Sure, your daily commute to the office is hurting the environment. But so is your telecommute.
High gas prices are making many more people consider working from home. The idea is to save some money on gas and--as an added benefit--to be kinder to the environment. But in fact, telecommuting is often worse for the planet than driving to work each and every day.
First and foremost, telecommuters often drive just as much as those who work in an office. The commute between home and work accounts for only 20 per cent of all car travel, and telecommuters often drive into work a couple of times a week anyway. Plus, there are those extra trips to have lunch with friends, run errands or just get out of the house. It often comes down to cabin fever.
"Some people just can't (telecommute); they get too lonely," says Jack Aiello, a Rutgers University professor who studied IBM's telecommuting program in the late 1990s.
And it's not just driving that's bad. Home workers have to equip and power their own offices, often duplicating electronic equipment like printers that are shared in an office. The manufacturing process for computers and electronics is a particularly nasty and ungreen business.
Arpad Horvath, an engineering professor at the University of California at Berkeley, has estimated that telecommuting lowers a number of emissions, particularly carbon dioxide. However, the extra electricity used by dedicated home offices and electronics meant that telecommuters produced more nitrous oxide and methane. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, nitrous oxide is almost 300 times worse for the environment over 100 years than carbon dioxide. Methane is 25 times worse.
In another study, Patricia Mokhtarian of the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California, found that better telecommunications (the foundation of telecommuting) caused more travel rather than less. Makes sense--after all, Alexander Graham Bell's first phone call summoned his assistant from the next room.