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How free coffee got Sheffield students walking more

How free coffee got Sheffield students walking more

Rachel is an Engineering PhD student at the University of Sheffield. She has a painful medical condition that can be eased by walking, but she needs a bit of motivation to do it. The university’s Step Up Sheffield BetterPoints programme helped her get into the habit of walking to work.

‘It’s 20 minutes downhill on the way in, and 25 on the way home – a bit longer, but Sheffield hills are Sheffield hills! If I was stuck in traffic in a car or on a bus it would take me the same time, if not longer’, Rachel says.

‘I really value that bit of quiet time. Walking really does take the stresses away, and allows me to decompress on my way home. It lets you leave the office behind you.’

Step Up Sheffield rewards active and sustainable transport with the aim of reducing single-occupancy car journeys among staff and students, and is delivered through BetterPoints’ highly effective behaviour change platform.

In 2022–2023, more than 280 tonnes of CO2 emissions was saved from travel that replaced car journeys.

The platform’s power to leverage behaviour change science and techniques means it can use low-cost incentives to great effect. For example, one of the university’s most successful incentives was a humble cup of coffee that could be claimed for free after walking regularly for a few days.

With just those coffees, the university cut more than 700 car journeys by regular drivers over a targeted period and saw a measurable reduction in parking demand at peak times.

‘The rewards are a real motivator’, Rachel says, ‘as I know that eight or so days of walking to work will get me a free coffee. In the past I might have said, “Can I be bothered?” Now I’ll just get up and walk, even in bad weather.’

The programme’s appeal has rubbed off on Rachel’s colleagues too.

‘It became a talking point in the office’, she told us. ‘People were saying, “Why are you getting a free coffee?” And now the entire office is signed up!’

If you would like something similar at your university, we have put together BetterScholars, an introductory package for universities that has all the ingredients for delivering measurable change and return on investment, but for much less than a fully bespoke BetterPoints programme.