Cycle or Walk to IASS Challenge

The Himalaya team – Heiko Thomas, Pankaj Sadavarte, Zoe Lüthi, Khadak Mahata (+ David Dietrich, not in the picture) – during the awards. © Soline Bonnel

By Soline Bonnel

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Happy and motivated people, a sunny day, delicious homemade pastries, a short opening speech, and there we were—ready to launch our first Cycle or Walk to IASS Challenge on this morning of 27 June 2016! Our goal? To cover the greatest distance by bike and foot during our daily commuting over the next two weeks.

At the origin of this challenge is the internal sustainability initiative (more about it here), our institute-wide initiative to make the IASS a more sustainable workplace. With this challenge, we had three main ideas in mind:

  • Organise a social event around the issue of commuting and CO2;
  • Encourage the many IASS employees that already walk or cycle to work on a regular basis to keep doing it, and convince other employees to follow their example;
  • Help employees benefit from these two healthy modes of commuting. With proven benefits for health and well-being, what better way to start the day?

When our small team first thought about doing something around commuting, we quickly realised that we were not really the pilots in command of our emissions. But, all together, employees are! And that is how the idea of organising a challenge came up: what better way than a friendly and fun competition to involve employees? Beyond its pure objective to support sustainable commuting, it is also a great way to connect people. And who says “challenge” also says “win” and “celebration”. This is how the first Cycle or Walk to IASS Challenge was born.

Let’s talk about the challenge itself

The challenge was basically open to anyone working at the institute: employees, fellows, trainees, scientists, and administrative staff. The accepted means of transportation were walking, cycling, and e-biking. The rules? Really simple:

  1. Form a team of 5 and give it a name;
  2. Commute (home <-> work) the furthest distance you can over two weeks, on foot, by bike, or with your e-bike;
  3. The winning team is the one scoring the most points.

In order to support brave walkers, and introduce an element of strategy into the challenge, we created a scoring system that would allow anyone to participate fairly: walkers would score 2 points per km, cyclists 1 point per km, and e-bikers 0.5 point per km.

Of course, we could have gone for an individual challenge, but we would have lost the team-spirit side of the challenge. As a team, everyone has to count on each other, which we thought was a great aspect of the challenge. Forming the team and agreeing a name is also part of the challenge. By doing so, you have to engage with each other, be creative, and commit; now your team is counting on you!

In the end, the challenge was a great success: it involved more than 30 people across 6 teams, who cycled and walked a total of 3120 kilometres! That’s equivalent to relaying around the whole of Germany in two weeks, using just our bikes and our legs!

Cycle or Walk to IASS challenge results

Beyond commuting, people met, discussed, and shared during the competition, but also during the launch and closing breakfasts. Organising something with people, for people, on an issue that matters, was important for us.

And so, who won?

During the first week, one team quickly took the lead far ahead of the others, to the point where we really though the story was already written. But life is full of surprises! Another group, the Himalaya team, did what nobody expected: took the lead and won the challenge by traveling 870 km in two weeks!

The Himalaya team – Heiko Thomas, Pankaj Sadavarte, Zoe Lüthi, Khadak Mahata (+ David Dietrich, not in the picture) – during the awards. © Soline Bonnel

The Himalaya team – Heiko Thomas, Pankaj Sadavarte, Zoe Lüthi, Khadak Mahata (+ David Dietrich, not in the picture) – during the awards. © Soline Bonnel

Because the event was so successful, we intend to organise another challenge next year. And why not go even further, and share the competition with other Potsdam institutes? Through the challenge, we also collected great ideas from the participants, and we are now considering opening a bike repair workshop at the IASS. The idea is to provide a workstand and some essential tools so that employees can fix and/or learn how to fix and maintain their bikes. We would also like to organise a bike-marking session in 2017, as this is a good deterrent against theft.

Finally, as we wanted to push our work on mobility further, we launched an internal survey on employee commuting in order to collect data and insights on employees’ habits. Thanks to the collected information, we will be able to better assess our GHG emissions from commuting, and identify relevant improvement projects. Many thanks to everyone who contributed to the survey!

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