John Niles Responds to "Make Them Work at Home" as a Method of Reducing U.S. Energy Consumption

First, a commentary on the potential solution from leading telework advocates:


Commentary by Charlie Grantham and Jim Ware
Excerpted and condensed from FUTURE OF WORK AGENDA
A Free Monthly Newsletter April, 2006


A little drip here, a little drip there and pretty soon you have a puddle.

 Well we’re going to try it again. After the response we got to our February rant on “edumacation” (It’s Time to Start Over) we can’t resist going for the jugular.

 As promised last month we’re focusing on energy for this rant.

 * Though accounting for only 5 percent of the world's population, Americans consume 26 percent of the world's energy. (American Almanac)

 * In 1997, U.S. residents consumed an average of 12,133 kilowatt-hours of electricity each, almost nine times greater than the average for the rest of the world. (Grist Magazine)

 * Total U.S. residential energy consumption is projected to increase 17 percent from 1995 - 2015. (U.S. Energy Information Administration)

 * Among industrialized and developing countries, Canada consumes per capita the most energy in the world, the United Sates ranks second, and Italy consumes the least among industrialized countries. (we love this statistic—take that Hooserheads)

 * America uses about 15 times more energy per person than does the typical developing country.

 * The United States spends about $440 billion annually for energy. Energy costs U.S. consumers $200 billion and U.S. manufacturers $100 billion annually.

 (Source:  http://www.solarenergy.org/resources/energyfacts.html)

 We can’t help it, but please go back to our April 2005 newsletter and read the column about what happens when gas hits five bucks a gallon (What Will a World of $5 Gas Be Like?). Hey folks, that light at the end of the tunnel is a locomotive lookin’ to knock your sorry-butt SUV right off the tracks.

 Okay, okay, what’s the rant? In Our Humble Opinion (and oh so humble it is), the big problem is that we spend way too much energy moving around people with big Spandex covered butts in megaton vehicles from where they live to where they work (one person to a vehicle, by the way; have you ever noticed how few cars are actually in those High Occupancy Vehicle/Car Pool lanes?). The “solution” is as simple as this: stop doing it, it’s stupid.

 In 2001 we (the good ol’ US of A) used 113 billion gallons of gasoline hauling ourselves around. Given a 3.5% average use increase and a 70% increase in price we’re headed for stupidville at an ever-increasing rate of speed (or, as the fox in Pinocchio put it, “You’re going too fast – and in the wrong direction.”)

 (See http://www.eia.doe.gov/emeu/rtecs/nhts_survey/2001/index.html for that data)

 Give us a break here.

 In Our Humble Opinion, we (the two of us) think we (all of us) can reduce this energy suck by at least 30% (that’s 34 billion gallons of gas; or at today’s prices $94 billion somolians), without half-trying.

 And we could damn near finance another whole preemptive armed incursion with that stash, mate (not that we’re suggesting that, or anything; we’re afraid someone will listen to us and think that’s a good idea. Please, no!)

 So what do we do? Cue the drum roll: how about moving towards an “alternative workplace strategy”? You’ve heard us rant and even rave about that idea before. Move the work to the people instead of the people to the work. Let ‘em work out of their homes a couple of days a week. Wait a minute, no:  tell ‘em to do it.

 That math is so simple even Buford can figure it out: two days a week not commuting is 40% fewer miles driven – to say nothing of saving time for doing somethin’ useful instead of cruising up and down that old highway building up road rage about all those other crazy drivers (and hey, Bunky, road rage generates a whole ‘nother kind of energy that should also be conserved).

 And quit whining “If I can’t see ‘em, how do I know they’re working?” Give it a rest, Fred! If on-the-spot supervision is still that important, set up workplaces in the neighborhoods that they can walk to, fer cryin’ out loud!

 Seriously, folks, if Buford and Maynard can get it, why can’t you? How about a national crew-sade to rebuild our workplaces and work patterns. How about getting real about saving energy and finding alternative sources (like ethanol, wind, solar, and all those other ways of producing usable energy without depending on black goop buried miles and miles under the sand).

 Got a better idea? Well, write in and tell us. We’ll keep the light on for ya (couldn’t help the parting pun), assuming of course that it’s a low-wattage, energy-efficient bulb.

Please direct your comments to comments@thefutureofwork.net. We’d love publish your reactions and suggestions. And thanks for listening.


This issue of Future of Work Agenda was produced by Jim Ware and Charlie Grantham of the Work Design Collaborative, LLC.

We encourage your comments, suggestions, and submission of materials for possible future publication. Please contact us at:

Charlie Grantham, charlie@thefutureofwork.net

Jim Ware, jim@thefutureofwork.net




Commentary on “Driving Me Crazy”

From John Niles (President, Global Telematics, www.globaltelematics.com):

Wow!  Make people work at home!  That should help the North American divorce rate, which I understand to be at about 50%. Energy policy collides with family policy.

But seriously, the numbers from US DOT are not so good for getting energy and emission savings out of teleworking.

In the USA, the Bureau of Transportation Statistical Pocket Guide to Transportation, 2006 edition, on page 20, Table 13, “Daily Travel by Gender, 2001,” states that just 15 percent of trips are for "work (commute)" and 3 percent are "work-related."  That means the remaining 82 percent are for other mobility purposes, including 42 percent combined for "family/personal business" and "social/recreational."

Furthermore, a decade of experience with telecommuting is showing that workers, managers, and organizations have a stubborn resistance to teleworking breaking above the one-day a week level - for good reasons, I might add, including, for example, some fraction of office workers literally wanting to get out of the house each day.

NSF funded research has produced long lists of cautions and downsides on remote work, as assembled in the book Distributed Work (MIT Press, co-edited by Future of Work Senior Fellow Pamela Hinds):


None of the above should stop distributed work advocates and specialists from trying to push the incidence of productive alternative arrangements higher. I'm only saying, teleworking to save energy and the earth's atmosphere has important intrinsic limits.

As a long-term analyst of both telecom and transport, I would advocate the government emphasis be more on reducing the energy and emissions of vehicles and less on finding ways not to take trips.

By the way, the energy per capita cost of supporting life in Arizona is considerably higher than supporting life in Manhattan, but I wouldn't dream of advocating a public policy of pushing people to one geographic life style or another based on energy consumption. I advocate letting the price of energy do this instead, along with the price of everything else.

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