Environmental value of scaling telework in government

How California agencies are tracking reduced carbon emissions from their remote-friendly workforce policies

Six months ago, the State of California’s Department of General Services (DGS) created a live public dashboard tracking their agency’s widespread use of telework, partially spurred by office closings in response to the pandemic. DGS saw an opportunity to use these metrics to inform a longer-term strategy around remote work for the state, and started working to include live data from other agencies on the same dashboard. This dashboard now shows real-time telework information from twelve agencies across the State of California, with more being added!

How telework combats climate change

This dashboard clearly shows the scale of the benefits of changing commute patterns using widespread, long-term telework. Because these twelve agencies are allowing employees to work from home, we can see that these agencies have reduced collective carbon emissions by 521 metric tons . . . last week alone.



To understand what a metric ton is, and get a sense of the scale of this impact, I turned to CarbonFootprint.com. They calculate that flying nonstop from San Francisco to New York City and back to San Francisco generates 1.15 metric tons of carbon emissions -- the pollution that contributes to the problem of climate change. The 9,093 humans at these agencies who “worked remotely” at least some of last week reduced their combined carbon footprint by the same amount as NOT making 453 round-trip flights between San Francisco and New York City, in just one week. 

Or to phrase it another way: canceling this telework policy and requiring all staff at these agencies to commute daily to their offices would add the same carbon emissions as a policy decision to start flying 453 planes each week from San Francisco to New York City and back. That's a new round-trip flight taking off from San Francisco every twenty-two minutes -- 24 hours a day for an entire 7 day week.

Setting the standard for a cleaner future

Looking at just this one aspect of the potential environmental benefits of long-term telework can help inform next steps for government agencies who are thinking about their policies post-COVID. These twelve agencies are tackling hard climate change problems by:

  • Focusing on the largest segment of emissions in the state (commuter traffic pollution) according to the California Air Resource Board - then measurably reducing those emissions by eliminating the need for staff to commute daily from home to the office and back home again.
  • Empowering staff to work effectively and securely from their homes, using modern, consumer-grade technology.
  • Automatically and publicly tracking the impact of these actions in order to make more informed policy decisions for the future.
 

 

The California agencies contributing data to the live dashboard are showing admirable leadership in tracking the potential benefits of long-term telework at scale in the public sector and we are delighted by the results of this work so far.

These forward-thinking policies, along with the easily digestible info on the dashboard, are a powerful combination, showing a cleaner, smarter future for the government workforce.

CivicActions works to transform government digital services through agile practices, modern technologies, user centered design, and a culture of learning and collaboration.