Could Work At Home Help Solve Climate Change?

2020 was tied as the warmest year on record. The U.S. experienced more than 20 climate-fueled disasters, each totaling $1 billion in damages. The concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere is 413 parts per million, the highest level it’s been in 800,000 years.

That’s the bad news. The good news? If every U.S. worker who can telecommute did work at home just one day a week, we could help solve climate change. Skeptical? Consider this:

Cars emit 4.6 metric tons of CO2 per year per car. (EPA) There are 276 million cars on the road in America. (Statistica)

Total emissions are therefore nearly 1.3 billion metric tons. (276 million x 4.6 metric tons = 1,269.6 million metric tons.)

Working at home one day a week reduces the amount of driving from seven days to six days per week, representing a 14% reduction in emissions. 

29% of Americans have jobs that would allow them to work at home. (Bureau of Labor Statistics) 

If all of those 29% were to work at home one day a week, the reduction of emissions attributable to that one day equals 29% of 14% of 1.3 billion metric tons, or 53.8 million metric tons per year.*

In the United States, transportation – from cars, trucks, planes, and trains – accounts for 28% of greenhouse gas emissions. The average American’s 35-minute commute adds up to 152 hours each year — that’s nearly four work weeks that we spend in our cars.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 29% of Americans have jobs that would allow them to work at home. If these workers telecommuted just one day a week, we could reduce nearly 54 million metric tons of greenhouse gases each year!

I worked on this analysis last year as part of a project that I started when the news was full of “silver lining” stories about declining CO2 levels because of the quarantine shut down. As the pandemic continued and we centered around equity issues, it seemed a little tone deaf to continue to talk about work at home – which is, in itself, a privilege.

But I can’t forget about the benefits. Obviously, transitioning to a once-weekly work at home schedule simply isn’t feasible for many workers, especially those in service industries. And working at home is not a silver bullet when it comes to climate change. But the 54 million metric tons of greenhouse gases that we’d save? That’s like shutting down nearly 14 coal-fired power plants. It’s equivalent to generating energy from nearly 12,000 wind turbines or planting more than 70 million acres of trees. Here’s how:* 

And WFH is good for business: A 2015 study found that employees who work from home are 13% more productive when compared to colleagues in the office. Another showed that remote employees actually work more than their office-based counterparts – by more than one full day each month!

Working from home – just one day a week – is good for people, and good for the planet. Do you agree?

*The assumptions underlying these calculations are that people drive the same amount of time, each of the seven days a week. They are made for the sake of discussion but should not be considered true scientific analysis.

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