Could we help reduce our energy and pollution problems by encouraging more people to work from home instead of a downtown office? Most likely,...

Could we help reduce our energy and pollution problems by encouraging more people to work from home instead of a downtown office?

Most likely, but maybe not as much as we might hope.

The US government, which signed into law the Telework Enhancement Act in 2010, sees remote working not only as a way to reduce transportation costs, lower environmental impact and improve work-life balance but as a good strategy for ensuring federal workers can stay on the job and available even in emergencies.

Similarly, the Australian government aims to become a “leading digital economy” by 2020. That plan includes a goal to double the nation’s number of teleworkers to at least 12 percent of the workforce. Beyond lowering fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions, the benefits of more telework, the government says, includes reduced road congestion and improved “economic and cultural vitality of local areas as the workforce decentralizes.”

Others believe the payoffs of a more virtual workforce aren’t as great as promised. A Dutch study in 2011, for example, identified various rebound effects that can affect expected fuel savings. And numerous researchers have warned against banking on a single solution to boost sustainability in transportation or any other aspect of society. A better approach, as Stephen Pacala and Robert H. Socolow have pointed out, is to pursue a variety of “wedge” strategies to stabilize carbon emissions.

Will telework be one of those strategies? With recent advances in information and communications technologies (ICT), it can certainly help.

“Advances in ICT have made it possible for expanded opportunities for employees to telework and for reductions in travel costs through teleconferencing and web-based meetings,” notes the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions.

And, short of longer-term solutions, we can always expect to see an increased interest in telecommuting when gas prices go up.

Greenbang

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