Special Report: Climate Change

Compress Work Week to Reduce Greenhouse Gases

Cut carbon emissions in half, save money and have more time to enjoy life.

By Gregory Ciupka
Published December 10, 2015

World leaders are negotiating in Paris for the long-term survival of our planet. What can we do in the meantime to make a difference? Perhaps a way forward lies in a recent experience at our household.

Our daughter signed up for the indoor rowing program at school six weeks ago. It means that everyone in the house now rises at 5:15 am weekday mornings. Starting the day early was tough initially, but became a habit in short order. And sleeping in on the weekend now garners special appreciation.

Can we apply this change in the working world? Could we extend our work day from 7 to 11 hours, but compress our workweek from five to three days?

For illustration, divide the current 9-to-5 (five days per week) workers into three groups. Assume one third cannot change their schedule. The second group arranges to work extended work days Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. And the remaining third chooses to work long days Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

For the latter two groups, moving to a 3-day workweek means reducing commuting hours by two-fifths, cutting carbon emissions originating from personal vehicles. As a bonus, half of their commuting hours are converted into personal time, without reducing take-home pay.

This approach to addressing climate changes generates interesting possibilities. For example, if you work three days per week, you enjoy a four-day weekend each week, providing ample time to get things done around the house, take care of personal needs (your own and your children's and even elders') and perhaps follow up with personal interests.

I would expect stress levels to decline significantly for many as a result.

Do you want to save money on car related expenses, contribute positively to reducing carbon emissions, reduce your stress levels and have more time to enjoy life?

Can you make a version of this happen in your workplace? What are the challenges? What are the risks? Let me know - the dividends can be massive!

Gregory Ciupka was born and raised in Toronto, but has been firmly rooted in Hamilton for the past 20 years. He enjoys our spectacular road cycling and finds it doesn't get any better than riding Wilson, Mineral Springs, Sydenham, Snake and King.


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By AP (registered) | Posted December 10, 2015 at 11:09:15

Love it! So many possibilities once the status quo is in the game, fair to be challenged. I do a version of this (not the 3-day work week, but modifying work hours to fit better around my cycling commute), that at first felt like 'going rogue' at the office, showing up at 10-10:30am while others arrived at 8:30-9:00am. I soon realized the only one worried about it was me. I explained to my supervisor that arriving and leaving late means I miss rush hour, which makes for a much safer and more enjoyable ride.

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By mdrejhon (registered) - website | Posted December 10, 2015 at 12:44:16

France is trying to lead the way with very long lunch hours and a 35-hour workweek. When they tried to lengthen to 37.5 hours a week, massive protests ensued, shutting down the city in a way that killed the 2.5 hours.

The globalization makes it somewhat challenging to shorten the workweek but with the telecommute abilities and higher tech, it is more possible.

Comment edited by mdrejhon on 2015-12-10 12:45:17

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By CharlesBall (registered) | Posted December 10, 2015 at 15:24:48

If Canadians all died (including aboriginals,) and Canada was to revert to a prehuman history wilderness, (and you could somehow keep everyone else in the world from moving in) global greenhouse gas emissions would be reduced by about 5%.

Given that over 70% of future gas emissions are scheduled to come from third world countries where abject poverty needs to be eliminated, how will reducing working hours have any impact on climate change in any truly significant way?

Another concern is that people who have too much time on their hands are going to recreate more. I know that I am more prone to producing greenhouse gas emissions recreating than working.

I am not so sure this is well thought out from a climate change perspective.

Comment edited by CharlesBall on 2015-12-10 15:25:39

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By mdrejhon (registered) - website | Posted December 10, 2015 at 18:44:50 in reply to Comment 115603

"Another concern is that people who have too much time on their hands are going to recreate more. I know that I am more prone to producing greenhouse gas emissions recreating than working."

This is not going to be a major concern as highly developed society are in danger of a population decline. Just look at Japan and France as examples. The telecommute opportunities occur in highly developed societies, and not necessarily poorer countries which are often more fertile. The overworked worker, trying to pay bills, often just has no time or mood to reproduce.

If the goal is population decline, we leave behind an awful lot of Detroit-style degradations occuring in many developed cities simultaneously. We need to strike a balance somewhere while meeting the obligations to limit human-accelerated climate change.

We need to work on many billions of concurrent mini-initiatives to go a little greener, whether it be farm methane, automobiles, coal power, oil dependance, or whatever threatens our planet long-term. Who knows? Maybe future new government-subsidized telecommute initiatives (mandated and forced upon us by a binding future climate change pact) that may eliminate 10% of car-commuting. That begins to be significant. Maybe other methods will happen (e.g. removing carbon from atmosphere instead) as offsetting instead -- or any number of other possible changes to mitigate climate change.

