A new study shows working from home could help Canada save no small amount of gases responsible for anthropogenic (human-made) climate change, but also points to potential drawbacks.
The study from Statistics Canada finds that Canadian households would cut six per cent of direct greenhouse gas emissions (based on 2015 figures) and 11 per cent of their emissions linked to transportation that year, figures which the reports calls “non-negligible” — if all Canadians capable of working from home did so.
“While the long-term effects of telework on workers’ well-being and productivity remain to be seen, working from home has the potential to reduce daily commuting times for many workers,” it reads. “This, in turn, could reduce traffic congestion, affect the demand for public transit and reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.”
According to the report, about one in three Canadian workers (36 per cent) counted as potential teleworkers, who held jobs that could plausibly be done from home but were usually not working from home.
According to the report, 45.2 per cent of workers (almost 83,000) in Victoria Census Metropolitan Area (CMA) could work from home, based on 2015 figures. The local share of workers who could telework but currently do not stands at 37.2 per cent.
The study shows the average Canadian could save about 55 minutes per day commuting, with the figure for Victoria CMA being 45.1 minutes. More specifically, a transition to full telework capacity could reduce the total number of commutes made by workers previously using public transit by roughly half (52 per cent). In Victoria, this hypothetical reduction would be 43.2 per cent.
But these figures also point to one of the potential drawbacks of teleworking as it “might significantly reduce public transit use,” a development that could undercut acceptance (and ultimately funding) of public transit. Another variable is the willingness of workers to return to their offices.
As the report says, risk-averse workers may choose to abandon public transit and travel to work by car if a vaccine does not provide complete immunity from the risk of infection.
“Others might decide to use their own cars as a result of the initial decrease in traffic congestion,” it reads. Such changes would limit the reduction in commuter traffic and GHG emissions. They would also accelerate the declining demand for public transit.
“Whether such transition to full telework capacity will materialize once the COVID-19 pandemic is over remains to be seen,” the report reads.
The study also does not account for yet-to-been behavioural changes resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic or from other factors.
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