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The 4 Day Week: How Flexible Work Policies Empower Climate Action




In 2011, Simon Ursell and the co-founders of Tyler Grange, an environmental consultancy based in Gloucestershire, UK, decided to grant all employees a day off each month to volunteer. Many of their staff were already actively involved with wildlife trusts.

 

In 2022, Tyler Grange took a more significant step by introducing a four-day workweek. The company participated in the largest-ever trial of its kind in the UK, running from June to December, to assess productivity and employee well-being with reduced hours and no reduction in pay.

Managers and staff at Tyler Grange celebrated the increased productivity, noting a 22% rise. Ursell also measured the impact on the company's carbon footprint, finding a 21% reduction in miles travelled by car. The company eliminated unnecessary meetings and travel, and employees used their extra days off for climate volunteering.

 

The four-day workweek is gaining momentum globally. The non-profit 4 Day Week Global has conducted trials in the US and Ireland. In the UK trial, involving over 60 firms, findings supported previous studies suggesting a shorter workweek could benefit the planet.

 

Juliet Schor, a lead researcher at 4 Day Week Global, argues that a shorter working week is crucial for reducing carbon emissions. Research indicates that reducing work hours leads to lower carbon footprints. A 2012 study co-authored by Schor found that a 10% reduction in hours correlates with an 8.6% decrease in carbon footprint.

 

A significant climate benefit of the four-day workweek is reduced commuting. Data from the UK trial showed a 10% decrease in commuting time, with the US trial showing a 27% decrease. Both trials found people engaging in low-carbon activities with their saved time and showing increased pro-environmental behaviours.

 

Volunteering increased among employees of Waterwise and Kickstarter, participants in the UK and US trials respectively. An unforeseen benefit noted by Tyler Grange was a significant drop in carbon emissions from data storage and transmission, likely due to reduced online business traffic on Fridays.

 

The four-day workweek aims to improve efficiency and energy use. Laura White of Waterwise notes that employees are more mindful of energy use at home. Nearly all UK trial participants found the shorter workweek beneficial for business and the environment. However, some experts warn of potential environmental risks.

 Anupam Nanda from the University of Manchester points out that extra days off might lead to high-carbon activities like international flights. Neither the UK nor US trials measured the full carbon impact of additional activities.

 

Philipp Frey from the Institute for Technology Assessment and Systems Analysis acknowledges the concern but notes that current evidence suggests a lower carbon footprint on weekends in North America and Europe. Data shows a nearly 10% reduction in fossil fuel use on weekends in the US, indicating that shifting Friday to a weekend could improve emissions.

 

Despite positive signs, there remains insufficient data to fully understand the climate impact of a four-day workweek. Factors like fluctuating energy prices complicate analysis. Environmental concerns are not the main driver for many firms, and climate impacts were not prominently tracked compared to work-life balance and productivity.

 

More pilots are needed for accurate data. "Firms have a duty to join these initiatives to boost research," says KT McBratney of OwnTrail.

 

Implementing a four-day week on a larger scale requires government support. Frey calls for political action, citing the Spanish government's funding for small and medium enterprises to test the four-day week. Government could also reduce maximum work hours by law or act as a pioneer.

 

More companies adopting the four-day week will pressure governments to act. Gerold highlights the importance of pilot programmes in pushing the political agenda. The four-day week offers a unique advantage over other climate solutions: it’s not seen as a sacrifice. "A shorter workweek with no loss in pay is joyful," says Leland. "It's something that we all want."

  

Climate Action for Associations assists our members in organising flexible working policies within their organisations by providing templates and guidance. These resources empower organisations to initiate internal discussions and smoothly integrate practices such as the 4-day workweek. By facilitating these changes, associations enable members to enhance employee well-being, reduce commuting emissions, and promote sustainable practices.


CAFA can support your organisation's emissions reduction efforts, visit our resources page here.

 

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