At the close of a successful 2022-23 school year, NTC’s CEO Margaret Eames and President Pat Rowan wanted to give the staff a summer of purposeful restoration.
The email went like this:
Starting June 16 through August 11, 2023 we’d like to enact a fun perk and employee benefit over the next 10 weeks that allows full time staff to take half day Fridays, without it counting as PTO. […] You could also work remote Friday mornings and not drive into the office, if not necessary.
Because the second part of this idea is that we are going to start our own Power Down Fridays! We will get meter and kWh readings for our spaces as a baseline. Starting this Friday, we will really “power down” as much as possible, and then get an energy assessment at the end of this time period. Let’s see how much energy savings we can achieve when we focus on it.
As a company, NTC regularly delivers climate change mitigation and resource behavior change education programs. It seemed then that it was the perfect moment to ask: When it comes to climate change, do we practice what you preach? Even for most people who express a strong concern about the issue, there still tends to be a gap between the concern and the willingness to take concerted action. Things like using less power or gas still need a motivational push. By focusing on work/life balance NTC’s leadership provided the push.
In the case of Power Down Fridays, a shorter work week has an edge over many other climate solutions: it’s not perceived as a sacrifice. In fact, a shorter work week with no loss in pay is joyful. It’s something everyone wants. NTC’s staff greatly enjoyed an early start to their weekend and morale among departments rose above anything experienced this side of the pandemic.
But 10 weeks later – could we show energy savings? Could a half day off for all staff at all sites and more stringent power down procedures for all buildings and technology make a measurable impact?
The answer is a simple, “Yes.”
Across NTC, we found a combined decrease of 29.72% kWh usage from the previous summer utility meters.
Our almost 30% reduction in energy usage when compared to when not making this effort is real and measurable. We also do not have additional hard data for the further energy-saving implications of on-site staff skipping their Friday commute and remote staff unplugging from home offices. All and all, it is safe to say that connecting a more formal, company-wide power down habit to an employee wellness initiative was successful on both fronts.
We are thrilled with our results from Power Down Fridays! Seeing the success from both a personnel and kWh savings perspective makes a strong case for connecting these initiatives. NTC is far from the first to make this connection though. Building on the understanding that people’s choices are shaped by their work and social settings, it’s clear that people’s lifestyles impact how much climate change action each person will take. This is the crux of what social norming and behavior change theory has been showing us for decades. Your choices are not yours alone. They are heavily shaped by:
- The environment in which you live
- The hours you work and play
- The social norms you embrace
Working conditions do seem to influence the extent to which people act on their environmental concerns. Long working hours can get in the way of environmentally sound behavior. When it comes to adapting to climate change, this connection should be considered by governments and employers alike.
Some corporations have already begun that exploration with extended testing of the four-day work week and the conversation is gaining momentum all over the world. The non-profit, 4-Day Week Global, has coordinated a UK trial after already carrying out pilots in the US and Ireland. The public sector in Iceland and companies in Spain, Sweden, Belgium, Japan and New Zealand have all also tested the impact of a shorter work week on energy usage.
Juliet Schor, an economist and sociologist at Boston College and lead researcher at 4-Day Week Global who worked on both the UK and US pilots, argues that a shorter work week is key to achieving the carbon emissions reductions the world needs. She says, “Although climate benefits are the most challenging thing to measure, we have a lot of research showing that over time, as countries reduce hours of work, their carbon emissions fall.” According to a study co-authored by Schor in 2012, a 10% reduction in hours is associated to an 8.6% fall in carbon footprint.
Data from the US Energy Information Administration also shows people in the US burn nearly 10% less fossil fuels on weekends than they do on weekdays. Some believe shifting Friday from a weekday to a weekend day could represent a significant improvement in fossil fuel emissions.
“These numbers show that the four-day week can really have a substantial impact,” says Philipp Frey, a researcher at the Institute for Technology Assessment and Systems Analysis in Karlsruhe, Germany, and author of The Ecological Limits of Work.
The Possibilities of Power Down Fridays
As for NTC, an almost 30% decrease of kWh usage in such a short window of time shone the light on how powerful (pun intended) structured habits can be on our carbon footprint. As we teach in our programs, individual habits do make a difference. Connect it to what matters most – people – and those habits are easy to commit to for a real, measurable impact.