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Workplace in action: Unilever

Unilever employees on bikes

Unilever in Leeds has been working with Sustrans to get more staff actively commuting to work. Petra Smith, Quality and Innovation Manager, sees the benefits of active travel to both staff and the business.

“We want to encourage people to take more care of themselves, and there are definitely more people cycling to work now, and in their leisure time.

The benefits are healthier lifestyles, less traffic on the roads, and the chance for people to save money on their daily commute. And all of our work in this area fits into Unilever’s sustainable living plan and our key strategies around sustainability and healthy living. By partnering with Sustrans we’re able to fulfil both of these.”

Helping staff commute actively to work

  • Various campaigns including ‘switch a trip’, and events such as crazy bike days, encourage people to cycle to and from work and in their leisure time.
  • The Leeds office provides lockers, showers, secure cycle parking and emergency equipment such as bike pumps, spare batteries for lights and basic tools for maintenance.
  • Sustrans runs bike maintenance sessions two or three times a year and cycle training to help people gain the confidence to cycle to work.
  • Four pool bikes give people the chance to try out cycling before they commit to buying a bike.
  • Maps have been produced to give people the information they need for a car-free commute, and to go on lunchtime walks in the local area.

People who come in by bike or bus feel like they’re part of a big community, and having bike sheds close to the office is encouraging others to get involved too.

- Ben Diamant, Disruptive Innovation Manager

Engaging employees by creating a buzz

Many Leeds staff have rediscovered cycling, and some people are even encouraging their children to cycle – they’re going on family bike rides because they themselves are getting into two wheels.

“Sustrans has built excitement around getting active. Suddenly there is a motivation for people to take their bikes out of the garage, dust them off and rediscover what it is they love about cycling.

And even an increase in car sharing has encouraged people to form friendships with colleagues they may never have spoken to before.”

“Prior to Sustrans’ presence on-site, staff tended to go on lunchtime walks that consisted of trips to the local supermarket along a main road. But now there are new maps available, people are exploring nature reserves which they may not even have known existed! It’s a really positive spin-off.”

A holistic view of the benefits

“Of course all of this work comes at a cost to Unilever, but I think businesses have to balance that against the potential benefits, both now and into the future, to their employees and to their business. If companies really have a holistic view of what’s good for business, then a partnership with Sustrans is a really positive thing.”

Find out how you can change the way your staff travel to work