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Four-day week would dramatically reduce UK’s carbon footprint

World’s largest trial finds four-day week reaps environmental and health benefits
09 March 2023 , Kerry Taylor-Smith

Trial suggests that 91% of organisations will continue with a four-day week as employees are happier, less tired, and adopt more pro-environmental behaviours

A four-day working week with no loss of pay could reduce the UK’s carbon emissions by 127 million tonnes – the equivalent of removing the UK’s entire private car fleet from the road - and could help the country meet its binding climate targets.

The world’s largest trial into a reduced working week involved over 60 companies and almost 3,000 workers; it found a four-day week could reduce commuting time by around half an hour per week and slash energy usage in the workplace.

“While definitive estimates of carbon impacts are nearly impossible to put together, we do see encouraging trends on a number of dimensions in our trials: reduced commuting time, reduced commuting by car, people reporting more pro-environmental behaviours over the course of the trial, and absence of a significant travel rebound. These vary a bit across the completed trials but not by a lot,” said Juliet Schor, an economist and sociologist at Boston College and lead researcher at 4 Day Week Global.

Environmental consultancy, Tyler Grange participated in the six-month trial; they reported a daily productivity increase of 22%, and a 21% reduction in the number of miles travelled by car by cutting out unnecessary meetings and travel.

“As an organisation, we’re 14% happier and 28% less tired since working a four-day week – a hugely positive health outcome.”

“When looking at the positive health and social outcomes from working a four-day week, our data, employee feedback and experiences speak for themselves,” said Simon Ursell, Managing Director of Tyler Grange.

“We were concerned that working reduced hours may have had a negative impact on our employees’ health - causing stress and fatigue rather than bringing the benefits sought. But it’s turned out that the very opposite is true. As an organisation, we’re 14% happier and 28% less tired since working a four-day week – a hugely positive health outcome.”

Companies largely viewed the trial as positive, with 91% of organisations definitely continuing or planning to continue with a four-day week, and a further 4% leaning towards continuing. Participants reported improved productivity and reduced absenteeism alongside a revenue increase of 35% compared to similar periods. Only 4% of participants are definitely not continuing.

The trial revealed many people used their ‘extra’ day to engage in low-carbon activities, like hiking or stay-at-home hobbies. There was also an increase in pro-environmental behaviours including recycling and buying eco-friendly products or volunteering for environmental causes.

“Without data or evidence, for climate and health benefits from a 4-day work week, the extra day off should be spent on activities that promote sustainability, for which we should invest in green infrastructure and create eco-friendly facilities and neighbourhood green spaces across urban areas,” said Professor Anupam Nanda, Professor of Urban Economics and Real Estate, The University of Manchester.

The study seems to support previous research which suggests a shorter work week could help the planet. But it also has benefits for employees who reported significant improvement in physical and mental health, time spent exercising, and overall life and job satisfaction. They also noted reduced rates of stress, burnout and fatigue, while problems with sleep declined.


Image credit: Shutterstock

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