Going Green: Can Home Working Save the World?

…asked Pete James in a 2008 report for the Smith Institute.

I recently saw Pete James speak in the ‘Making the move to Green‘ session at the JISC Conference (mentioned in my last blog post.) Pete has been a key player in the SusteIT project which has provided the JISC Managing Sustainable ICT in Further and Higher Education report.

The project looked at many aspects of IT provision in Higher Education and proposed changes to make them more environmentally friendly. The main research put forward some shocking figures, for example ICT accounts for 2% of global carbon emissions and HE generates over 500,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions per year. In his talk Pete James explained that this year over 25 new regulations have come in for HE to follow with regard to carbon emissions- these are intending to take us towards the government target of 80% reduction of 1990 levels by 2050.

Wind farm in France
When it comes to HE reducing carbon emissions remote working figures quite highly on the list. In the LIW project I mentioned earlier this week a carbon saving amount can be deduced for each home worker. Encouraging distance learning is also there as an carbon footprint reducer. One study actually found that distance learning courses actually produce 90% fewer carbon dioxide emissions than campus-based courses. Some of these issues are explored in more detail on the JISC Green ICT blog.

We are lucky enough to have an environmental champion at UKOLN and the University of Bath itself has done really well at reducing energy consumption (it has gone down by seven per cent in the last two years).
I’ve actually been giving some thought of late to having my own green policy for working at home. I’ll post what I’ve got so far later in the week.

Location Independent Working

This week I popped up to Edinburgh for the JISC Conference. The conference is an opportunity for JISC to showcase many of their projects and an opportunity for us working in the UK Higher Education sector to find out what other institutions are working on.

During the ‘Making the move to Green‘ session I heard David Morris, Professor of Business Education from the University of Coventry talking about the Location Independent Working (LIW) project. The project, which has recently finished, was part of the Institutional Innovation Programme and in Morris’ own words both an attempt to “legitimise home working” and investigate further the proposition that “it’s not about where you work, it’s what you so that counts“. There is a good write up in the Times Higher.

The project took 40 members of staff and offered them an equipment toolkit, training and a LIW handbook which would allow them to work in locations other than their office. There was also a support blog. It then measured the affects this arrangement had on a number of factors including health, work-life balance, communication etc.

I think the project, although interesting, is not necessarily revolutionary and the measured outcomes at the end were not surprising. What it does show is the interest the Higher Education sector has in further exploring the arena of remote working. Remote working has the potential to get HE out of a sticky mess when it comes to space and environmental drivers.

Morris alluded to the fact that there are still many potential areas of further research. One of these touches on a question that many remote workers ask themselves (primarily for financial reasons) – Am I using more heating and electricity here at home than I would if I were in the office? I’m going to be watching the LIW blog with interest.