The four-day workweek has been a topic of discussion for years, with proponents arguing that it can lead to increased productivity and employee well-being. But as the world continues to grapple with the effects of climate change, some are wondering if the shorter workweek could also have a positive impact on the planet.
In 2022, the world’s largest four-day workweek trial took place in the UK, involving over 60 firms and organizations. The pilot aimed to assess whether companies could maintain productivity with a reduced working time and no loss in pay for employees. The results were encouraging, with 56 of the participating firms planning to keep the four-day workweek in place after the pilot ended.
But it’s not just productivity and employee well-being that are benefiting from the shorter workweek. According to Juliet Schor, an economist and sociologist at Boston College and lead researcher at 4 Day Week Global, the shorter working week is also key to achieving the carbon emissions reductions the world needs.
“Although climate benefits are the most challenging thing to measure, we have a lot of research showing that over time, as countries reduce hours of work, their carbon emissions fall,” she says. A study co-authored by Schor in 2012 found that a 10% reduction in hours is associated with an 8.6% fall in carbon footprint.
One of the main contributors to the climate benefits of the four-day workweek is a reduction in commuting. Data from the UK trial showed a 10% decrease in commuting time over the pilot period, from 3.5 hours to 3.15 hours per week, for the companies that tracked commuting time. While this is a significant fall, Schor says that savings could reach 15-20%.
In addition to the decrease in commuting time, the UK trial also found that many people spent the time saved from not commuting or working engaged in low-carbon activities, such as hiking or stay-at-home hobbies. The data also showed that the shift to a shorter workweek led to an increase in pro-environmental behaviors, with participants in the trial spending more time volunteering for environmental causes and being more mindful of recycling and buying eco-friendly products.
“When people work less, they have more free time for sustainable activities, which are often more time-intensive,” says Stefanie Gerold, a researcher at Brandenburg University of Technology in Germany, who has developed various working time reduction models implemented in Austrian companies.
But the benefits of the shorter workweek don’t stop there. Companies that participated in the UK trial also saw a significant reduction in their carbon emissions related to the sending and storage of data. Tyler Grange, an environmental consultancy based in Gloucestershire, UK, found that the lack of online business traffic on Fridays during the trial could have a substantial impact on emissions, possibly even more important than the drop in commuting.
On average, Tyler Grange saw a 21% reduction in the number of miles traveled by car during the trial, as the company cut out meetings and travel that were unnecessary. Many employees used their additional days off to become even more involved in climate volunteering, further contributing to the company’s positive impact on the planet.