Thursday, July 24, 2014
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A tally of telecommuting: tons of pollutants avoided

Widener prof examines how we can work greener

A tally of telecommuting: tons of pollutants avoided

Just stay home.

That might be a good mantra for those who want to see a major drop in greenhouse gas emissions.

In a new study about working from home -- also called telecommuting, or telework -- a Widener University professor and a colleague have determined that greenhouse gas emissions could be reduced by about 588 tons over the next 10 years, if just another 10 percent of the workforce did it.

Key to that is developing widespread access to broadband services, said Joseph P. Fuhr, an economics professor at Widener, and Stephen Pociask, president of the American Consumer Institute, a nonprofit research organization in Washington, D.C.

In a paper published in the journal, Low Carbon Economy, they said that about half of U.S. homes lack a high-speed connection to the internet. But otherwise, the potential for telecommuting is high. 

U.S. government workers are a case in point. According to the federal Office of Personnel Management, 41 percent of federal workers are eligible for telecommuting. Oddly enough, only about 19 percent do.

Fuhr and Pociask outlined the many benefits -- a reduction in rush-hour traffic (and a reprieve from costly road projects); less oil use and perhaps fewer cars needed overall; a way to expand employment opportunities for the handicapped and the elderly. There's the potential for fewer auto accidents and, as a result, lives saved.

There's more. "Telecommuters save money by eating out less, decreasing daycare needs and spending less on work wardrobes and dry cleaning," the authors noted.

Firms "will need less equipment, office space, parking spaces ..." Telecommuting could lead to what they call "homeshoring," as opposed to "offshoring" jobs overseas.

Bosses always worry about productivity, but additional studies have shown an increase in worker output, coupled with higher morale.

The researchers say more studies are needed, but their breakdown of the environmental benefits in a single year of additional telecommuting show 45 tons of greenhouse gas emissions saved from less driving, 4.8 tons saved from the effects of congestion, 28.1 tons saved from office space not built and 56.8 tons saved from energy not used in office spaces.

They conclude: "Encouraging the development of technology such as broadband services, which will facilitate the use of more telecommuting, could become one of the most important economic public policy initiatives because it helps the environment while augmenting economic growth."

Sandy Bauers Inquirer GreenSpace Columnist
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