Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Is homeworking better for the environment

According to a new study: Rebound: unintended consequences of transport policy and technology innovations working from home saves at best 0.4% of the energy used compared to going to work. They also suggest that home shopping does not save energy except in very limited circumstances. It seems to me that this must depend on how you do it. They suggest that heating homes, for instance, uses a lot of the energy and that people travel more for social reasons.
It seems to me that it must depend on what you do. I hardly ever put the heating on, and only turn the printer on when printing (maybe once a week). Admittedly I would probably cycle to work in which case their would be little energy used getting to work. However they say

"It does however require energy to heat or cool the home office. lt may also
lead to people moving further from the workplace, which could stretch urban
cities further apart (this is often referred to as sprawl). Aebischer and Huser
(2000) reported that there would be a 30% increase in household energy use if
one person in a household was working from home. lt was also found that the
number of non-commuting trips increases slightly with telecommuting"
As for online shopping, if it is being delivered by the postman - who goes past the house every day - what is the extra energy? Their evidence is based on a 2001 report which claims:

"Matthew and Hendrickson (2001)demonstrated that roughly the same amount of
energy is used to distribute 1 million dollars worth of bestseller books inU.S.
metropolitan areas by traditional retails (28-33 TJ of energy) as by online
shopping (30 TJ of energy). A similar study inJapan concluded that traditional
retail has a lower environmental impact in dense urban areas (Williams and
Tagami, 2001)."
I would have thought that this would have changed significantly in the last few years. Local shops have closed so people may have to travel further to shop and there has been a vast increase in online shopping so that there may be significant volume savings.
However, a large part of their argument seems to be based on the "Rebound effect" whereby if we make savings in one place then it is ok to use more elsewhere (I don't commute so I can go further for my holiday).

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