Smarter working could help environment

Home working and flexible hours could help tackle environmental problems like carbon emissions and traffic congestion, according to champions of new work structures.

At a London summit held to kick off Work Wise Week – which mischievously runs from a Wednesday to a Tuesday – leaders from business and politics gathered to celebrate progress made in moving away from a rigid 9am to 5pm grind to the benefit of public health, society and, of course, the environment.

David Lennan, chairman of Work Wise, and organization set up to promote a raft of measures to take advantage of technological and social advances that can make life more pleasant while improving productivity, launched the conference.

“Quite simply we want to bring about a work style revolution,” he said.

“A rigid work structure is unecessary, it’s wasteful in terms of resources, damaging in terms of the environment and harmful in terms of its impacts on stress levels and general health.”

“Smart working practices can deliver huge benefits socially, environmentally and economically.”

He said the Stern report had made it clear that working practices needed to shift.

“[Stern talks] about environmental catastrophe if we don’t change our thinking and economy,” said Mr Lennan.

“Part of the answer here must be smart working practices which can substantially reduce the need to travel to work.

“It doesn’t need a mega mind to see that that means less emissions at a time when carbon neutrality is gaining increasing importance in the board room.”

The more recent Eddington report also had lessons for business, he said.

“It looked at the problems of road congestion. Road charging may be fine but changing working practices would reduce the volume of traffic providing a significant part of the answer.”

The benefits of smart working – which includes home working, working outside traditional hours, job sharing, part time posts for senior positions and a host of other ideas – are also embraced by an unusually wide number of bodies.

Those representing workers like the idea of their members receiving the ‘perks’ that flexible working entails while trade associations can see the appeal of being able to make the best use of a wider pool of talent and smart working opens up jobs to candidates who might otherwise have been unable to apply.

Mr Lennan said it was rare to see such consensus on such a big issue – and even rarer to see the CBI and TUC happily sign up to the same principles as outline by his organisation’s concordat.

Ruth Kelly, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, also addressed the conference, saying the Government wholeheartedly backed the movement.

“Through flexibility we can start to tackle some of the biggest challenges of the next ten years – our skills gap, climate change and congestion to name but a few,” she said.

“The debate over the last ten years has changed phenomenally. It started out purely as a debate about how to get women back to work. It’s moved on significantly. Now it’s about how to exploit the talent to the maximum potential.

“We were warned it would cost jobs and damage the economy but now flexible working has been embraced – everyone wants it.”

Sam Bond

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