Spotlight on Research: Paving the way for healthier, zero carbon transport

Paving the way for healthier, zero carbon transport

The Transport Studies Unit’s Christian Brand has helped develop the World Health Organisation (WHO) ‘HEAT’ tool, which quantifies the health & carbon benefits of walking and cycling, and is used by local and national governments across the globe.

Our sedentary lifestyles are cutting our lives short and making them less enjoyable. Inactivity is one of the top four risk factors of premature deaths, according to Christian Brand, a researcher at the Transport Studies Unit. “However, by incorporating active travel into our daily lives we can prevent certain diseases, improve mental health and cut carbon emissions.”

Thanks to Christian Brand and his colleagues, we can now calculate these health and carbon benefits of walking and cycling in the broader context of physical activity, road accidents, carbon emissions and exposure to air pollution. Working for the World Health Organisation this team of international experts have developed the innovative Health Economic Assessment Tool for walking and cycling, known simply as HEAT. Bringing together traditionally-siloed thinking on urban planning, transport and public health, HEAT enables planners and policy makers to evaluate the health and carbon benefits of their active transport projects and plans.

Whilst economic appraisal is an established practice in transport planning, it has been dominated by travel-time savings which typically favour faster methods of travel. Yet health benefits have economic impacts too – reducing healthcare bills – and these measurements are important to record and communicate to the public.

Christian believes that this tool will put the subject of healthy transport decisions on the agenda for policy makers and the public, where previously it wasn’t a consideration: “Current appraisals of transport planning projects often don’t cost the benefits of improved health and reduced carbon emissions. By using the HEAT tool and measuring and valuing these things, planning decisions that have a positive impact on public and planetary health might be made more often.”

The HEAT tool is freely available online at It has seen an excellent uptake and is now used by local and national governments across the globe to inform investment decisions and value existing travel choices. Some national governments even recommend HEAT as the de facto tool for transport appraisals. This is good news for public and environmental health.


“In the UK only 2% of all journeys are made by bike which might not sound like a lot but it has a value in carbon terms, saving thousands of tons of carbon a year. If you value that economically with what is called the ‘Social Cost of Carbon’ you end up with millions of pounds saved each year.”

Dr Christian Brand, Senior Research Fellow and Associate Professor
Transport Studies Unit, University of Oxford.


  • World Health Organization, Regional Office for Europe, Copenhagen
  • European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme under EC-GA No. 602624-2 (FP7-HEALTH-2013-INNOVATION-1), Brussels


  • World Health Organization, Regional Office for Europe
  • University of Zurich
  • Cavill Associates
  • Transport Studies Unit, University of Oxford
  • ISGlobal, Barcelona
  • Institute of Public Health, Cambridge
  • University of Edinburgh
  • Ecoplan
  • UKK Institute for Health Promotion Research
  • University of Bristol
  • London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine

Selected Outputs