For some, telecommuting is a worker’s dream. Working from home means not having to worry about catching the 8 o’clock train or getting dressed in uncomfortable business suits each day. It translates in many workers’ minds to less pressure, more flexibility and increased productivity. But aside from simply less hassle, what are the environmental benefits of telecommuting?
According to a 2008 study conducted by Telework Exchange, a company that aims to increase telecommuting options for workers, around 9.7 billion gallons of gas and $38.2 billion can be saved each year, if only 53 percent of all white-collar workers telecommuted two days per week.
The study also found that 84 percent of Americans depend on their own means of transportation to travel to and from work. On average, these workers spend $2,052 on gas and 264 hours of travel time a year just on commuting alone.
The rising price of gas, especially, has influenced the way Americans approach jobs. Twenty-eight percent of Americans want a job that involves less travel time and travel costs, and 92 percent of workers believe that their job can be completed by telecommuting, though only 39 percent telework on a regular basis.
Research network Undress4Success estimates that the United States could save $500 billion a year, reduce Persian Gulf oil imports by 28 percent and take the equivalent of 7 million cars off the road if workers were allowed to telecommute just half the time.
Sara Sutton Fell, CEO of FlexJobs, says it was her own job search that led her to realize the challenges involved in finding a telecommuting position that was not a scam. FlexJobs, a Web site that specializes in promoting legitimate telecommuting and freelancing work, boasts a 98 percent customer satisfaction rate and has been featured on popular media outlets like CNN, Yahoo! Finance, Forbes.com and AOL.
“Telecommuting offers numerous environmental benefits,” Fell says. “The most profound include reducing pollution and carbon emissions associated with transportation, reducing oil consumption and minimizing carbon footprints with lower office energy use and business travel.”
“Telecommuters use far less paper than their office-worker counterparts, more often scanning and faxing documents instead of printing. Also, they tend to use online document storage much more than paper file cabinets,” she adds.
Even in a city like New York where most commuters combine walking with various forms of public transportation to get to work, telecommuting has its environmental benefits.
“Although public transportation is much better environmentally speaking than driving your own car, they still create more pollution and carbon emissions than simply walking,” Fell says. “And large office buildings are often highly inefficient in terms of energy usage. Much smaller carbon footprints are created by working from home.”
Aside from the ecological advantages of working from home, telecommuting has been known to increase productivity among workers who, as a result of being able to telework, can concentrate more on assignments than on office distractions. Fell explains that telecommuting can also reduce the number of sick/vacation days workers use, providing them with more flexibility in the event that personal needs or family issues arise.
“I believe that if everyone could integrate telecommuting into their jobs where it makes sense, the world and our communities and our families would be better for it. No one seems to have enough time to get everything done, so first it could put some time back in our pockets,” Fell says.
“Telecommuting doesn’t mean the same thing for everyone. Some jobs can be done entirely remotely, and many others would simply be much better if they would allow employees to work from home one day a week,” she notes. “For others, condensing a 40-hour work week into 4 days – such as the state of Utah and others have done with resounding success – means a 20 percent reduction of pollution, gas consumption and carbon footprint for all of those employees, not to mention cost savings for the company.”