Mobility practices: sustainable consumption of distance

Carbon-dependent transport and the unsustainable ‘consumption of distance’ are key areas of concern in sustainability debates. Significant structural changes to mobility practices have yet to be realized and emissions in the transport sector in Ireland are currently responsible for 20% of total national emissions – a figure that is expected to grow by between 12-22% by 2020. Social science studies evaluating the cultural, political and infrastructural factors that impact people’s mobility decisions are therefore of primary concern and a core focus of CONSENSUS.

Our mobility research investigates:

  • Current transport and mobility practices in Ireland and their socio-cultural, economic and environmental causes and consequences
  • National and international policy frameworks that shape Irish transport and mobility patterns
  • Opportunities for a shift towards more sustainable transport modes through a workplace-based intervention
  • Possibilities for an overall reduction in work-related ‘consumption of distance’ through teleworking


Along with desk-based reviews, we use quantitative and qualitative techniques including surveys, focus groups, interviews and ethnographic observation. Our research repeatedly shows that mobility is first and foremost a social practice; shaped by material, social and cultural influences that can either help or hinder a modal shift away from the car. Our research findings intend to challenge well-established modes of thinking about the causes and consequences of unsustainable transport and to improve policy and initiatives promoting sustainable mobility.

Workplace interventions

We designed and evaluated workplace mobility plans in a large Irish business combining information provision, infrastructure change, incentives and team-based interventions. The research revealed that large businesses are ideally placed to encourage a modal shift among their workforce towards sustainable alternatives (e.g. walking, cycling and car-sharing). This work led to the development of typologies of commuting which should be employed for targeted sustainable transport initiatives: Commuting in the city (car-based); Commuting from the rural hinterland (car-based); Trip chaining (car-based); Hybrid (car plus other modes); Alternative (walking, cycling).


Our teleworking research examined policies across Europe and teleworker’s experiences in Ireland through surveys and interviews. Although telework is promoted as a tool for suppressing work-related travel, our findings to date suggest that its economic, social and environmental consequences may not always be positive. A key reason arises from the shift in costs of work-related resource consumption (e.g. space heating and lighting) from employer to employee, and because of stresses on people’s social circumstances. Teleworking thus requires regulation to protect employer and employee; along with training for teleworkers and managers.

CONSENSUS Phase II: Mobility milestones & biographies

Key life events such as the arrival of first child, relocation, the transition from education to work, or retirement can coincide with more or less radical changes in mobility practices (e.g. switch from cycling to car-based commuting). Understanding the role and significance of continuity and change in people’s mobility biography has the potential to significantly advance our knowledge of current patterns of (im)mobility and how to either encourage or transform them. At the same time, individual mobility biographies reflect wider structural conditions in society. Linking individual mobility biographies to the histories of key mobility policies and developments can thus cast new light on the causes and consequences of (un)sustainable mobility practices. Using an innovative survey methodology based on mobility biography mapping, this research identifies key mobility milestones in individuals’ lives and links them to developments in the modern Irish transport system. Recommendations will be developed for policies that focus on these milestones to encourage more sustainable mobility practices like cycling, walking and public transport use.

  • Dr Mike Hynes teleworking research
    Dr Mike Hynes teleworking research
  • Smart Moves workplace initiative
    Smart Moves workplace initiative
  • Smart Moves opening event
    Smart Moves opening event