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Here's how a 3-day weekend could benefit the environment

Time to change things up?

DAVID NIELD
7 SEP 2016
 

Unless you really, really love your job, you probably wouldn't complain about extending the weekend to three instead of two days, and research suggests that it might have some real benefits for the environment too.

Think about all the energy and emissions that could be saved if we were all spending one less day commuting to and from the office. And, with an extra day off, a stressed-out workforce would have more time take care of their mental health too.

 

As an example of just how considerable the savings of moving to a three-day weekend could be, in 2007, the US state of Utah extended government staff hours on Mondays through Thursdays. At the same time, they cut out working on Fridays entirely, saving US$1.8 million in energy costs in the first 10 months alone.

The idea was abandoned in 2011 after citizens complained that they couldn't access state services on a Friday, but the experiment demonstrated that with enough time to fine-tune the particulars, there's a whole lot of work-related power to be conserved.

"If employees are on the road 20 percent less, and office buildings are only powered four days a week, the energy savings and congestion savings would be enormous," lawyer John Langmaid, who investigated the possibility of three-day weekends in his own field, told Lynne Peeples at Scientific American.

Those savings could really add up over time.

As Alex Williams at Phys.org reports, economists David Rosnick and Mark Weisbrot estimate that a four-day week could have cut US carbon emissions by 3 percent between 1990 and 2002 - effectively getting the US close to reduction targets even before any other measures were added in.

And it's not just the environment that could benefit. A 2015 experiment with shorter working hours in Sweden saw improvements in employee health and productivity, with staff reported that they found themselves working more efficiently and spending less time on unnecessary emails and meetings.

 

Many experts have argued that cutting down the work week would lead to better physical and mental health for workers - longer hours have been linked to increased risk of strokes, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes - while more time to see family and friends means a better work/life balance and happier staff.

So when can we start this revolution in the working week? Well, perhaps not quite yet, because messing with the status quo and moving to a four-day working week could also introduce some problems.

Public health researcher Allard Dembe from Ohio State University has warned that compressing the same amount of work into a shorter timespan is a recipe for burnout and stress, rather than the opposite.

And, as the state of Utah discovered, the theoretical benefits don't always outweigh the actual practical downsides of not being available to customers and clients five days a week.

Ultimately, more research is still needed to determine just what the pros and cons of a three-day weekend are, both for us and the environment we live in. Or, we could just wait until robots start taking our jobs in ever greater numbers, and then we';; all have a lot more time on our hands.

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