Checking in with Utah’s shortened workweek

P6290003 Almost exactly one year ago, ClimateEdu's premiere issue included a story about several Utah organizations and universities that switched to a four-day workweek schedule on a trial basis, hoping to reduce GHG emissions and provide an extra benefit to employees. One year later, they have released their findings, and so far the program seems to be working.

A Scientific American article examines the results, noting that the state projects a 12,000 metric ton reduction in carbon emissions from commuting and building electricity use annually, and $1.8 million in savings from utility bills as of May, 2009.

In our original story from August 2008, we reported that "Not only is this change likely to keep a few more cars off the road in
a state that has weak public transit infrastructure, it is also
expected to save a significant amount of building-generated emissions
by turning off most of the lights, heat, and air-conditioning in almost
1,000 non-essential government buildings every Friday. Preliminary
reports estimate that shutting down six sample buildings for an extra
day would lead to an annual CO2 reduction of more than 3,300 tons per
year, and this number is likely to go up depending on which additional
buildings are selected."

Although the $1.8 million that Utah has saved on utilities so far is shy of their original estimate ($3 billion), which may be partly due to lowering energy costs, the carbon dioxide emissions savings seem to be higher than officials planned. And employee morale is also higher, according to the Scientific American story. "'People just love it,' says Lori Wadsworth, a professor of public management at Brigham Young University in Provo. She helped survey those on the new Working 4 Utah schedule this May and found 82 percent would prefer to stick with it." Other research shows that employees are not fatigued by the new schedule,
show less stress, and are taking fewer sick days. Anecdotal evidence even suggests that volunteerism is up, though it's not clear if that shift can be attributed to the change in work schedules or a general trend.

Other universities are experimenting with flexible schedules, such as Georgetown, Cornell, and the University of New Mexico, with mixed results. Not all regions will be able to save energy in their buildings this way, and tracking the amount of emissions saved can also be difficult, particularly when it comes to including commuting emissions in a climate action plan.

However, managers and legislators seem to feel it's worth a try. "As we move further into the 21st century, governments need to look for
ways to become more efficient," says Michael N. Gianaris, a Democratic member of the New York State Assembly. "Moving to a four-day workweek should be
at the top of the list. It helps the environment.
People like it. It's a no-brainer."