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Telecommuting to Spare the Air

Telecommuting to Spare the Air

Jaime Leick | Working Mother Magazine

There’s a lot of focus on greening our workplaces. From cutting paper and energy consumption to dedicated recycling efforts, companies are finding innovative ways to trim costs and limit environmental impact at the same time.

A wholly separate initiative also gaining traction is the shift from traditional office hours to flexible work, with companies and governments alike implementing alternative work arrangements like telecommuting and compressed work weeks.

Given the positive impact either initiative can have on your bottom line, it’s auspicious that flexible work practices comes with some eco-friendly side benefits:

Laptops are more efficient. According to Energy Star, a laptop uses a maximum of 15 watts per hour compared to 80-160 watts for desktop PCs. By switching to laptops, you’ll save energy and give your staff the gift of mobile computing.

Moving to laptops doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll save money, as laptops are more expensive than desktop units. However, laptops can provide intangible cost benefits in terms of increased employee satisfaction and productivity.

For comfort and ergonomics in the office, laptops can be connected to a monitor or display screen. Note: Whether you use laptops or not, replacing your old cathode ray tube (CRT) monitor with a liquid crystal display (LCD) can add up to 75 percent in energy savings on a 14-inch monitor. Under normal office use conditions, converting 25 PC units to laptops will cost your company an extra $487 (total) and save 32,337 kwh of electricity over a four-year lifecycle, assuming the following: $150 price premium to purchase laptop, energy savings per unit of 125 watts, and price per kwh of $0.10. Even greater efficiencies are available. Sun Microsystems has one of the best recognized telecommuting programs in the nation. Most of its telecommuters use a virtualized desktop that draws only four watts of electricity—as much as the average night light. Using a virtualized desktop, employees report to work through a secure network ID and files are stored on a central server rather than on an individual machine.

Home office equipment consumes less energy. At Sun Microsystems, more than 56 percent of employees work from a home or satellite office at least part of the week. The company calculates this program saves them $24 million annually in reduced office space and utility costs. Concerned that its telecommuting program was transferring significant energy expense to its employees, Sun commissioned a study to evaluate consumption. They found the office equipment energy consumption rate at a Sun office was two times that of home office, from approximately 64 watts per hour at home to 130 watts per hour at corporate facilities.

Telework reduces commutes. Clearly, telecommuting reduces the environmental impact of traveling to and from work each day. Sun Microsystems determined that commuting accounted for 98% of its employees’ work-related carbon footprint. According to a survey commissioned by the US Consumer Electronics Association, if 54 million U.S. workers (about a third) could telecommute even one or two days a week, it would be equivalent to taking more than 27 million vehicles off U.S. roads annually.

Remote conferencing cuts travel. An office that is comfortable with telecommuting is, by necessity, adept at remote conferencing. Suddenly, traveling to remote branches won’t feel as necessary to workers comfortable with phone-, video- or web-conferencing systems.

Jaime Leick is a freelancer writer and editor of a consultancy and online resource that helps companies improve their bottom line through workplace flexibility and results-focused management.

This article was originally published on

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