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Speeding Up Carbon Drawdown by Helping the Inactive Become Active

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Confessions of a Transport Surveyor – Don’t Mention The C-Word

transport travel survey audience concert music venue band carbon footprint scope 3 carbon drawdown

If you stop talking about ‘travel’ and start dropping the Carbon bomb, transport surveys take a strange turn…

Ask concert-goers how they get to venues, and you learn unexpected lessons on human nature, and the storytelling obstacles to – and opportunities for – speeding up carbon drawdown 

The Set-Up

See Through Carbon’s Pilot 2: UK Live Music involves conducting high quality audience travel surveys. 

Since March 2024, Teams of See Through News volunteers, along with venues and bands participating in the pilot around Great Britain, have been donning hi-viz vests, clutching clipboards, and approaching concert-goers as they arrive at theatres to ask them three simple questions:

  • How many of you in your group?
  • How did you get here?
  • Where did you come from?

If you can get more than a fifth of the audience to answer honestly, you have a methodologically sound basis for calculating what’s likely to be the biggest single emissions source for that evening’s event.

The results so far have been statistically spectacular, and anecdotally fascinating. 

The See Through Carbon website explains the thought and process behind this innovative survey in detail. This article reflects on a peculiar human trait experienced by anyone conducting such surveys.

This trait is triggered by a single word. A C-word. A C-bomb.

In the UK at least, the impact of this particular C-bomb in this particular context has been remarkably predictable. Its effect has also been consistent over different ages, geographies and genders.

Here’s how a screenwriter might tell the story. We start with the version that plays out 90% of the time, when ‘T-words’ are deployed, without recourse to C-bomb firepower.

see through carbon pilot 2 audience transport form clipboard

Screenplay #1: T-word version


SCENE: exterior, evening, car parks in street near regional theatre.

  • Mid-shot: REGGIE checks the interior of his saloon car, closes the driver’s door.
  • Tracking shot. REGGIE locks car with a beep as he joins his wife MARGE, and MARGE’s sister DOLLY, deep in conversation. 
  • REGGIE P.O.V.: The trio approach the theatre entrance. 
  • Two-shot: MARGE animatedly tells DOLLY how excited she is to see this band again. 
  • Mid-shot: REGGIE, his mind apparently elsewhere, peers through the theatre entrance doors to assess the queue at the lobby bar.
  • Wide-shot: A smiling TRANSPORT SURVEYOR approaches them, See Through News hi-viz vest over their coat, clipboard in one hand, pencil in the other.
  • Mid-shot: TRANSPORT SURVEYOR stands shoulder-to-shoulder with MARGE, REGGIE and DOLLY.
  • Close-up: Title of the printed form on the clipboard reads ‘Audience Transport Survey’. Several lines of entries already fill the three columns.

TRANSPORT SURVEYOR (breezily, with a smile): Excuse me, could you please tell me how many people there are in your group travelling to the concert this evening?

MARGE (returning the smile): Just the three of us.

  • Close-up: TRANSPORT SURVEYOR writes ‘3’ in Column 1.

TRANSPORT SURVEYOR (briskly, with rising intonation): And how did you get here?  

  • 4-shot: TRANSPORT SURVEYOR looks expectantly and encouragingly at MARGE, pencil hovering over Column 2. REGGIE and DOLLY’s attentions strays from the lobby to this conversation.
  • Close-up: pencil hovering over list of entries ending in the word ‘car’.

MARGE: By car.

TRANSPORT SURVEYOR, pencil still hovering: Petrol car? Diesel car? Hybrid car? Electric car?

As MARGE is about to answer, REGGIE: Diesel car.

TRANSPORT SURVEYOR: Thank you, finally, what’s the first part of the post code you’ve come from?

MARGE: RG15, 5Q…

TRANSPORT SURVEYOR, interrupting: No need for the full postcode, we only need the first part. Thanks so much, enjoy the show!

  • REGGIE, MARGE and DOLLY enter the theatre.
  • TRANSPORT SURVEYOR approaches next group.

That’s it. Most interactions take a few seconds. The more such interactions occur, the higher the audience response rate.

Why Clipboards?

This ‘clipboard’ approach is considered the gold standard of audience transport surveys. Short of the invasive and impractical surveillance of how people arrive, one human asking another is likely to produce the most accurate data.

Even before introducing the C-bomb, the reasons for this methodological rule of thumb reveal much about human nature.

