On the rebound

At the risk of reducing the argument for the four-day workweek and my ability to occasionally work from home, I share this news:

Working from home may actually increase carbon emissions rather than reduce them, according to a new report from the Britain-based Institution of Engineering and Technology. It says telecommuting has reduced overall vehicle use by 50 to 70 percent, allowed for smaller company office space, and cuts down on the daily commute and ensuing congestion.

However, it also requires energy to heat or cool a home office—raising home energy use by as much as 30 percent in some cases—and may lead to people moving farther from the workplace and contributing to urban sprawl, the report noted. Telecommuters may also run extra errands on their work-at-home days—errands they normally would’ve folded into their commute. While there are apparent environmental benefits, they are currently marginal. In the United States, in 2005, telecommuting resulted in a national energy savings of only 0.01-0.4 percent, and America’s 4 million telecommuters reduced net carbon emissions by 0.16-0.23 percent.

The report is titled “Rebound: unintended consequences of transport policy and technology.” In addition to the section on telecommuting, it more broadly regards the unintended consequences, or “rebound affects,” of energy-efficiency measures that policy makers should consider when setting CO2 emissions targets. For instance, some people who buy fuel-efficient vehicles end up driving more and may actually increase their energy use. And online shoppers must order more than 25 items to make an environmental impact on traditional shipping.

View the full report at www.theiet.org/factfiles/transport/unintended-page.cfm.