Telecommuting angst



(Come friend Aunt Ruthie on Facebook and let’s hang out.)

Are you a telecommuter? Ain’t it grand? Auntie Ruth telecommutes sometimes four days a week to her day job, and it is a joy—nothing like a power meeting over the phone in sweat pants and slippers (Auntie Ruthie’s office, a disaster area by many standards, makes her unSkypeable).

It’s nothing but great: There’s nothing like working to a tizzy then taking five minutes to go downstairs and rub the dog’s ears. There’s nothing like walking around the house, among familiar things, to put the pressures of the workplace in proper perspective. And there’s nothing like the kind of productivity that’s unleashed in a home office, safe from many interruptions, the time waste of office politics, the petty gossip. Home is where the head games are all safely stashed in Auntie Ruth’s own lil’ mind.

And—of course—there’s the lessening of environmental impacts. Auntie Ruth drives a stunning 90 miles a day round-trip to her job—by her estimate, she’s putting out 60 pounds of carbon dioxide a day. Given that the average American home with natural gas produces about 6,400 pounds of CO2 a year, well, sheesh. If she were commuting five days a week, 50 weeks year, by herself? That’s more environmentally damaging than heating two and a half entire homes!

Which brings us to the point: Telecommuting can be an environmental plus. Or not. The eco-devil is in the details. Working at home requires warmth in the winter, air conditioning in the summer. Meanwhile, the office is already paying to heat Auntie Ruth’s cubicle whether she’s there or not: A 2005 study by Erasmia Kitou and Arpad Horvath at UC Berkeley found that on cold days, an office produces 1.3 pounds of CO2 keeping each worker warm, compared with 11.9 pounds generated at the home office by the average telecommuter.

It could be worse: We could be living in New York. And, of course, Ruthie could mend her ways and mass-transit it to work and back: Commuting by train or bus, she’d be putting 21 pounds of CO2 out daily as compared to the 60 pounds a day. Anyhoo, check for a calculator to estimate the impact of your telecommute on Ma Earth. She’ll thank ya.