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OK, so, I telecommute, although I’ve always thought of it as working from home. I get that I’m lucky, but around Earth Day or every time some corporate entity either offers or rescinds its work-at-home programs, I get frustrated by the environmental pass telecommuting gives corporations […]

OK, so, I telecommute, although I’ve always thought of it as working from home. I get that I’m lucky, but around Earth Day or every time some corporate entity either offers or rescinds its work-at-home programs, I get frustrated by the environmental pass telecommuting gives corporations and even web workers.

I would argue that it’s not environmentally better at all.

Let’s start with the assumption that I’m at home all the time. As a teleworker, I don’t have to be. Flexible work means I can wander around to coffee shops, drop off stuff at the post office or even run by the store to pick up something for dinner, while working in between. The result is I may drive as much as a commuter — or even more — depending on my daily errands.

And consider the days I work from home. I live in a state that hits 100 degrees on many days during the summer. I live in a green home, but my A/C is running nearly all the time because I’m there and want to stay comfortable. When I was at an office most of the day, I’d program my thermostat so my house stayed around 84 degrees during the day. Now it’s at 77 degrees 24/7.

A general rule of thumb is two degrees of A/C counts for 2,000 pounds of additional carbon over a year. So with my heating needs causing similar problems, I’m adding 3.5 tons of CO2 to the air all by myself. At least in an office the cooling load is spread across multiple people.

There’s also the issue of getting out of the house after hours. When most people are settling down to relax, I’m practically pushing my kid and husband into the car to drive somewhere to get dinner, ice cream or something, anything outside of these four walls. And, because I telecommute, we live fairly far from services, meaning my car puts on a lot of miles. Those miles may not equal a daily commute, but when added to my A/C bill, incidental trips taken because I work from home and the flights I have to take in order to physically commute to my workplace in San Francisco, I have to question how earth-friendly teleworking is.

  1. Finally, somebody exposes the misguided arguments behind teleworking. This is a classic case where the law of unexpected consequences makes do-gooders look silly.

    I’ve been thinking about this for years — imagine if half the workforce worked occasionally from home. Offices would still need to keep the air conditioning going, heating, lights, etc… but you’ve got millions of households increasing their load on the grid.

    I’m not so sure I’d drive more if I stayed home, but certainly I’d be opening the fridge more, making coffee, using more water, likely watching TV. I came to realize this effect by noticing how my energy bills spiked when we moved from a daycare to a nanny for my children. With the nanny, the house never shuts down for the nine hours or so the parents are at work. That adds up — both financially and from a carbon footprint perspective.

    Taking transit and car pooling to work is more effective, in my view, that having your employees work from home.

    So again, thanks for pointing this out.

    That said, I think telepresence technologies for meetings are more important because they at least cut down on longer travel times, whether by car or more importantly by plane.

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  2. Stacey, I think your individual telecommuting experience may be the exception, not the rule. I recently started telecommuting and have seen the opposite effect. I used to fill my truck’s tank once a week. Now I fill it once a month. We are even selling one of our cars because we don’t use it anymore. In theory that’s one less car needed in the world.

    As for the AC, others in the house mean that mine was already set lower during the day.

    From a broader sense, I think Tyler’s argument is flawed. If half the workforce worked from home, then obviously half the world’s office space could be shut down with it. That would create savings, not to mention the savings you would see from reduced infrastructure for highways.

    For me the proof is simple, I’m spending less on total energy bills — electricity and gas (not to mention tolls, insurance, and depreciation of my car). That’s proof enough for me that I’m being more eco-friendly.

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  3. Stacey – it’s not too late to start riding your bike – by yourself, with your family, to run errands, for fun, for exercise, to save the Coca-Cola mascot, to stop the food riots, to reverse the trend of declining female life expectancy in America, etc.

    Your hometown is on fire from the sun and from the amount of bikiness going on:

    http://www.austincycling.org/
    http://googlemapsbikethere.org/
    http://snipurl.com/25fx6 [www_austin360_com]

    Ride a bike, Ride a bike, Ride a….

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  4. Interesting, I hadn´t really thought of all those points before. Mainly because I don´t own a car, or air conditioning. :) But I can see how this could make a big impact on the environment with many telecommuters.

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  5. i have been reading this thread. I have been full time telecomuting for 5 years. I also manage the telecommuting program for a large global high tech company.

    What i find interesting is the topic and circumstances described in the previous emails. This is definatly not a topic that office people would have.

    I would get out more and enjoy the surrounding environment that telecommuting allows you to enjoy.

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  6. Stacey Higginbotham Wednesday, April 23, 2008

    I’m glad to hear from so many people about this. Every teleworker does have a unique situation, and it’s nice to hear about them. As for biking, it’s a good idea, but with an 20-month old and my general clumsiness, I’m keeping the car for a while. Plus biking in the heat is not my idea of fun.

    As for halving office space as more people telecommute, I don’t think it will be a one-to-one drop. Also, there will always be a need for offices for those who don’t want to work at home, customer visits, etc. But it’s true that office space may get smaller and that could have an impact. I don’t think it will offset an increase in home energy use, though.

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  7. Having teleworked full-time for the past two years, and off and on for the prior 10 years, I would argue that it is more energy efficient. The company I work for now has very few offices, although they do have mini-suites with conference rooms in the major cities. These suites are for interim office cubicles for the traveling employee or teleworker who needs to meet with customers “on-site” or come in to get on the LAN.

    I have gone from a 3 hour daily commute and filling up my tank twice a week (mostly from idling in traffic!) to filling up once every 6 weeks. The traffic jam in the morning here consists of a shiztu and a lab puppy competing to get to the back door first, then I swing by the coffee pot and microwave, then I battle the cat for the computer. I heat only my home office during the day by using a ceramic heater and beat any chill outside my office by wearing sweats and thick socks. During the summer, the office attire is t-shirt, shorts, and flip-flops. Usually a ceiling fan suffices except for the most torrid months of July and August. My energy bill has dropped from $180/month when working to $151/month now.

    My work schedule is my own. I set my own conference calls with my project teams, and we each work on our own sections of the project. Once completed, I compile and send to the customer. We rarely print out the reports; customers are requesting soft copies more than hard. In the past year, I’ve printed only 5 sets of proposals. In 2007, I printed 20 sets. Combined, it is a huge savings of paper and binders.

    This is not a job for a social butterfly — I get visited rarely, and that is usually by family stopping by to chat. When husband and stepson get home, I shut the door to the office and spend time with my family instead of sitting in traffic for 1-1.5 hours. Yep, this is the job for me, since I tend to be more job-focused than people-focused. As long as I get to see my grandkids every couple of days, that’s all the social needs I have!

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