British Columbia, the City of Winnipeg, the City of Regina and the Region of Waterloo. Major support is received annually though collaboration with the City of Calgary, notably its transportation department.

Sustainable Alberta Association and the Calgary Commuter Challenge received funding from the Climate Change Action Fund (CCAF). The funding supported development of an online data collection system.

In 2011 Sustainable Alberta Association participated in the Shell "Fuelling Change" grant and won $100,000 to help facilitate the development of the new commuter tracking software.[14] In 2012 Commuter Challenge partnered with Climate Change Central (C-3), another Alberta-based environmental advocacy group, to give away air miles to randomly chosen participants.[15] ConocoPhillips has been the longest standing private sector supporter of the Calgary Commuter Challenge (since 2007) that contributes directly to the national program.[16]


  1. ^ Environment Canada: Canadian Environment Week
  2. ^ Sustainable Alberta Association
  3. ^ Commuter Challenge blog: Results
  4. ^ Tong, Tracey (June 3, 2008). "Turns out commute is a challenge," Metro News.
  5. ^ Buckthought, Mike (July–August 1995). "Cycling Challenge '95," Peace and Environment News (Ottawa).
  6. ^ Tools of Change: Commuter Challenge, Environment Canada's Participation
  7. ^ Buckthought, Mike (July–August 1998). "Car-less Commuters Challenge Pollution," Peace and Environment News (Ottawa).
  8. ^ Tools of Change: Calgary Commuter Challenge.
  9. ^ Environment Canada (May 28, 2003). "Environment Minister Launches Canadian Environment Week."
  10. ^ Justin Trudeau PSA for the 2006 Commuter Challenge
  11. ^ 2012 BEST Commuter Challenge
  12. ^ Green Action Centre: 2013 Commuter Challenge
  13. ^ Clean Nova Scotia:Commuter Challenge 2013 Archived 2013-02-11 at the Wayback Machine.
  14. ^ Fuelling Change: Canadian Commuter Challenge - Give Your Car a Day Off program
  15. ^ Climate Change Central: C3 and Commuter Challenge Campaign Details Archived 2012-06-08 at the Wayback Machine.
  16. ^ ConocoPhillips