What Could be the Eco Sustainability Implications of a Four-Day Work Week?

In 2022, the United Kingdom conducted the largest trial of a shortened workweek, hosting a six-month experiment. The findings, published in March 2023, revealed overall improvements in company productivity along with enhanced employee well-being and satisfaction, but could it benefit us with eco sustainability too? Well in addition to the evident gains in productivity and various health advantages, proponents of the four-day workweek propose that reducing work hours could also yield positive ecological outcomes.

However, the question remains: just how substantial could this impact be? This article aims to elucidate the concept of a four-day workweek, delineate its potential environmental benefits, and address any potential challenges it may pose.

Could the Implementation of a Four-Day Work Week Decrease the UK’s Carbon Footprint?

Recent evidence suggests that a four-day work week has the potential to significantly reduce the UK’s carbon footprint, with estimates indicating a potential decrease of up to 21.3%. According to a 2021 report by Stop The Clock, adopting a shorter work week could lead to a reduction of approximately 127 million tonnes of carbon emissions annually.

Previous research conducted by the Political Economy Research Institute also supports this notion, revealing that a mere 10% reduction in working hours, such as transitioning from 48 hours to 43.2 hours, could lower a nation’s carbon footprint by 8.6%. Extrapolating from these findings, a 32-hour work week would likely yield an even greater reduction in emissions.

Moreover, some companies that participated in the 2022 UK trial reported tangible decreases in their carbon emissions. For instance, a managing director from one of the trial participants stated that their company experienced an impressive drop of “almost 30%” in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, primarily attributable to reduced transportation.

These findings highlight the potential of a four-day work week to not only enhance employee well-being and productivity but also contribute to significant environmental benefits by curbing carbon emissions.

Of course, a four-day workweek might not be possible for all industries – or even all company sizes but for those that it could be possible for, it would massively benefit the environment.

Why would a four-day workweek be good for the environment?

A four-day workweek could reduce the UK’s emissions by cutting down on commuting and energy use in office buildings. There’s also evidence to suggest that people who work shorter hours develop more sustainable habits:

  • Reduced commuting
  • Reduced energy use in office buildings
  • An increase in environmentally friendly lifestyles

Would a four-day workweek cause any environmental problems?

One potential risk of a four-day workweek is that employees would use the extra leisure time to travel more – both domestically and abroad – leading to increased transport emissions.

This has not been the case in any of the trials organised by Four Day Week Global, who oversaw the 2022 UK trial. However, since a nationwide four-day workweek hasn’t been tested, there’s no guarantee that employees at other companies would behave in the same way that the participants of the trials did.