Work from home. Save the planet

Work from home. Save the planet

Summary: What if I told you that working from home could help save the world? It's true.

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Many of us in the tech world work from home. Many bloggers commute ten feet from bed to coffee pot to desk (with, hopefully, a stop at the shower along the way). Many IT professionals RDP into servers from home, saving long trips and travel time.

To the rest of the working world, though, working from home is still a bit of a strange idea. Most of us -- and certainly all of our parents -- grew up with the idea that you got up, went to work, and came home. Work was another place.

On the national level, our tax policy reflects this. The IRS still doesn't like the idea of home offices and the home office deduction is always something of a red flag.

But what if I told you that working from home could help save the world? It's true.

Next: Working from home is a strategic opportunity for the U.S. »

Working from home is a strategic opportunity for the U.S.

For most of 2009, I spent the bulk of my time writing the book How To Save Jobs (you can download it for free here). I did a tremendous amount of research into both how we got where we are as a nation, and also issues impacting our success into the future.

One area I looked at was working from home. Working from home isn't just a convenience or a way for businesses to save a few bucks on office space. Working from home is a strategic opportunity for the United States.

I spent a few months developing data models to determine if working from home could be good for America. The results I came up with were astounding:

  • Americans spend 36.9 billion hours a year, commuting
  • Americans drive 1.9 trillion miles commuting each year
  • Americans spend $255 billion just for the gasoline to commute
  • Americans consume 60.5 billion gallons of gasoline (the capacity of 1,298 Exxon Valdez tankers, fully loaded) each year to commute
  • Americans release 1.16 trillion pounds of carbon dioxide into the air while commuting.

By contrast, working from home can provide measurable strategic benefits:

  • We’d reduce our reliance on foreign oil
  • We’d reduce pollution
  • We’d reduce global warming
  • We’d regain billions of hours of productivity and family time
  • We’d save a ton of money
  • We’d reduce our costs for road construction and highway maintenance
  • We’d even probably reduce the number of latch-key kids

Working from home isn't a new idea. Farmers, essentially, work from home. The settlers who traveled West in search of new opportunities put down roots and, in most cases, combined living and working into one holistic whole. Even the President of the United States works from home.

So, as you celebrate Earth Day, think about how a more formally supported national work-at-home policy could be transformative for America and Americans. It's not just the money we'd save. It's the time we'd get back and the fossil fuels we'd preserve.

When I tell you most people will breathe easier if we had a better work-from-home policy, it's true -- to the tune of 1.16 trillion pounds of carbon dioxide not released into the atmosphere.

Now that's Earth Day!

The Oval Office is about 816 square feet. Do you have a larger home office? TalkBack below.

Topics: Government US, Banking, CXO, Government, IT Employment

About

David Gewirtz, Distinguished Lecturer at CBS Interactive, is an author, U.S. policy advisor, and computer scientist. He is featured in the History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets and is a member of the National Press Club.

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  • Some jobs, that may be possible, others not.

    For some jobs, telecommuting is possible. Tech
    jobs and office jobs, especially.

    But - there are some jobs, like waste
    management, landscaping, digging ditches for
    various types of utilities, etc, where manual
    labor is still required.

    "We?d reduce our costs for road construction
    and highway maintenance"

    Actually - the vast majority of road repair
    isn't due to tire wear. Maybe in the southern
    states that may be the case, but in any state
    that receives regular freezing temperatures,
    the single biggest contributing factor to road
    wear are the repeated freeze/thaw cycles that
    happen in late fall and early spring. In
    Minnesota, it's bad enough that we joke that
    there are really only two seasons: Winter and
    Road Repair.

    Ice freezing in the cracks of roads (both the
    visible ones and the ones too small to see with
    the eye) has a lot of power. I've seen cracks
    widen visibly in days when we get freezing
    nights.

    . . . and I'm very skeptical that any ZDNet
    author is anywhere capable of writing a "non-
    partisan" national security analysis. I have a
    good idea of what ZDNet tends to believe about
    politics, and even when they try to be nice to
    the right, they tend to be on the left.

    . . . and especially not after seeing your
    claims about population control in the report
    you gave. This idea that our world can't
    handle the population? Quite questionable.

