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A four-day work week is good for the planet, UK study shows

Shifting to a four-day work week wouldn’t just be a nice thing for employees, it’s also a good policy for planetary health.

Image Credit: Flickr/Chris Yarzab

That’s the indication from a new study published by the UK-based advocacy group Platform with funding from the Alex Ferry Foundation.

Moving to a four-day work week by 2025 could cut emissions in the UK by 127 million tons, according to the report. That’s more than the entire carbon footprint of Switzerland and the equivalent of almost every private car in the UK.

There are more benefits to a four-day work week than just reduced carbon emissions. If we make less, we can actually waste less, according to Boston College professor Juliet Schor.

“What’s happened in this country in the last fifty years is that we’ve just kept producing more and more with that productivity growth and that’s really in contrast to where we were in the hundred years before that,” Schor told FootPrint’s founder, Robert Downey Jr. on our YouTube show DOWNSTREAM CHANNEL. “The path that can really help us going forward to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and reduce our impact on the environment — at the same time giving people more well being — is to use productivity growth to progressively reduce hours of work. And so every year, instead of producing more, let’s just give ourselves more time off.”

Schor is working with companies in Ireland on studying the four-day work week and noted on the show that the Spanish government is piloting a program that would move the country to a four-day work week as well.

Spain and Ireland are joining nations and companies piloting four-day work weeks around the world. Unilever announced a trial in New Zealand, and the Scottish government is testing the policy as well.

Schor and other advocates say reducing hours can improve mental and physical health, strengthen communities, and actually create more jobs.

The environmental benefits of shifting to a four-day workweek are legion. Reducing electricity consumption from office buildings, the greenhouse gas emissions associated with commuter travel, and reduced household consumption, are all benefits associated with a shorter workweek, according to the study.

A 2006 study from The Center for Economic and Policy Research published in 2006, showed that the US could make significant gains if it adopted a more European working schedule.

If the US shortened its workweek or encouraged employees to take longer vacations, the country could reduce its energy consumption by as much as 20%, the study showed. That would have cut 2002 carbon emissions to 3% below those in 1990, approaching the target set by the Kyoto protocols. If Europe had adapted to US working hours, the nations would have consumed 25% more energy by contrast, according to the research.

“It would not only help deliver on the promise to build back better, it would also have a major impact on carbon emissions,” Caroline Lucas, a member of parliament from the Green Party, told The Guardian last week. “It would improve people’s health, give them the time to give back to their communities as so many want to do, and help address the climate emergency.”

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