photo: Gopal Aggarwal/Creative Commons
Yesterday my fellow TreeHugger Sami posed the question 'Does Telecommuting Encourage Travel?' To which I respond, so what if it does? Travel is good. From the act of movement itself, to the experience of new places, people, cultures and ideas, travel is a good thing. Strike that. Travel is a great thing. Though often times in the green movement in the past few years we have glossed over all the benefits of global travel in our blindered focus on carbon footprint, let's not lose sight of the fact that it's not travel itself that's the problem. What isn't always so great in all this, where it all gets muddied into various shades of greyish green, is how travel is done.
No doubt about it, the environmental impact of a jet-setting lifestyle is huge. Even just taking one long-haul flight a year likely emits the same about of carbon as all the things you do in a year in the interests of the environment that lower your carbon footprint--in a narrow direct calculation at least; and I'd argue there is more to the situation than is revealed by doing so.
photo: Marc oh!/Creative Commons
Two important aspects of this as I see it:
1) There are non-carbon benefits to travel that, though they cannot be compared directly, are great and worthwhile. From traveling to support progressive action, to visit relatives, to just purposeful and life-enriching wandering, there is more to life than carbon emissions. (Yes, I said it, heresy as that may seem to some.)
2) We're not going to green aviation or other highly polluting forms of travel overnight, this year, or next--still less getting rid of them entirely in that time frame. In the meantime, actively advocating greener alternatives them, and choosing the greenest transit method available--which rightly ought to include choosing not to travel at times and reconsidering how often we travel--is a far more productive, life-affirming thing to do than retreating into our individual shells and isolating ourselves behind our laptop screens.
photo: jerseyshowaa/Creative Commons
Onto the telecommuting part... I'm not really sure telecommuting does increase travel, necessarily. I equally have no more stats on my side than Sami did in proposing the question, but intuitively there is not a direct correlation.
In the comments on Sami's post, telecommuting advocate and fellow TreeHugger Lloyd Alter writes:
Think of all those people in the UK Ryan-airing off to Spain or Brittany for the weekend, compared to the traveling teleworker who probably goes and sits on the beach for a month.
When I had an office job, every single weekend I drove either to my cabin 2.5 hours north in the summer or the ski hill 2 hours north in the winter. This summer, with an internet based job and a 3g stick in my computer, I spent 9 weeks without getting into my car and coming to the city.
Telecommuting encourages slow, responsible travel. Your office is where you are.
I mostly think Lloyd's right on. I wouldn't go so far that telecommuting necessarily creates the mindset that encourages slow and/or responsibly green travel though.
Because one can work from anywhere, provided you had the income, you could jet around the world, taking 16 long haul flights a year, just as easily as taking the proverbial low-carbon slow boat to China and proceeding across the nation by foot and bicycle on a multi-month exploration of globe and self.
What telecommuting does certainly enable though is flexibility in travel, for vacation/holiday travel, work travel, and daily travel alike.
On a daily basis, my commute consists of walking less than 30 feet to the bathroom and then back, perhaps with a few added paces to my desk. Add in a ten minute walk to get lunch and back, and that's it.
For other travel, telecommuting allows me the great flexibility to set my own schedule (worked around the various meetings and calls that are unavoidable in collaboration) and more easily choose the greenest travel option available. Though, again, if I were of a different mindset, choosing that green option wouldn't figure into the equation.
photo: Noah/Creative Commons
And for the record, since Sami encouraged it in his post, I happen to be writing this article away from my home city of New York, sitting now in a hotel lobby in San Francisco.
Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. Nos es totus crimen, tamen mutatio est possible.
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More on Green Travel:
Seven Slow Movements and Memes That Can Change Our Lives
Would Simply Slowing Down Our Travel & Shipping Help Kick Our Oil Habit?
Flying Low and Slow Reduces Greenhouse Gases
More on Telecommuting:
Telecommuting Is Green and Saves Money, But Most Employers Still Resist It
Does Telecommuting Increase Carbon Emissions?
5 Innovations to Make Telecommuting Easy & Green