    It probably assumes a continuing exponential
    growth, which is unlikely to remain the trend
    indefinitely. It's already the case that many
    first-world countries have populations that are
    mostly stabilized, growing by very little.
    Countries like China and India are the
    exception for explosive growth, not the rule.
    There's a lot of countries that are growing
    rather slowly, and some aren't growing at all.

    We should be looking at how why other first
    world countries have succeeded at stabilization
    with very little, if any, laws about population
    control.

    It looks to me like population issues tend to
    be local to certain countries, and aren't
    really a worldwide threat.

    Here in the USA, we have 300 million people,
    which a a pretty reasonable size population -
    yet we have an abundance of food.

    Some back of the napkin estimates say Asia and
    Africa have enough land area to produce enough
    food for the world, assuming the world lives at
    the same standard as the USA.

    That's being [b]extremely[/b] generous,
    considering how wasteful we are with food, how
    much waistlines have grown, and how much we pay
    farmers to not grow food to keep them
    profitable.

    Unless the USA has a monopoly on farmable land
    (which I seriously doubt), the idea that the
    world can't sustain population growth for the
    foreseeable future is rather silly.

    Population issues IMO tend to not be that the
    world can't sustain the total population, but
    rather that certain nations can't sustain their
    own local populations.

    Amusingly enough, you preach about religions
    helping out on the issue. Unfortunately,
    however, it's the case that there's a rather
    large push in both the technical and
    educational fields to take religion out of
    people's lives and turn all of us into
    atheists.

    Religions can't be much help if you use them as
    a tool and as not as something to be taken
    seriously. Christianity isn't very likely to be
    willing to assist you if you view it in the
    same light as some ancient polytheistic Greek
    myth.

    And wow, the rest of that paper is pretty
    pathetic. Pretty much a reader's digest version
    of all of the bad predictions, unchecked
    claims, and leftist politics in ZDNet put
    together.

    We shouldn't need "insurance" in order to
    perform emergency operations. [b]Not having
    insurance should not be an automatic death
    penalty.[/b]

    The problem isn't how many people are uninsured
    - the problem is how we treat people without
    insurance.

    The problem is, we have a pretty twisted view
    of who should pay for health stuff and when.

    Ideally, I'd say most health (excluding
    emergencies) should be payed by the customer
    directly. Whether they want to take out a loan
    or get insurance to cover the costs is their
    business. A lot less overhead would be needed
    than our current system, which isn't really a
    true private system.

    Emergencies should be an exception, rather than
    the rule. If somebody is dying, yeah we should
    do something about now and worry about whether
    the person can afford it later.

    Even then, however, I would advocate a system
    where the person, if in good health after the
    emergency, could help with some of the costs.

    Yeah, insurance is a mess - but IMO the best
    solution for that situation is to start setting
    higher standards for insurance, not to switch
    to a more socialistic health care system. And
    maybe just to tell insurers to insure people
    directly, not to reroute themselves through the
    employers.

    IMO, the one thing that should be banned - and
    should be banned by law - is refusing coverage
    in the case of an emergency or pre-existing
    condition. Don't need to create a new "public
    option" to do that.
    CobraA1
    • .

      (Sorry. Changed my mind.)
      DittoHeadStL
      • RE: Work from home. Save the planet.

        @DittoHeadStL

        lol
        zaphur
    • RE: Work from home. Save the planet.

      @CobraA1:

      As a flaming lefty myself, I enjoyed your comments.

      One thing, though; you will continue to be plagued by both ill and well-reasoned comments from the 'left', for as long as the 'right' does nothing but refute the 'left'.

      You seem to be one who could help in formulating a practical response to the 'crises' that the left is in a tizzy about. You could act as a moderatorial voice of reason in such discussions, by pointing out the dry facts and suggesting a reasoned response to whatever it is that seems to be going wrong.

      But make no mistake. What is 'going wrong' is not simply an eruption of 'socialistic liberalism'. The libs simply are alarmed that the powers that be, have turned a blind eye to very real hazards. As long as that is the perception, that will also be the 'reality' which the libs (and many others) will respond to.

      If I, as a dyed-in-the-wool Liberal (in the best sense of the word) perceive that there is a reasoned response to an apparent problem, I will not threaten to storm the Rightist Castle with torches and pitchforks. I will instead applaud those who have chosen to respond to such as 'climate change' and 'health insurance co bailout plans', etc, those who walk directly into the fire of the challenge.