Response rates depend on many technical factors: number and quality of ‘clipboard artists’, venue layout, audience flow and bottlenecks, weather, etc.

Arranging for human clipboard surveyors to perform routine, repetitious tasks may appear to be:

  1. quite a hassle
  2. prone to human operator error
  3. the kind of job best done online or by robots 

1 & 2 are true, but on balance worth any downsides because 3 ignores the critical human factor. There are strong psychological reasons why statisticians consider the most reliable, and time-tested audience survey methodology to be face-to-face interviews with people as they arrive on the night.

Just consider the pros and cons of less labour-intensive alternatives:

  • Online Point of Sale: fans pick their mode of transport from a drop-down menu when they buy the tickets online.
    • Pro: completely automatable, requires no human data collection.
    • Con: fans might not take the question seriously, give what they think is the ‘right’ answer, have not yet considered travel plans, which may in any case change on the night.
  • ‘Card’ self-reporting: simple forms printed on cards or paper handed to fans as they enter, and/or left on their theatre seats; completed forms are collected as fans leave.
    • Pro: less labour-intensive than clipboards, can be done by existing venue staff with minimal additional burden. High response rates are possible, especially if the venue staff in the foyer, and band on the stage, urge their fans to complete them.
    • Con: many potential pitfalls between intent and action: fans may not have writing implements, their enthusiasm may have ebbed by the time the lights are up, cards may be dropped on the floor, reading glasses left at home etc. Even if questions are framed neutrally, fans may be more likely to give what they perceive as the ‘right’ answer – we’ll get to the ‘C-bomb’ shortly…
  • QR Codes: fans are directed to point their smartphones at a QR code displayed as they enter, on the stage, or projected in the auditorium and/or foyer; then self-report using the online form, instead of a writing implement.
    • Pro: the least labour-intensive method, as data entry is 100% automated. 
    • Con: presents a higher barrier to technophobes, or people unfamiliar with QR codes. Response rates can be improved if fans are urged to respond by venue staff, and/or onstage by the act they’ve paid to see.

Whether using the Clipboard, Card or QR Code methods, a 20% response rate is considered methodologically sound. Anything above 50% is pretty much as good as 100%.

STN’s clipboard volunteers are consistently getting response rates of 55-85% for both Clipboard and Card methods.

Why not use the ticket sales data?

Nowadays, nearly all tickets are bought with credit cards. This means venues already have good approximations to two of the survey’s three questions:

  • How many in your group?: likely to correlate strongly with the number of tickets bought per transaction (i.e. Marge probably bought the tickets for her husband and sister at the same time). 
  • Postcode?: likely to be the same as the credit card billing address (i.e. Marge’s Visa card is billed to her home address). 

Venues adding the third mode-of-transport question online at point of sale can theoretically gather this information automatically, but as mentioned above, intentions at point of sale may not be reliable indicators of future actions. Think of opinion polls, and general elections…

Once the Pilot 2 survey is complete, however, ticket sale information for any concert can be compared with the correponding real-world data collection for the same event. With enough data, it may transpire that transaction numbers and postcode information alone, gathered automatically at point of sale may prove to be a reliable-enough proxy to estimate actual carbon footprints. 

When See Through Carbon’s expert statisticians consider the Pilot 2 database has enough entries, they’ll crunch the numbers to establish consistent correlations, categorised by venue and act type, between the ‘passively-collated credit card data and the ‘gold standard’ clipboard data collected by the transport surveys.

Only after these correlations are methodologically proven – and constantly spot-checked – can the ticketing data alone be used as a good-enough approximation for estimating any event’s carbon footprint. 

Such approximations are commonly used in financial accounting too. For example, government tax collectors permit certain small businesses to pay a flat rate of value-added tax rather than having to calculate every single entry. This is considered a good-enough system that relieves small businesses from excessive bureaucracy, and tax collectors from an unfeasible scale of auditing, while still arriving at a fair and reasonably accurate outcome.

Carbon auditing is the same. Using a reliable estimate is the only practical way to audit large numbers of businesses at scale – so long as these estimates are based on methodologically sound, robust, constantly verified datasets.

Because no public standard currently exists for live music, See Through Carbon is creating one itself. This is why, in addition to offering free carbon audits and consultancy by using open source rule books for conversion factors, STC is having to write the rule book for Pilot 2, as no one else has yet done so.

