Our community came together to weather the hardest period of the COVID-19 pandemic. While we are all quick to jump at the very appealing notion of racing back into life as we once knew, I recently challenged local employers to join me in embracing one of the lessons learned over this past year. Telecommuting works. It’s good for the air we breathe and planet we inhabit.
The pandemic presented us with a once in a generation opportunity to make a real difference at the race against climate change. Early June record heat and deteriorating drought conditions are our latest reminders of the extreme weather occurrences science has long predicted would accompany increased global temperatures.
Here’s what we know. Data shows global carbon emissions dropped last year by the largest amount since World War II. The Madison Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) reports that traffic rates on major streets in the city were 40-60% lower in April of 2020 (the outset of the pandemic) than they were the same month one year earlier (April 2019).
We also know that getting serious about climate change means as a people we need to act boldly and expeditiously. Dane County government is doing just that.
The average Dane County commuter drives around 25 miles to work roundtrip each day. Running the math: for every 100 county employees we allow to telecommute even 3 days a week, the reduction on carbon emissions is palpable. The reduced number of gallons of fuel burned is significant.
If we tell 100 employees to work from home 3 days a week, we reduce carbon emissions by 135 metric tons. 100 employees only driving to work two days a week saves 337,000 miles in vehicle travel per year—the equivalent of not burning almost 15,200 gallons of gas. That is just 100 employees.
Now—if we have 500 county employees work from home 3 days a week, we will reduce carbon emissions by 675 metric tons and prevent almost 1.7 million miles of vehicle travel in just a year.
For county government and other employers, there will rarely be a year in which we face such incredible demands on our services or needs to be met. From food to housing to child care to schools to rent assistance and small business supports, county government was front and center throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. If telecommuting worked during a year that was difficult, it no doubt will continue to prove effective during more “normal” periods of operations.
This is a conversation a number of workplaces could honestly have right now, with a potentially enormous cumulative benefit for all of us—our families, our crowded roads and highways, and most impactful—the air we breathe and place we live.
Telecommuting isn’t just good for the planet, it’s good for employers. In this job market, positions that offer employees the flexibility of telecommuting will instantly have a competitive edge. I want the best and the brightest to come to work for Dane County. Happy employees are effective employees, and in the public sector, when you’re good at getting your job done that means real people benefit. In the private sector that means increased profit and productivity.
The pandemic taught us a lot. While not all of its lessons brought outcomes we hoped or desired, the opportunity to normalize remote work is one our planet can’t afford for us to ignore.