Does a Shorter Work Week Mean Fewer Emissions?

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( — June 28, 2022) — A major trial has just launched across the UK including over 75 businesses trialing a shorter work week – these same trials have run across Europe and in countries such as Iceland over the past two years to see if a four-day work week could be a viable solution. With net zero and fewer carbon emissions being something of a buzzword with consultants such as looking to help businesses achieve their goals on their own net-zero journeys, is this latest push something that could help out, or another red herring that could throw some off? 

Much like the shift to remote working, it’s a difficult question to answer and instead comes to how the four-day working week is substituted. There are two primary approaches, and each has its own positives and negatives too. 

The first approach and the most widely trialed is to shift to longer work days but for a reduced day, for example, four ten-hour work days rather than five eight-hour work days – on the face of it this doesn’t reduce emissions at all, the office space opens for the same amount of time and over a shorter period but where the real difference is made could be the commute – are workers able to use public transport with these new hours or are they more reliant on personal vehicles, are energy prices different for different times of the day? These could all have an impact on the potential to reach net zero. 

The second approach has been to reduce hours, and reduce working days too – rather than a forty-hour work week over five days, it would be a reduction to a 32-hour work week across four days instead – this means fewer emissions from the office and the commute, but with an extra day of free time during the week does this increase personal travel and personal emissions too, and can these be counted as part of the net-zero target businesses hope to reach?

It certainly poses some interesting questions and the same questions that would arise during the push for remote work where many sources declared remote work would actually harm net-zero goals rather than help them, and this is where a consultancy and different tools may be essential. 

Proper tracking of where energy usage is coming from and what’s actually attributed to a business’s individual exposures can help to identify the full purview of coverage – does a business need to be considerate that employees on their fifth day are leading to further emissions, or as these are no longer business hours should they be forgotten? As 2030 draws closer, these are certain questions that will need to be answered too.