True to its principles of being transparent and open source, STC will make this dataset publicly available for free, to enable any venue, band or promoter to accurately calculate their event’s baseline carbon footprint. 

Any music industry stakeholder – venue, band, promoter, agent, record label, even coach companies – can then measure the carbon (and financial) impacts of, for example, offering minibus or coach travel to and from the gig at point of sale.

Now you know why See Through volunteers in hi-viz jackets have been approaching British music fans with clipboards, it’s time to drop the C-bomb. 

What’s the ‘C-bomb’?

In this context, the C-word’ is ‘carbon’.

The vast majority of audience member interactions with STN’s surveyors follow the pattern of the Screenplay #1, each interaction only taking a few seconds.

Some of the more curious, or suspicious, audience members, however, may interrupt this smooth flow, and ask the person with the clipboard about the purpose of their questions. 

This is when things get interestingly, but predictably, strange.

If you’ve read this far, you’ll know why explaining every detail mentioned in the article so far would be impractical. The transport surveyor needs to strike a balance between answering their perfectly legitimate question courteously and accurately, but also concisely, without getting bogged down in a half-hour debate on transport policy.

In many cases, fans are satisfied by surveyors saying things like:

  • Oh, the band and venue have asked us to do this travel survey for them.


  • We do transport surveys at the request of venues and bands, and X has asked us to gather some non-personal data for them.

Note that both answers use neutral T-words’, i.e. ‘travel’ and ‘transport’.

Some people remain curious, however, and ask for more detail. This makes deployment of the C-bom inevitable. The moment the surveyor’s replies include C-word phrases – like ‘carbon footprint’, ‘carbon audit’ or ‘carbon accounting’ – conversations take a very different course.  

Time for another screenplay.

Screenplay #2: C-word version

This revised version shows what happens once the carbon bomb is dropped. It’s based on real-world responses to STN’s transport surveyors (which could not have been recorded by any means other than by face-to-face clipboard interviews – another advantage of this data collection methodology).

As screenplay #1, until:

TRANSPORT SURVEYOR (breezily, with a smile): Excuse me, could you please tell me how many people are in your group travelling to the concert this evening?

REGGIE (suspicious): What’s this all for?

TRANSPORT SURVEYOR (pointing at heading on the clipboard): The band has asked us to gather some non-personal information for an audience travel survey.

MARGE: That’s nice. There are three of us travelling together – I’m Marge, this is my husband Reggie, and…

REGGIE (still suspicious): Wait, Marge. Why does the band want to know how we got here?

TRANSPORT SURVEYOR: These three questions, which are completely anonymised, mean we can accurately calculate this show’s… [almost imperceptible pause/wince] carbon footprint. 

REGGIE (somewhat mollified): I see, so it’s all about saving the planet, is it? 

TRANSPORT SURVEYOR (with the briefest of glances at their watch): And how did you get here?  

REGGIE (brow furrowing as he sees the entry above his reads ‘Electric Car’): ‘I’m afraid we have a diesel car – sorry’.

MARGE: Oh dear, we’ve failed, haven’t we?

DOLLY (archly): I told you we should have come in my hybrid – we would have got better marks.

TRANSPORT SURVEYOR (trying to wind up): It really doesn’t matter how you got here – we’re simply taking a baseline survey to measure the actual carbon emissions of this concert. 

REGGIE: Those electric vehicles are a con, anyway. They run out of charge at the worst moment, and take more energy to make than they save – and the pollution from the batteries is worse than petrol…

DOLLY (sensing an opportunity): Our hybrid never runs out of fuel.

MARGE (apologetically): We tried taking the train, but the last bus from here to the train station leaves before the end of the concert.

REGGIE: You should do something about the public transport – we can’t help driving here, we’ve got no choice.

TRANSPORT SURVEYOR: We’re just asking these three questions to measure things properly – what other people do with the data is up to them – but thank you and enjoy the show!

C-bomb fallout survey

It’s as if the C-word invokes a magic spell.

The effect is transformative. Audience members no longer reply factually, briefly and minimally. At the mention of the C-word, they suddenly become much more verbose, adorning their factual answers with a range of emotionally-charged framings.

The C-word instantly alters the interaction’s nature, direction and duration. A brief, straightforward, fact-based Q&A, suddenly veers towards courtroom drama territory. The questions are identical, but now carry the baggage of Judgement.

Respondents cast themselves as The Accused, or The Victim.

