Flexible workplaces: a low carbon solution for Australian cities

How employers are in a unique position to help reduce carbon emissions.

With climate strikes taking place all around the world this week, and hundreds of Australian businesses now pledging to participate, the conversation around what we can do collectively as a society to reduce our carbon emissions and mitigate climate change is becoming widespread. 

Many solutions are already here. But in many areas, we have to be smarter at joining the dots.

What often isn’t discussed is how businesses who embrace flexibility are in a unique position to help employees reduce their carbon emissions on a large scale.

More specifically, adopting agile working environments with flexible remote working as standard has a huge knock-on effect in terms of reducing our individual and corporate carbon footprints.

Transport is now Australia’s third largest source of carbon emissions with the highest rate of growth. Cars are responsible for roughly half of Australia’s transport emissions, emitting about the same as Queensland’s entire electricity supply.

With our population projected to grow by 24% to reach 31.4 million by 2034, the pressure this will place on our metropolitan transport networks is immense. A recent Infrastructure Australia audit report found the cost of congested roads and over-crowded public transport systems will double unless governments do more to boost investment in transport projects.

Yet congestion is already an unpleasant and stressful reality for millions of commuters each day with average commute times increasing in almost every capital city and state across Australia. According to the latest annual Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) survey, commute times have risen by 23% since 2002 with commuters in Sydney facing the most arduous journeys to and from work.

So, what would happen if we were all able to work from home, or just closer to home, for some of our working hours?

At a micro level, recent research by Swinburne University of Technology’s Smart Cities Research Institute found that 64% of Melbourne’s city workers are already working remotely on average 1.1 days per week. And interestingly only 2% said none of their work could be performed at an alternative location.

The research then found that if these employees increased their remote working days to five days a fortnight, this would cut the number of daily commuters to Melbourne from 572,000 to 440,500 a day. And if the remaining 36% of city workers were also able to work remotely 50% of the time, daily commuter numbers would fall further to around 337,500, a total reduction of 41%.

crowded train platform in sydney

Commute times have risen by 23% since 2002 with commuters in Sydney facing the most arduous journeys to and from work.

A shift to widespread remote working could therefore take thousands of cars off the road, easing congestion and reducing the average employee’s carbon footprint significantly. And at the same time, improve productivity, our quality of life and the liveability of our cities and regional centres.

But it’s not just about increasing the number of remote working days per employee. Flexible start and finish times are also an important way in which employers can help move towards a low carbon future.

Our recent FlexCareers Annual Workplace Flexibility Report 2019 found that flexible start and finish times are now one of the most common flexible working policies adopted by progressive employers. Not only does this policy provide flexibility to those who need to juggle family and other personal commitments, but it also has a significant impact on flattening out peak hour transport curves.

For those who drive, the benefits of avoiding peak hour traffic are obvious. An additional outcome is that starting or finishing work outside of peak hour also makes public transport much more appealing. Not only is it cheaper to travel off peak, especially with Sydney’s Opal card system, but you’re more likely to get a seat.

A more comfortable and efficient public transport system encourages more uptake, reduces congestion on our road networks and ultimately reduces per capita carbon emissions.

Although it’s early days, employers are realising that encouraging remote working has a huge impact on reducing carbon emissions and achieving sustainability goals.

And in a more humanised world of work where the younger generations are drawn towards businesses with purpose, employers need to start measuring and articulating the environmental benefits of their flexibility frameworks to remain competitive.

If you would like to continue this conversation, or would like assistance embedding flexibility within your workplace, please get in touch: david@flexcareers.com.au

David SHirkey Head of Consulting at FlexCareers About David Shirley, Head of Consulting at FlexCareers

David Shirley is an expert in the optimisation of technology in flexible work design. He sees the ‘right’ technology choices as an enabler for employees to unlock their productive potential. David has over 30 years’ experience globally in the technology industry.

David has worked across a variety of industries and large corporates facilitating training, conducting workshops and executive coaching – in particular, the last 20 years he has focused on delivering training in both technical and business areas. He combines his passion for technology with the key disciplines of time management. He is an advocate for utilising the best technology has to offer to find innovative ways of getting things done.


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