      Somebody should write a new story called 'the boy who cried about the boy who cried wolf', which includes the episode where the wolf actually eats the village, while the 'righties' pontificated on TV about how silly and even criminal the boy was, for ever crying wolf. If you get my point.

      ==GP==
      vastgene
    • RE: Work from home. Save the planet.

      @CobraA1
      You said:
      "We shouldn't need "insurance" in order to
      perform emergency operations. Not having
      insurance should not be an automatic death
      penalty.

      The problem isn't how many people are uninsured
      - the problem is how we treat people without
      insurance.

      The problem is, we have a pretty twisted view
      of who should pay for health stuff and when."

      Yep, I'll buy that. You then said:

      "Yeah, insurance is a mess - but IMO the best
      solution for that situation is to start setting
      higher standards for insurance, not to switch
      to a more socialistic health care system. And
      maybe just to tell insurers to insure people
      directly, not to reroute themselves through the
      employers.

      IMO, the one thing that should be banned - and
      should be banned by law - is refusing coverage
      in the case of an emergency or pre-existing
      condition. Don't need to create a new "public
      option" to do that. "

      The thing is, your stance doesn't take into account what works and what doesn't. The U.S. was recently ranked 37th by the WHO in terms of the health care that we provide our citizens. Study after study after study from a wide variety of governmental and non-governmental sources show us lagging the rest of the industrialized world. Pick any metric that you care to; infant mortality, obesity, overall longevity, cancer survival rates, you name it. We're behind everyone else.

      We're also the only major industrialized nation that sees 600,000 bankruptcies a year due only to health care issues. The rest? None. Zero.

      The major difference between us and the rest? They've all, without exception, have adopted some form of public option.

      It's not like we have to re-invent the wheel, here. Most of Europe has been running these kinds of health care plans for decades. All we really have to do is cherry pick the ideas that would fit us best. For example, I like the idea of Germany's model of a single payer system but with freedom of choice for patients. If we're serious about improving health care in this country, we have to start by accepting the fact that any system that will truly make a difference has to _start_ with a public option.
      sgtrock111
    • RE: Work from home. Save the planet.

      Open your minds people, open your minds.
      The USA had the greatest pioneers in the world, new frontiers were discovered almost every week, the settlers that came afterward were all heros....and then oil was discovered and all of a sudden the people in the USA could not challenge themselves to overcome and adapt but instead they discovered that there was a national emotion that could not be challenged and things had to be done a certain way or else it was not the norm and this resulted in the supression of national creativity and mind expansion. Who cares where you work from? The question is this - is it the best thing for you, your familly, company and the nation.
      So open your minds people, open your minds, but then maybe I am wrong?
      alwyn2
    • RE: Work from home. Save the planet.

      @CobraA1 :

      Just one minor problem with an otherwise well-thought-out piece: "Asia and
      Africa have enough land area to produce enough
      food for the world". Unfortunately you (or your cartographer) missed the small problems in those areas - problems like The Sahara, The Gobi, The Himalayas, etc. There are huge parts of those areas where farming is currently impossible. Leaving aside the mountains for later, let's turn the Sahara back to the way it was 5,000 years ago and we'll certainly have a good chance. Even as it was just 2,000 years ago, when a million people in Rome lived off North African grain. Then again, there were far fewer people then, weren't there.
      LeMike
    • Have you ever travelled to Asia?

      @CobraA1
      Its easy to create theories on back of envelope; reality is different. Before you write further in any forum, visit India for 4 weeks; live in different parts of country on shoe-string budget (stay away from 5* hotels), come back and then let us know what you think about your opinion about world food, world population, world resources etc.

      Regarding healthcare I currently live in England where we have NHS; it is not the best system, but I can be sure to get treatment in any circumstances. My friend who was jobless was met with car accident was treated for 6 months in various hospitals at 0 cost.

      You simply cannot understand this if you are well off and can pay best premium for health insurance.

      In India they have similar health system to US; I have seen poor denied healthcare or had to sell their farmland and go bankrupt to finance healthcare. Again similar to you, there are people from Urban population who are well off and don't understand what it means to be poor and ill.
      p.vinnie
    • RE: Work from home. Save the planet.