  • Fossil-fuel powered car passengers appeal to the mercy of the court, offer extenuating circumstances, or plead for forgiveness
  • Electric or hybrid-powered car passengers plead innocence, offering witness statements in support or mitigation.
  • Public transport users become expert witnesses, explaining the logistics and morality of every step of their journey.

Language becomes emotionally charged. Team Fossil’s language betrays guilt, remorse, defensiveness, suspicion, aggression. Team Hybrid/Electic’s denote pride, status, joy.  Team Public Transport can become animatedly self-righteous and preachy.

An efficient, straightforward, functional exchange of information is suddenly transformed into a complex low-level therapy session, policy debate or skirmish in the culture wars. Answers about mode of transport are now crowded out by framing emotions: apologetic, justifying, virtuous. 

What exactly happened when the clipboard artists stopped using the T-word (travel, transport) and started using the Carbon word (carbon audit, carbon footprint)?

Effective climate action storytelling lessons

The answer holds important storytelling lessons for anyone aspiring to effective climate activism. 

Every politician, priest, salesman and charlatan knows that how you frame the question is critical to determining how people respond. If you control the narrative, you control the direction of travel, and improve your odds of driving people towards your desired destination.

The final destination for all See Through stories is Speeding Up  Carbon Drawdown by Helping the Inactive Become Active. By some route or another, we’re trying to drive to Mount Action.

Break the spell, however, and people feel they’ve lost control of the narrative. They ignore your careful framing, and start attaching their own, well-rehearsed, stories to the one you’re trying to tell. These stories end in various places, but are all situated in the Pit of Inaction.

Seen in this light, these transport surveys could also be the first step in telling a story that winds up in Mount action. As well as its functional data-gathering purpose, the fact that it’s unusual to find transport surveyors at a live music concert could, for some, be a first step on the journey from climate inaction to action. 

From this perspective, Screenplay #1 is the opening of more ambitious narrative journey. 

How does this story end?

Think of Screenplays # 1 and 2 not as mere transport surveys, but as alternative first scenes in a much longer movie.

It’s a first-person adventure. You’re the central character, a See Through storyteller. Your mission is to rescue people mired in the Pit of Inaction, and help them overcome all obstacles on an epic journey to distant Mount Action.

Your quest could start in a hi-viz jacket, armed with a clipboard and pen, or…:

  • You’re driving in your open-top car, on a sunny day.
  • You see some strangers by the side of the road. 
  • You stop for a chat about the fine weather we’re having.
  • You offer them a lift.
  • Before they ask where you’re going, you start telling them an entertaining story. 
  • As you drive, monsters, three-headed beasts, temptations, distractions, diversions and traps appear.
  • You navigate between them, heroically, keeping your passengers focused on your story, oblivious to the obstacles.
  • As the hazards multiply, your storytelling too becomes more intense, more urgent, more compelling.
  • Somehow, you keep your passengers full attention, while dodging all the threats that might break the spell, break your eye contact with them, and send them back to the Pit of Inaction.
  • Miraculously, you reach your destination – the foothills of Mount Action, wreathed in mist.

Your storytelling job is now done. You’ve conveyed your Unwilling Inactivist passengers to the critical climax of the story. You’ve defied the odds to get them to the cusp, the point where climate Inaction meets climate Action. You can do no more, the choice is now theirs.

Which of the multiple possible final scenes in this movie would you like to see?

  • Redemption: your passengers embrace you in thanks. The clouds part as they ascend Mount Action, revealing the sunny uplands of a sustainable future.
  • Disaster: your passengers, suddenly realising where they are, start to panic. They leap from the car and start running back towards the Pit of Inaction.
  • Cliffhanger: your passengers look around them, suddenly aware of where they are. They look behind them, and trace the journey they’ve taken from the Pit of Inaction. Their brows furrow as they peer up Mount Action, trying to discern a path through the mist…

Screenplay #2 interrupted the first stage of this journey. The C-word suddenly breaks the spell, makes the passengers aware of their situation. Instantly, they feel judged, uncomfortable at where this trip might end up. They start looking for refuge.

The mention of the word ‘carbon’ turned previously passive listeners, along for the ride, into back seat drivers. They now start thinking about the route they’re being taken on. They want to direct the story along more familiar roads that lead back to the Pit of Inaction. They try to seize control of the conversational steering wheel, and direct the story back towards familiar rutted roads.  

Ruts are hard to escape.

If you’d like to volunteer to do audience transport surveys, and find out for yourself, email: