The difficulty behind encouraging individuals to adjust their routines and lifestyles to decelerate climate change is a bad option.

You argue that if we avoid taking flights, using cars, shopping for clothes, drinks, and vacations, the earth will be a little less hostile in a couple of centuries. 

And, it is no surprise something has not worked well so far. According to an increasing volume of data, extended work periods cause more ecological harm, from transportation in automobiles to individuals overconsumption of energy.

These discoveries have strengthened initiatives advocating that reduced working hours could offer a variety of perks, ranging from an enhanced environment to a growing economy. 

Taking an entire day off each week would lower the carbon emissions by about 30%.

On a slew of latest studies, spending fewer hours working is healthy for the planet. According to one such study, if we worked for 10 percent fewer hours in a week, our carbon emissions would decrease by 14.6 percent.

Likewise, we would drop our carbon emissions by 36.6 percent if we reduced our working hours by 25%, or a day every week. If workers in the United States worked the same hours as those in Europe, they would use 20% less energy.

The idea of a four-day workweek appeals to people for various reasons, not only environmental ones. The epidemic has proven to be a tipping moment in redefining corporate culture.

With flexible schedules and the use of the home office is becoming 2021 tend rather than the exception. The hope of a new and enhanced work-life balance could help nurture our mental health while increasing our performance.

Spending fewer hours stuck on roadways is beneficial for several other aspects: reducing the need for carbon-intensive medical services and administrations such as hospitalization, treatments, doctor visits, and pharmaceuticals.

Employees have more freedom to work out, enjoy outdoor hours, or indulge in other activities that promote their health and quality of life with three-day weekends.

As a result, there will be a reduced necessity for carbon-emitting hospital services. It is also beneficial to one’s psychological health in escaping stress and worry.

Working one day fewer each week reduces our demand for commodities and services we consume on a routine basis at the workplace.

Electronics and equipment will go on for longer, gears and costumes can last longer, cleaning staff will work fewer hours, etc. 

Overall, there will be reduced necessity for carbon-intensive innovations and environmental assets to manufacture these products and services.

It can become a recursive process since a cleaner atmosphere with fewer toxins can boost productivity. As a result, the potential environmental advantages of a four-day workweek can also be considered a human capital investment.

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Trends around the globe

globe - working less
Heavy traffic of Moscow, Russia. Probably going to work or coming back (source)

Legislators continue adhering to the typical vow of annual increases in GDP, encouraging people to purchase more commodities.

But this can’t be the proposition nowadays. Instead of encouraging people to spend more on possessions, policymakers should give them more free time.

To rescue the earth, we must reduce working hours in affluent nations where people have enough to live a decent life. Starting with a four-day workweek might be a wonderful place to begin.

According to economic historians Michael Huberman and Chris Minns, the average worker in industrialized nations worked more than 3,000 hours per year in 1870, equivalent to 60 to 70 hours per week for 50 weeks.

Before declining work hours during lockdowns, that aggregate had reduced to 1,383 hours in Germany and 1,777 hours in the United States by 2019.

Europeans have taken this step, raising the number of leave and vacation days available to employees. But on the other hand, the United States of America has accelerated ahead with longer working hours.

The concept of a four-day workweek is gaining prominence. Numerous high-profile organizations have successfully experimented with shortened working hours.

In the United Kingdom, if the Labour Party wins, it has promised to implement a 32-hour, four-day workweek over ten years. Likewise, various firms in France, such as Welcome to the Jungle, have already begun to apply this technique.

Icelandic Experiment

Researchers included a little over 1 percent of Iceland’s working-age population in a current experiment, and these sample individuals switched from a 40-hour week to 35 or 36 hours.

The researchers behind this ground-breaking study intend to see how reduced workweeks affected people’s health and job satisfaction, as well as work performance.

Experts have termed these tests, conducted between 2015 and 2017, as an “overwhelming success.” After several years, there have been irreversible changes in Icelanders’ work hours policy.

By 2021, 86% of people are willing to work reduced weeks or have agreements that allow them to work fewer hours. Job satisfaction has improved in various ways, from reduced job stress and burnouts to improved general health.

These experiments and those in Spain prove that decreasing our work hours is not difficult, with several experts touting the benefits for the environment of reduced work hours.

It is now or never!

industry - working less
More industry more work more pollution (source)

Every extra hour of work generates more carbon dioxide through our transportation and, most importantly, through the products we make and consume.

According to the Norwegian University of Science and Technology study, our buying patterns are responsible for more than 60 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. It is still true that as we become wealthier, we generate more pollution. 

For example, in the peak year of 2018, the US carbon dioxide emissions increased by 2.7 percent. About everyone believes they do not have enough wealth, even though practically everybody in industrialized nations has more than almost anyone in the past could have ever imagined.

However, it will never be sufficient. And, thus people work extra hours and overtime to accumulate health in due process overburdening the planet as we speak. 

What needs to be done?

Advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotics, and automation can spur innovation. However, we must make judicious use of them if a four-day week produces the same results as a five-day week without sacrificing jobs or money.

We will need more developments in carbon-intensive facilities if employees want to spend their increased spare time improving their health and quality of life.

That implies more gardens, museums, recreation centers, sports facilities, and better public transportation. Professionals need to be aware of the entire array of challenges associated with four-day weeks.

Organizations should spend more and provide resources and provide relevant development programs. Finally, employees must be open to changing their minds and adopt desirable attributes.

This habit would allow them, their households, businesses, and the ecosystem to benefit significantly from the four-day week notion. To halt climate change, we must become poorer, and the most secure way to do it is to work fewer hours.

On the contrary

weekend - working less
A happy weekend is better than spreading pollution on weekdays (source)

While working shorter hours may boost personal happiness, there is no reason why so many individuals with more free time would not purchase more single-use materials and ride more fuel-operated vehicles.

Other support measures, such as minimal global pay and public-sector investment, should be reformed to reduce environmental harm and assist individuals in making the most of reduced working hours.

A four-day workweek might also negatively influence nature if not appropriately regulated. Guidelines and tactics are required to minimize the adverse effects and maximize the “green” profits.

The value of the three-day weekend depends on how employees spend it. Suppose they spend that extra weekend taking a brief vacation, riding a flashy racing vehicle, or perhaps watching Netflix at home with the heater or conditioning systems blasting.

Those reduced labor hours may be harmful to the environment after all. If five days of labor are jammed into four days with heavier hours, a four-day week may not provide the entire spectrum of rewards, as reported by one study in the US state of Utah.

Employees might have to prioritize jobs and work extra hours due to these changes. Anxiety, success-related stress, and an upsurge in healthcare expenditure may be the outcome. 

Because of the unaffordability of housing in many regions of the UK, poor pay growth, any reduction in income due to a four-day week may drive professionals to supplement their salary with additional work. These expenses would undermine the stated day off’s positive environmental consequences. 

To Wrap Up

Degrowth has become a catchphrase in left-wind journal articles around the globe, with adherents including economists, conservationists, democratic socialists, and young and old campaigners.

Due to degrowth, we would have far less junk: fewer folks working and creating resources, fewer grocery store chains, less rapid fashion trends, and less inexpensive and throwaway goods.

Consumers can strive to live a degrowth-style living by purchasing lesser products. However, it won’t be easy to stick to degrowth without the state sector programs incorporated into the paradigm.

Currently, the conditions of consumerism control our labor, leisure, and overall living standards. Unless humanity steps towards addressing those demands, working less, generating less money, and limiting material consumption, it will likely negatively influence most individuals’ quality of life.

Indeed, not everybody will benefit from reducing their working hours. We would have to reimburse the poorest individuals in wealthy countries, who rely on every dollar they make.

Underdeveloped nations would surely not benefit from fewer hours since they already create comparatively little emissions per capita.

As we seek to make our environment more ecological, we must seek out inventions that provide us with immediate gratification while also benefiting the earth in the long run.

So often, climate catastrophe solutions appear too vague, remote, and expensive. Working less is, however, a unique experience.

It provides consumers with a tangible short-term gain of relaxation time while also improving the environment over time. 

A shortened work schedule could be one of those adjustments that are both better for the earth and humans in ways that are easy to comprehend, even if you aren’t an environmental expert.

(Last Updated on December 15, 2021 by Sadrish Dabadi)

Shradha Bhatta holds a Bachelors’s Degree in Social Work along with a Post-graduate degree in Project Management from Georgian College in Canada. Shradha enjoys writing on a variety of topics and takes pleasure in discovering new ideas. She likes traveling and spending time with nature. She is a very people-person who loves talking about climate change and alerting people to go green!