There are a wide range of things an organization can do to make itself greener. Many revolve around the concept of decreasing the institutional carbon footprint. This is the first in a series of posts on such measures. I’d like to think of them as conversation starters. We often hear about stuff like using mass transit, riding one’s bike, getting a more fuel-efficient vehicle, using compact florescent bulbs, and the like. These are all important steps one can and should take (within the limits of reason and finances, of course). However, one option I rarely hear about in the context of becoming greener is telecommuting. Telecommuting seems to come up most often in the context of flex time, allowing parents time to care for their young children, for example. But, what has it got to do with going green? Well, I think a moment’s reflection makes this obvious. When people work part of the week from home, they don’t drive their cars to work, thus conserving gas and reducing traffic congestion and air pollution. According to the Green Living Ideas Web site:
Seeing as the typical U.S. household spends 18% of its income on driving costs– more, even, than it spends on food– telecommuting offers a viable way to offset the steep expenses of gas and automobile maintenance. One study reports that we could save about 1.35 billion gallons of fuel a year if everyone who was able to telecommute, did so just 1.6 days a week.
The implications for a greener planet are clear, but there is an important corollary here that should not be overlooked. If one didn’t have to spend 18% of his or her income on transportation, that would make one’s salary go a lot longer. Many are not easily convinced of the necessity or desirability of a greener planet, but some of these very same people change their tunes when they realize the economic benefits, especially to those in the middle class struggling in an economy on the brink of recession. And the one sector in the economy we don’t have to worry about is the energy sector; they are still making record profits even today. A little telecommuting won’t hurt their bottom line that much. And, based upon the law of supply and demand, it could very well bring prices down on oil for those times and things we would still need it for. Less demand means more supply means lower prices.
Telecommuters also do not use campus resources like electricity, water, heat/ac, etc. According to this article on “The Many Benefits of Telecommuting“:
More and more green businesses are encouraging telecommuting and there are a great many reasons why. Telecommuting not only saves the earth by decreasing transportation-based greenhouse gases, but also provides employees a peaceful place to complete key projects without interruption. Productivity increases of up to 40 percent have been reported through telework programs. Not only does telework reduce transportation-based emissions, it also reduces total energy consumption at the work place. Smaller businesses can inhabit smaller premises by rotating telework days amongst employees.
Now, of course, some jobs just must be done on campus. Faculty must be present to teach ground courses, and physical resources can’t be serviced from a distance, to name a couple that come to mind. However, other jobs could easily be done from home, at least part of the time. Personally, I would not advocate that positions typically be 100% telecommuting. I may be old-fashioned, but I still think there is significant benefit to the office experience, especially in areas where inter-staff collaboration is common and crucial. You can certainly accomplish a lot through modern communications technology, but some times nothing beats a face-to-face brainstorming session. There are obviously a lot of variables to consider with regard to who and how and such things. However, if there could truly be increases in productivity that are concurrent with decreases in energy consumption, it seems like a potential win-win-win situation (worker, organization, and environment).