We have little pressure these days but with all the weird weather, and unseasonably warm December weather we are now currently witnes It's really easy to just go along our way in our suburban life. Even in the best case scenario (limiting to a 2C raise) snow is going to be rare occurance in Toronto by 2075. We may have our first snowless winter in Hamilton in less than a generation.

Unfortunately/fortunately (in a way) we are one of the countries to benefit the most from the human-accelerated climate change because of our northern latitudes and we may have far more climate migrants (in 100 years from now) trying to enter Canada, desparately like today's Syrian refugees. Some regions get colder, other regions get hotter, weather patterns change, a lot of it natural, but it is currently being human-accelerated. Incidentally, we are miraculously able to run a swimming pool party at our house this weekend outdoors. It's been so warm and balmy this month that I can just reheat the pool overnight, and swim once a month this late in the fall and probably into the early winter (we plan to run the pool one more time before Christmas as the 14-day forecast appears to still have 10C temperatures in it!) -- that our pool is not even closed for the season yet! This is saying something about the climate weirdness going on today here. One day, we will have solar/heatpump to do the heating for us. But unfortunately, there are countries who are completely underwater in 75 years even in the best-case scenario, and New York City spending multibillion dollars on dikes, etc. This does not even account for the worst-case scenarios. We are stuck on a path to a very damaging best-case scenario, and we aren't even very sure we'll even be able to limit ourselves quickly to the best-case scenario. But we have a responsibility to limit climate change.

During multiple cycles of climate summits (the next one or two after Paris) it's possible by 2050ish that we'd end up getting legislation forced upon us, eliminating gas heating may become mandatory, with widespread clean heating/AC initiatives (e.g. mandatory subsidized installation of heat pumps). I'll just end up having to pony up my dollar for that, if I'm still alive then -- eventually increasing climate change legislation is going to affect all of us. Much like how home coal heating was banned long ago (we still have our old coal chute door), and soon we might be forced to go to clean methods of heating/AC, in a path to become a net-zero country. Yes, natgas is pretty clean and better to burn it than let it vent, but once we've eaten the low lying apples, there's going to be a lot of hard pills to swallow to successfully hit net-zero country-wide within a century or so.

So every little bit helps, although there's a carbon cost to running the data centers that permit telecommuting. Fortunately, they are rapidly going green (Many major data centers such as Google/Apple/Facebook are increasingly powered by efficient computers and solar/wind).

Even if some don't believe in climate change, Arnold Schwarzenegger, of hydrogen-powered Hummer Car fame, has a good rebuttal for climate deniers: He doesn't care if you don't believe in climate change: "Arnold Schwartzenegger doesn't 'Give a Damn' what you think about climate change" (PopularScience.com). Very good rebuttal. In the lines of, we must prepare anyway, just in case.

This RTH article is, admittedly, a very tiny drop in a massive ocean, but everything on the table, I say!

Comment edited by mdrejhon on 2015-12-10 18:59:20

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By Gregory (registered) | Posted December 10, 2015 at 19:27:35

Not mentioned in the article, dividing the workforce into three groups, dramatically reduces peak demand on commuter routes (and other resources), minimizing traffic jams and the need for 12 lane highways.

I think the point would be to provide some leadership to third world countries, to demonstrate that it is possible to use resources (like roads) more effectively than we have historically.

Regarding increased recreation time, ongoing, we should be promoting low emission activities and limiting high emission activities. Your point is well taken, education and better choices become even more important in a world where people have more leisure time.

As with any change, new issues present themselves as a result, but this should not prevent us from exploring the possibilities. Maybe with all this new found free time, we will be able to address more challenges. Appreciate the feedback - lets keep going!

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By it's wishful thinking (anonymous) | Posted December 11, 2015 at 23:21:48

I'd love to see this happen, but it won't. Not in North America, anyway.

I work for a company that provides 24/7 support, worldwide. It's tough enough to work 7-3 when most of your colleagues spread out across North America start at 8,9,10 or even 12 noon. Trying to line up meetings with people who work midnights, weekends, evenings, and days is already tough in a 8hr x 5 day setup. Trying to get more people into less days just won't work. I'd absolutely love to do it, since it does reduce your carbon footprint, give you more time off, and the like. If you commute long distances like I do it'd be a godsend, but our American parent company is not ready for an idea like this - at all.

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