      @CobraA1 - About Health Insurance and Public Systems... I advise you to watch "Sicko" by Michael Moore... maybe that'll open your eyes...<br><br>I hope you never get REALLY sick in the USA... <br><br>If you google a bit about the opinions foreigners, especially europeans have about american health system and the experience they have EVEN WHEN insured, you'd understand... face it.. you have a third world health care system... one of the worst in the world, where sick people who can't afford are thrown away from hospitals, where people buy insurance plans that in the end won't pay for health care expenses... it's horrible...!
      emarques
  • RE: Work from home. Save the planet.

    Now if only you could teach this to the grandparents who
    run my company...
    johnjeffrey
  • RE: Work from home. Save the planet.

    If you have a job that allows you to do that then working from home is fine. We have a group of employees who work from home. But others its simply not possible due to the nature of their job. I'd love to work from home. I can't stand driving in traffic, which is a good reason for me to move somewhere with public transportation. Anyway, the bottom line is working from home only works in certain cases.
    Loverock Davidson
  • RE: Work from home. Save the planet.

    "We?d reduce our reliance on foreign oil
    We?d reduce pollution
    We?d reduce global warming"

    Or, it would remain the same or increase, as all of
    the people who saved money commuting can now travel
    farther and more frequently on vacations, and buy more
    imported products.

    "We?d reduce our costs for road construction and
    highway maintenance"

    Yes, if only everyone with the heaviest vehicles
    (semis, etc.) could work from home. Unfortunately,
    none of them can.
    aep528
    • RE: Work from home. Save the planet.

      @aep528
      Awesome response to the writers ideas. It's always best for the writer of the article to look both ways before writing.
      gh01
  • Don't interact with other bipeds in person!

    If we all stay home and stop interacting with other
    humans, we can save the planet and stop crime. DUH!
    Working from home only makes sense if your "work" is
    actually productive from home. WFH is ripe for abuse. It
    is difficult to get many people to work from work.
    bobfastner
    • Working from home is BETTER!

      People are fired everyday that work in the
      OFFICE!!! What a LIE, if you don't work it
      does not matter if you are at the office
      or at HOME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
      Use_More_OIL_NOW
    • Requires a different pay method

      Get paid by the job not by the hour. Don't do the job don't get paid simple as that. If it takes you 1 hour to do the work the company just got that much better productivity where as if you are paid by the hour you take as many hours as you can to make up the same money.

      For example:

      If a job pays $120 vs me getting paid $20 an hour and I can get it done in 1 hour vs 6 hours the company is getting more productivity. I'm not saying this will happen that dramatically as this is exaggerated to illustrate the point. But 15 minutes here and there through out the year really adds up.

      For work from home the idea of full days work for full days pay needs to go out the window.
      voska1
      • Requires a different pay method

        This is exactly right.

        And is how we do it at our company where it
        makes sense. There are some jobs which are paid
        hourly and then there are some where we pay by
        the action/job.

        We have a 75 person operation with only a 3
        person office, which is our accounting
        operation. The rest of us work from home or
        where ever we may be. It doesn't matter if I'm
        in my home in Toronto or my vacation home in
        Florida as far as any one else id concerned,
        I'm available and delivering what is needed.

        With the advent of VPNs, SAS and VOIP we have
        the ability to be in constant contact and
        extremely efficient.

        But this is not for all people. Some people can
        not handle the isolation and require the water
        cooler time. Others are just not disciplined
        enough or productive enough to earn a full time
        salary. But these people can probably get a job
        working for the government.

        Love it and been doing it for over 10 years!
        smack
      • RE: Work from home. Save the planet.

        @voska1 In most cases yes, but you can have a tech support or phone attendant to log in on a certain application that'll register the time, and the person must be logged on to attend people on that particular time.
        emarques
    • RE: Work from home. Save the planet.

      @bobfastner
      I totally agree. WFH is an option I've seriously considered as the owner of my business, because there are many $$$ and time-saving benefits with working from home. And although I've always been diligent when I've worked for other people, I've seen other staff who are actively NOT working when at work. It is absolutely ripe for abuse... and I'm not prepared to pay staff who are sitting at home in their pyjamas while watching Oprah and not doing their job. Besides I enjoy and benefit from the direct interaction with co-workers. I don't think WFH is possible in a lot of businesses.
      brissiebrad
  • All technology (I want to work from home)

    VPN, inter-office IM and cell phones there you
    go no more office at work and no wasted time gabbing
    you are MORE productive at HOME!
    Use_More_OIL_NOW