Saving the Earth, One “Work-From-Home Day” at a Time

I think it is safe to say that we’re all happy that a federal government shutdown was avoided this month. Yes, some workers were planning great volunteer opportunities that couldn’t take place, but most folks are happy to have received their normal paycheck.

Still, the possible shutdown left me wondering – what would traffic have been like in D.C. with most federal employees not coming in to work? One would imagine the roads would be half-empty and everyone would have a much quicker trip to work.

Now, imagine if the same traffic-free roads were a part of your every day commute, all year round (Snowpocalypse notwithstanding). How great would it be to make it from Silver Spring to Capitol Hill in only 25 minutes, shaving 15 minutes off your commute every day? Think about it this way – If your commute is 25 minutes each way, you spend nearly 200 hours per year driving to work, which is more than twice the 80 hours of annual vacation time.

Traffic reduction is another benefit that would result from increasing teleworking among federal employees. Aside from the myriad of benefits to the telecommuter, less commuters on the road means less traffic overall – giving non-teleworkers more time at the office or home with their families. As a teleworker, I’ve been happy to reap the benefits of teleworking for the past eight years working for HP, but I would certainly welcome a decrease in traffic for the days when I do have to make trips into the city.

One recent study from Widener University helped quantify the environmental benefits of telecommuting. If just another 10 percent of the U.S. workforce telecommuted, we could save 45 tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year from less driving, 4.8 tons from the reduced effects of congestion, 28.1 tons from office space not built and 56.8 tons from energy not used in those office spaces.

As we celebrate Earth Day today, it is important to remember that teleworking also helps companies with energy savings. At HP, we’ve been involved with Power IT Down Day for the past few years, an initiative with the government agencies to turn off their computers to save energy over night and over the weekend.

So, here’s my proposal for Earth Day: power off your computing equipment when you head home this weekend, and when you are back to work next week, ask your boss about a telecommuting day! It’ll benefit you, your organization, the environment, and the unhappy drivers stuck behind you in traffic. It’s a win-win-win-win!

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Andrew Krzmarzick

Hey Christina – as I see those stats (“45 tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year from less driving, 4.8 tons from the reduced effects of congestion, 28.1 tons from office space not built and 56.8 tons from energy not used in those office spaces.”), they don’t mean a whole lot to me…

Has anyone come up with good analogies or measures of real impact on a person’s life that tie into these numbers? For instance, has anyone been able to successfully visualize what “greenhouse gas emissions” really look like…I know we can see them in the form of smog in cities around the world…but what about something graphic (video, animated, etc.) that effectively demonstrates the impact in a memorable way?

Christina Morrison

Thanks Andy- that’s a really interesting question. The impact of reducing greenhouse gas emissions on an individual level seems like it would be difficult to quantify, but I think with energy savings it can be easier to see the impact to an individual or a business.

Take our results from Power IT Down Day last fall: the energy savings for shutting down IT equipment for the entire weekend were estimated at about 55 kilowatt hours per person. With 17,639 people pledging to turn their equipment off, that’s more than 955,000 kilowatt hours – a potential energy savings of more than $128,000 for the businesses and homes involved, or enough energy savings to power about 1,000 American homes for a month.

Here’s another example: if you visit the EPA website, they have a calculator that will give you a sense of both how much money you would save each week from driving fewer miles, and the estimated CO2 savings that would result. Since energy savings are only one component of the positive impact of teleworking, I think the impact would be significant, although I agree it would be great to put those number into better visual context for us.”