At 6:30 AM on May 15th, Tim Bragan left his house in Glen Echo, Maryland and embarked on a kayaking voyage south down the Potomac River. After navigating Little Falls—a rapid at the DC line, which was running at Class Four that Tuesday—he continued all the way to Hains Point and up the Anacostia River to reach his destination in Capitol Hill. Although an avid whitewater kayaker, Tim wasn’t out for any morning tour; he was commuting to work.
Tim, a Principal at Landscape Architecture Bureau, was a participant in the ninth-annual Big Green Commute, a week-long commuting competition hosted by ZGF that challenges commuters in the Washington, DC region to “Go to Work, Make a Difference.” The competition—which coincides with National Bike to Work Week each May—incentivizes self-propelled commutes via walking and biking (and now kayaking) but also rewards taking public transportation, carpooling, or driving electric vehicles.
The Big Green Commute wasn’t always so “Big,” although the “Green Commute” was inherent. When the competition was conceived in the early 2000s, it lasted only one day and was entirely internal to ZGF. Employees in the DC office challenged our coworkers across the firm to a commuting competition to determine which office was the “greenest” of them all. Over the years, the competition evolved into a week-long battle with each office competing for custom trophies and bragging rights. The annual event inspired more and more ZGFers to adopt new methods of getting to work that didn’t involve sitting alone in a car.
In 2010, my colleagues in the DC office invited other architecture firms in the region to participate in a regional version of the Big Green Commute. In 2013, we decided that architects shouldn’t have all the fun, and we opened the competition to any company in the DC metro area. Since then, we have watched as DC commuters have enthusiastically embraced the event. The competition has expanded to include more than 40 companies and 1,500 individuals, who have unleashed their own competitive drives and creativity in attempt to win the competition! In 2018, participants commuted an incredible 60,475 greener miles over the course of one week while documenting their paddles, steps, rides, and electric-vehicle drives on social media (#BigGreenCommute).
In addition to making an impact through their action and advocacy, Big Green Commute participants have given back to the community through their support of local non-profits. Since 2013, participants have donated more than $31,000 to Big Green Commute community partners, Coalition for Smarter Growth and Community of Hope. Coalition for Smarter Growth is the leading organization in the DC region making the case for smart growth and a greener, better commute for everyone. Community of Hope is a non-profit, community-based organization that creates opportunities for low-income families in DC and uses Big Green Commute support to provide sustainable transit subsidies for its clients to get around the city for job interviews, doctor appointments, and everyday errands.
As ZGFers have organized the Big Green Commute year after year, our efforts have been built on our belief that change can be affected at a personal and community level. The Big Green Commute is more than just a fun competition; it addresses critical issues. According to data provided by the World Bank, transportation accounts for more than 33% of the United States’ CO2 emissions. Driving continues to be the major mode in which DC-region commuters get to work, and DC-region commuters endure the 2nd-longest average commute in America according to US census data (spending an average of 32.2 minutes on a one-way commute to get to and from work). Following the 2018 Big Green Commute, 28% of participants reported that they would consider changing their commuting method in the future. Those 28% of participants are our biggest success and demonstrate that we can inspire change through a friendly competition! Our goal for future Big Green Commutes is to replicate that success on a larger scale: imagine the impact if we could convince 28% of DC-region commuters to green their commutes and reduce their CO2 emissions!
When we started the Big Green Commute, we hoped to inspire others to make a change. However, we’ve found that the participants of the Big Green Commute have inspired us. Whether it was Tim Bragan, who conquered a three-and-a-half-hour kayak commute, or Perkins Eastman, who started their own internal competition and spread the Big Green Commute to their regional offices across the country, Big Green Commute participants have adopted this competition, turning it into the growing community event it is today! Thank you to all you green commuters for going to work and making a difference, one commute at a time.