Berkeley Flexible Work Time Initiative



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Work Time and
the Environment

Work Time and
the Family

Work Time and
the Good Life

Work Time and Economics

Work Time Choice
is a Success

Work Time Choice: Model Policies


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Work Time and the Environment


It is common sense that, if people choose to work less and consume less, they will also pollute less. These major studies quantify the environmental benefits of shorter work time:

  • Are Shorter Work Hours Good for the Environment? This study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research found that:
    • If Americans worked as few hours as western Europeans, it would lower our energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions by 20%.
    • If the developing nations imitate the American model (all else being equal), world emissions of CO2 in 2050 would be 14Gt, raising world temperatures by 4.5 degrees. But if the developing nations imitate the European model, world emissions of CO2 in 2050 would be 10Gt, raising world temperatures by 2.5 degrees - a very substantial difference caused by work-time alone, apart from other policies to reduce emissions.
    • For more information, see the CEPR web site.
  • Would Shorter Work Time Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions? This study compares two scenarios for Sweden's future: 1) keeping current work hours and using all productivity gains to increase production and consumption and 2) using half of all productivity gain to reduce work hours and half to increase production and consumption, which would lower the standard work week from 40 hours to 30 hours by 2040. It found that the second scenario would cause significantly slower growth in energy use, making it easier for Sweden to meet its targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. For more information, see the study [PDF].
  • Hours of Work and the Ecological Footprint of Nations: This study by Anders Hayden and John Shandra found that shorter work hours reduce total ecological footprint. Long work hours result in time scarcity, which leads to more ecologically damaging consumption and lifestyle choices, such as driving rather than walking. Shorter work time benefit the environment by reducing income and consumption, and even after controlling for differences in income, shorter work hours reduce ecological footprint by allowing more sustainable lifestyles. For more information, see the study.

Shorter Work Time Is a Key to Sustainability

Shorter work time is one of the three pillars of sustainability. Total environmental impact is based on the three factors, according to the classic IPAT equation:

Impact = Population x Affluence x Technology

Total impact increases as the number of people increases.

Total impact increases as affluence increases and each person consumes more.

Total impact also depends on the impact of each unit of output, controlled largely by the technology used; for example, each kilowatt-hour of electricity has less impact if we use solar energy than if we burn coal.

Since the beginning of the modern environmental movement, environmentalists have concentrated on two of these three points: 1) limiting population growth and 2) promoting clean technologies to limit the impact per unit of output.

But the environmental movement has generally ignored the other factor in the equation, affluence. Some individuals who have adopted simpler lifestyles to reduce their personal environmental impact, but there has been no political movement to make it easier for people to live more simply.

Choice of work hours is a practical step that would allow people to live more simply. If people choose to work shorter hours, there will be less output per person and therefore less environmental impact.

Choice of work hours is politically feasible, because it does not compel anyone to live more simply, just offers the option to those who want to use it. It has been tried and proven to work in the Netherlands, Germany, and the UK.

Mathematical Note

We can make the IPAT equation more mathematically precise by rewriting it as:

Impact = Population x Output/Person x Impact/Unit of Output

Since its beginning, the environmental movement has tried to control population growth and has tried to reduce the impact per unit of output by using cleaner technologies.

But the environmental movement has not acted politically to deal with the third issue, output per person.

These three pillars of sustainability are equally important to limiting our total environmental impact. Because a huge growth in output per person is projected in the coming century, we can no longer afford to ignore this issue.


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