Thursday, May 29, 2008

Rising Energy Costs Contribute to "Greener" Options

I read two great articles online at the (The Wall Street Journal's interactive site). While I will provide links to both articles, you may not be able to read them without a subscription.

Due to the rising cost of gas, many municipalities and public institutions are starting to look at alternatives to the traditional five-day work week. According to the "Oil Prices Prompt Four-Day Week" article, a county in Michigan and Suffolk County in New York are considering placing their public employees on a four-day work week. For a traditional 40-hour week, this would mean four, ten hour days.

I think this is a brilliant idea - both for employees and the public at large. If given the option, I know I would rather spend four days in the office than five. It would be nice to have an extra-day off during the week to run errands and just live life. Plus, if the municipalities need to make sure employees are putting in 10-hour days, perhaps public offices would be open longer than 8 a.m. - 4 p.m. or 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. I know I could benefit from visiting a town office or a state office after 5 p.m. (when most are closed). Not to mention - local traffic would be reduced during the rush hour.

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts - which already experiences congestion-clogged roads - should really start to have both state-offices and local municipal offices explore the viability of moving employees to a 4-day work week. And for the private sector . . . I'm really surprised more companies aren't exploring ways to let their employees tele-commute - even if it is for one day. The technology is in place to allow people to work remotely. Plus the ability to tele-commute or work a truncated workweek could be a perk in companies that can't or won't offer raises (on a totally different subject, I read the other day that a 2% raise is about the average that a lot of companies are offering - if you even get a raise).

In today's offline and online Journal, there was an article titled "Railroads Roll With a Greener Approach" about how train companies (such as CSX) have created a series of ads promoting freight trains as a green transportation source. I've heard the ads for CSX here in the greater-Boston area and I think I've even seen some billboards.

Why freight trains can be considered green:
Freight trains now use much cleaner and more fuel-efficient diesel engines, and railroad companies are testing new engines that the industry is touting as "ultralow-emission." Many environmentalists acknowledge that the railroads have a powerful argument, given that freight trains burn far less fuel than trucks and can help reduce highway congestion.


Anonymous said...

Would this really save any energy in the long run, or would it simply displace the energy consumption? All those workers sharing a heated and/or cooled office space, versus each of them individually heating or cooling their own homes during that fifth day. I don't see how that's a greener option.

AJ said...

I read this comment previously and didn't have time to respond. Yes, working from home would definitely be a greener option. This comment is just comparing heating/cooling at home versus your office. Each one is going to be either heated or cooled regardless of whether you are there. I would hope that your office would adjust their climate accordingly if you aren't there, and therefore a reduction. This time of year anyways, you are only cooling your house and not everyone has that option, or chooses to use it like an office has to. Offices require much more energy to run collectively because the climate control is running non-stop. It has people and equipment generating heat to contend with.
And that's only one aspect. A person working from home is much less likely to waste electricity when they're the one paying for it. Working from home involves no commute, therefore no driving and emissions. If my office is closed 1 more day a week, that's 45 people who aren't driving into Boston or to a train stop.
It seemed to be said pretty innocently, but I feel like it's that sort of malaise that hinders this sort of progress. I'm currently buying and renovating a house and doing everything possible to make it as energy efficient as it can be, not only for the environment but because it saves me money. Be it off my electric bill, or by helping me do things that don't require $4 per gallon gas. If everyone isn't doing their part, we're not going to get anywhere quickly.

Commute-a-holic said...


Thank you for your thoughtful commentary. I completely understand where Anonymous is coming from. Office buildings are among the biggest energy wasters around. But I absolutely agree, if we can get more people off the road, we can reduce our consumption.

I work for a small company. Since we try to minimize our bottom-line, we are very mindful of our expenditures. This includes energy. Since we are fortunate to work in a restored building built in the 1800s, we do not have a traditional Central HVAC system. So we are able to open our windows on cooler days (such as today) instead of running our ACs. We also try to recycle as much office waste as possible - including printing on both sides of the paper, recycling boxes, print cartridges, bottles/cans, etc. Since I've worked at both large corporations and small businesses, I find the recycling activities to be easier at a small office.

I would love to bike to work. Though I live fairly close to my office, I have to travel across some major hills on state highways, so biking isn't an option. But I am all for trying to reduce my gas expenditure during the week.

I polled some friends over the weekend at some summer cookouts. Every person I polled said they would gladly work 4, 10 hour days to have 1 day off during the week. Even if their "day off" were a Tuesday or Wednesday, everyone would love the option for not "having" to go into the office.

This could be a really interesting experiment if companies could be incentivized to offer it.