How shorter workweeks could save Earth


Every day we are confronted by content describing the bleak picture of the planet’s ecological future because of our high carbon footprint. Our planet’s resources are finite, although we are producing at a rate that wouldn’t suggest it. It’s simple mathematics… we are using more than what the earth can provide. We are a planet of consumers and the only thing we are leaving in our wake is CO2 emissions and waste. At our current rate, there won’t be much of a planet left for our grandchildren. The world’s economy is growing too rapidly for what the Earth can provide and eventually it will come to a standstill with no more raw materials to feed the hungry beast. Although there are many who are trying to rectify the situation, the problem is big and it requires the help of every person. So what can we do? Well, a shorter work week just might be a solution.

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The impact

The theory behind this suggestion is that by having a shorter working week there will be less commuting, lower purchases of fast foods, less power being used at offices, less CO2 emitting factories being run, and a slight drop in economic growth. When we think about it, it really starts to make sense. The human species needs to slow down a little. Studies done in Denmark and Sweden have shown that shorter working weeks while still receiving the same salary lead to an improvement in overall staff happiness, better health, and better staff productivity during office hours. For many European countries, the working week averages at around 35 hours. These are also the countries with the highest salaries and the highest productivity rates.

Another option to add to this would be for office-based employees to have the option to work from home. If projects are completed and deadlines are met, what does it matter where it is done? This would result in less commuting and a drop in CO2 emissions. Many hours are wasted during the commute and the nine to five haul at the office. Staff working from home could enjoy a better work/life balance and will probably be more happy and productive.

In the coming decades, automation will be used to further reduce our carbon footprint and is said to replace at least 47 percent of jobs in the U.S. and 54 percent in the UK. Shorter work weeks and a universal basic salary might just be the only option available for people to still make a decent living.

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What’s the catch?

The only catch seems to be that the super-wealthy will make less money if production slows down but salaries remain the same. Less commuting results in less power being used, less gas being purchased, and families spending more time together. None of these are good news for the biggest corporations around the world. The wealthiest 10 percent of the world’s population creates a staggering 50 percent of the world’s Co2 emissions. Some food for thought.

A shorter workweek does not give us a free hand to carry on living the way we are, but it might buy us more time to figure out more sustainable options. Using the extra time off for more home-based activities like starting an organic veggie garden or focusing on recycling will further help to ensure that we can leave our grandchildren with a planet that they can be proud to call home.