Maine government workers have reduced their car travel by 1 million vehicle miles a week since the start of the pandemic, thanks to the rapid, wholesale adoption of telework policies.
The preliminary data are opening an unexpected window on the future of telecommuting and its potential to deliver substantial reductions in global warming pollution.
Last year, before anyone heard of COVID-19, Maine’s Legislature authorized a comprehensive analysis of telework’s potential costs and benefits for state government and its employees. But as the research project got underway, the pandemic hit, and by April of this year some 85 percent of the state government’s workforce — excepting public safety positions — was suddenly working from home.
In a research update to state lawmakers, Commissioner of Administration and Financial Services Kirsten Figueroa says that dropped the number of vehicle miles state workers drove by more than a million miles each week. In the 30 weeks since, the state workforce saved an estimated 32 million miles worth of road time compared to the previous year.
“I would say this is seismic,” says state Rep. Seth Berry, who co-chairs the Legislature’s Committee on Energy, Utilities and Technology, and was the original sponsor of telework study legislation.
As Berry notes, the pandemic forced a previously unimaginable experiment in the rapid adoption of telecommuting policies and practices. And he says it proves that telework holds big potential for reducing tailpipe emissions of carbon dioxide and other pollutants that contribute to global warming.
“The state of Maine’s climate emissions, 54 percent of them come from transportation, and if a large employer like the state of Maine can shift to 85 percent telework, that’s massive,” he says.
The state’s memo estimated that CO2 emissions went down by 233,000 pounds a week as a result of the work-at-home effort. That means some 7 million pounds of CO2 emissions were averted since April.
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