Environmental value of telework in government (updated)

The State of California’s “Telework Dashboard” continues to gain momentum, so here’s a quick update.

Department of General Services (DGS) continues their work, helping more departments across the State of California include their telework data into this award winning dashboard. And they’ve made impressive progress.

In March 2021, this dashboard showed real-time telework information from 12 agencies with a combined total of ~11,244 humans. The latest data, from April 2023, now shows real-time telework information from 118 agencies with a combined total of 148,523 humans. With more still being added!

How telework combats climate change

This dashboard clearly shows the scale of the benefits of changing commute patterns using widespread, long-term telework. Because these 118 agencies are allowing employees to work from home, we can see that these agencies have reduced collective carbon emissions by 18,013 metric tons during the month of April 2023.

I still find it hard to understand a metric ton of CO2, so to get a sense of the scale of this impact, I turn again to CarbonFootprint.com. They calculate that flying a plane nonstop from San Francisco to Washington DC, land and then fly nonstop back to San Francisco generates 1.10 metric tons of CO2 emissions — the pollution that contributes to the problem of climate change. The 148,523 humans at these agencies who “worked remotely” some (or all) of April 2023 reduced the carbon footprint of their combined commutes by the same amount as NOT making 16,375 round-trip flights between San Francisco and Washington DC, In just the month of April alone. 

Or to phrase it another way: canceling this telework policy and requiring those humans at these agencies to commute daily to their offices would add the same carbon emissions as a policy decision to fly 16,375 nonstop flights from San Francisco to Washington DC and back during the month of April. That’s a new round-trip flight taking off from San Francisco every three minutes — 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for the entire month. 

Setting the standard for a cleaner future

Looking at just this one aspect of the potential environmental benefits of long-term telework can help inform next steps for government agencies who are thinking about their “telework” policies post-COVID. These 118 agencies are tackling hard climate change problems by:

  • Focusing on the largest segment of emissions in the state (commuter traffic pollution according to the California Air Resource Board), then measurably reducing those emissions today by eliminating the need for staff to commute daily from home to the office and back home again.
  • Empowering staff to work effectively and securely from their homes, using modern, consumer-grade technology.
  • Automatically and publicly tracking the impact of these actions in order to make informed policy decisions for the future.

The California agencies contributing data to the live dashboard are showing admirable leadership in tracking the potential benefits of long-term telework at scale in the public sector and I get more delighted by the results as this work continues to scale. These forward-thinking policies, along with the easily digestible info on the dashboard, are a powerful combination, with timely data helping inform smarter decisions and supporting a cleaner future for the government workforce. Thank you (again) to Andrew SturmfelsAnn BaatenGary RensloStuart Drown and many many others for their continued hard work scaling this dashboard.

California’s telework dashboard wins innovation award

Telework dashboard earns California Department of General Services an “Innovation in State Government Award” from the National Association of State Chief Administrators (NASCA). This award is well deserved for many reasons, but from my perspective, the two biggest reasons are:

1) Organization vs individual: There are many ways for an individual to track the climate impact of their commute; mileage reports when buying a car, emissions impact from driving vs taking public transit, emissions impact from flights, etc. This puts all the responsibility for action onto the individual human – who may have limited choices depending on their role and the employer’s telework/”remote work” policies. California’s telework dashboard measures the climate impact of an entire organization’s commuting staff and helps inform organizational leadership on whether their organization’s “telework” / “remote work” policies are effective. As far as I know, this is the first dashboard tracking organizational-level commute savings.

2) Annual reports vs live data: Typically in government, people track progress by writing annual reports. These reports take time to write, time to proof-check for errors, time to print (on paper!) and distribute – and finally time to read. Given the weeks of work involved, writing these reports once a year is hard enough. However, these delays add up – making annual reports far less actionable. By contrast, the DGS telework dashboard uses real-world data updated each week. This live data, updated every week, helps leadership track the effectiveness of decisions made in recent weeks, and help make more informed decisions. This is a great example of measure what matters. Oh, and it’s also public.

Congrats to Andrew SturmfelsAnn BaatenGary RensloStuart Drown and many many others for all the hard work leading up to making this live tracking dashboard a reality. The award is well deserved. With any luck, the first of many awards for this innovative work!