A ‘Green’ 4 Day Week?

The concept of a four day working week is not new. It was trialled in the American state of Utah who, five years ago, made a four day working week mandatory for all 17,000 public officials. This decision was a response to the need to cut costs. This was more effective than they could have imagined with some positive environmental benefits as well as cost-cutting implications. By not opening offices on a Friday there was a 14% decline in electricity consumption through less heating, air conditioning and lighting. A single day less of commuting each week also led to a $6 million saving in fuel costs.

The environmental benefits included a dramatic drop of 6,000 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions per annum, simply from closing government offices on a Friday. In addition to this, there was also an estimated fall of 12,000 metric tonnes of Co2 as a direct result of less transport usage.

Another unanticipated benefit of the four day week came from having an extended but less intensive rush hour. As more people were making their way to and from work earlier or leaving later, roads were less congested in turn allowing cars to run more efficiently and therefore produce less pollution. It was calculated the Utah the reduction in Co2 was equivalent to taking 2,300 cars off the road for a year.

It could be argued that people might end doing more ‘leisure’ driving on their new day off or using more energy at home. On the other hand they might also use more communal facilities like leisure centres, swimming pools, gyms and libraries – a swimming pool needs to be heated whether it is used by 10 people or 100. These pros and cons don’t quite balance out so losing one working day will never equate to a 20% reduction in costs or energy consumption. Perhaps a general increase in people working from home might produce similar or better results, certainly from a transportation point of view.

People generally don’t like change, but the Utah experience showed that 8 of 10 office workers were in favour of the scheme – there was also less absenteeism. In Holland nearly one in three Dutch men work part time or have ‘compressed’ hours. With 4 day part-time working (as opposed to compressed hours) you are effectively having a 20% pay cut but a 50% increase in free time! Another argument in favour of a shorter week is that people can become more productive as they need to work intensively on those days – there is an interesting example of the three day weeks in Britain in the early 1970s imposed at the time of the miners strike, when industrial production declined by a mere 6%.

British commuters have the longest journeys to work in Europe with the National Travel Survey (NTS) in April 2011 showing that the average commute had increased by 18% since 1995-7. Therefore in Britain if the working week for some office-based staff was reduced to 4 days the reduction in C02 would surely be greater than the 14% achieved in Utah. From a lifestyle and environmental point of view a 4 day week (where possible) gets a big thumbs up from me.

Richard Bloomfield is the website editor at www.theworkplacedepot.co.uk