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Are Web Workers Truly Green?

When the benefits of teleworking are discussed, one of the major points raised is that teleworking is better for the environment. One of the more obvious causes of this is that if more people work from home, lesser people drive to work, reducing petrol consumption and the emissions that result from it.

A recent survey by the US Consumer Electronics Association found that although the carbon emissions from home offices increased because of telecommuting, the saved petrol consumption more than makes up for it:

The report states that there are 3.9 million people in the U.S. who work from home at least one day a week. By avoiding an average 22-mile commute to the place of work, and taking into account the increased power use in the home, this practice saves about 840 million (U.S.) gallons of petrol, equivalent to taking two million cars off the road for a year.
Source: PC World, Telecommuting Saves Carbon Emissions

Despite these claims, there are still some skeptics.

In an article at entitled “Telecommuting is Bad for the Environment”, Klaus Kneale wrote that “telecommuting is often worse for the planet than driving to work each and every day”. He cited the following reasons:

  • The commute from home to work only accounts for 20% of car travel, and most telecommuters go to the office occasionally anyway. Also, they drive their cars to run errands or to meet up with friends when they get too lonely.
  • Telecommuters have to equip and power their own home offices, duplicating equipment (such as printers) that could be shared in an office.
  • The extra electricity used by home offices produced more nitrous oxide and methane.

Source:, “Telecommuting is Bad for the Environment”

As the comments following the article suggest, most telecommuters disagreed with Kneale, especially since some of his ideas were hasty generalizations (that telecommuters faced cabin fever and needed to drive around), or lacked ample research.

Other environmental benefits of telecommuting, such as lessening the need for paper and higher productivity measured against electricity consumption were not mentioned. Also, even if commuting to work only accounts for 20% of car travel, that 20% is still a big deal. Less car travel to work also lessens traffic congestion, which, in turn, lessens the need for highway expansion and the addition of new parking lots.

With these things left out, it’s no wonder that the readers felt like the article was an exaggeration.

Exaggeration or not, opposing views to teleworking’s green benefits remind us of one thing – that teleworking and being environment friendly don’t automatically go hand in hand. Unless we make educated, conscious efforts to reduce waste and lower energy consumption, teleworking won’t be as green as the theorists and studies hoped it will be.

Do you think that teleworking is more environment friendly than full-time office work? Why or why not?

7 Responses to “Are Web Workers Truly Green?”

  1. It’s an interesting idea that could, if some government wants to throw money at it, deserve more study.

    The duplicating equipment arguement could be quite strong. If, taking into account the “driving to meet friends” factor, teleworking only reduces your driving by 19%, is that 19% enough to offset the cradle-to-grave carbon emissions of a printer every 5 years and a computer every 2 or 3? We may be surprised.

  2. I think that Kneale got it all wrong. The CEA study you mentioned concluded that just one day of telecommuting saves the equivalent of up to 12 hours of an average household’s electricity use. Another study, this one from Sun Microsystems, specifically explored the question of whether Open Work (Sun’s name for its flexible work program) really saves energy, or just transfers energy cost and load to employees. Researchers compared home and work energy use and calculated how much of the energy load was shifted from company to the individual. The study found that the average employee saves 5,400 Kilowatt hr/yr by working flexibly. Open Workers also saved 2.5 workweeks a year in commute time, and more than $1,700 in fuel and wear and tear on their vehicle.

  3. As a telecommuter who works at home two days a week, I certainly use less gas than when I am working. As far as the Forbes article goes, when I am working, I am working — not traipsing off for a cup of coffee (its in my kitchen) or meeting up with friends (they’re working too!). I am not duplicating machinery — admittedly I do have a phone, a pc and a printer at home, but I would have and use these at home even if I were not working. Frankly except for the PC, I rarely use these items at home for work purposes. I do nearly everything online.