While more people bike to work than in previous years, the environmental impact of car commuting continues to wreak havoc on our air quality and fossil fuel usage, not to mention our mental health. Commuters today spend on average 38 hours per year stuck in their cars, gripping the steering wheel and praying for the light to turn green.
But in a new study that will soon strike fear into the hearts of employers everywhere, the answer to this significant cause of global warming may just be shorter workweeks and more vacation time. Let the celebrations begin…
According to U.S. News & World Report, the Center for Economic Policy and Research has found that fewer working hours could mean significantly lower carbon emissions. If the United States adopted a European work schedule—which would mean a four-day workweek and more vacation time—the country could prevent as much as half of the expected global temperature rise by 2100.
In addition to saving on energy expenditures caused by commuting, savings would also be found from factories and corporate buildings operating on fewer hours.
First reactions will no doubt include reservations about American workers' ability to remain productive with decreased work hours. But the study's author, David Rosnick, writes in his report, "We can get a similar amount of work done as productivity and technology improves. It's something we have to decide as a country—there are economic models in which individuals get to decide their hours and are still similarly productive as they are now."
Plenty of industrialized countries seem to do just fine on a European model. For instance, CNN reports that Germany is among the two dozen countries that legally mandate employers must provide at least four weeks of paid vacation to workers, in addition to national holidays. In France, that number is a minimum of six weeks off, and the country requires that new parents are also given paid parental leave. In comparison, though many U.S. companies provide one or two weeks of vacation time per year, plenty don't, and there are no laws that require them to do otherwise.
Surprisingly, it's the state of Utah that proves this type of plan might be workable. In 2008 Utah cut state employees' schedules down to just four days a week, according to The New York Times. Though employees were expected to work a 10-hour schedule Mondays through Thursdays, state energy usage still decreased by 13 percent in the first year. Workers also saved an estimated $5 million dollars in commuter costs. Most striking may just be that as a result, agencies also reported overtime, absenteeism and customer complaints were all significantly decreased as well.
So that seals the deal, right? Not entirely. There are two elephants in the room when it comes to cutting down in-office work hours. The first is that more vacation time could mean more airplane travel, which remains a source of carbon dioxide emissions in the United States. But how much air travel would increase as a result of more time off isn't yet known.
And sadly, the second issue is that the study doesn't address whether these same environmental gains could be made by simply making employees telecommute for one day a week. If that's proven to be the case, there's a chance employers will keep their traditional five-day schedule, with one day designated for work performed at home.
Still, as our urban populations continue to expand, some adjustments will no doubt need to be made if we're ever to save our environment from the tyranny of ourselves.
Would you consider working a shorter week, or do you think it could hinder your productivity? Let us know in the Comments.