Which work environment is the bigger energy saver?

commute.jpg Ladies (adies, adies) and gentlemen (entlemen, entlemen), hold on to your seats! Because this Tuesday (uesday, uesday), RecycleNation is pleased to bring you the Internet’s most brutal statistic-based challenge ever! 

A no-holds-barred grudge match between long-time champion Driving to Work, and the up-and-coming young challenger, Sitting on Your Butt at Home! Exclusively on pay-per-view for only – wait, what? We’re not charging for this? How are you gonna pay me? Ridiculous. I’ll be in my trailer (ailer, ailer). 

And by trailer, I mean office. And by office, I mean house. And by house, I mean on my couch where I may or may not be wearing a luchador mask as I write this. Which I can do if I wanna, because I’m working from home. 

See, that’s the best part of being a freelance writer. I don’t have to leave the house all day if I don’t feel like it. Plus, if I tried to drive to the corporate office in Fresno every day, I’d be about 23 hours late. And the traffic! 

Of course, I do also have a day job. It’s not in California. It’s actually much closer, but it still takes 30 minutes to get there. So, I was thinking today during my first hour of commuting time this week, “How much damage am I doing here? How much harm am I causing the environment by driving alone to work?” 

The answer, after this commercial break.

Round 1: Emissions

Commuting: Woah. That was quick. Turns out we don’t have commercials, either. I really don’t know how I’m getting paid for this… 

While accounting tries to figure out where my check is coming from, let’s talk about how much carbon I spew into everyone’s air while I’m driving. My car is 10 years old. It runs pretty well (knock on wood), but a hybrid it ain’t. 

It gets about 27 miles to the gallon on the highway, and it’s a 61 mile round trip. So, in a typical day, I use 2 ¼ gallons of gas. At 19.42 pounds of CO2 per gallon, that’s a 44-pound carbon trail dragging behind me. Gross. 

Telecommuting: Um… none? 

Points: 
Sitting on Your Butt: 1 
Driving: 0

Round 2: Energy consumption

Okay, so accounting is unbelievable. They can’t even find my contract. I keep telling them it should be the only napkin they have in the file. Whatever. While my lawyer is on his way, let’s do round two. 

What were we talking about? Energy consumption. Right.

Commuting: Let’s assume you work in an office, because otherwise your job is probably a little too hands-on to telecommute anyway. And extending from that assumption, we’ll say you have a comparable model of computer at both places, so the energy those two use cancels each other out. 

But what about the other stuff? Like the giant air conditioners that keep everyone at the office cool? Or the smaller air conditioner that keeps the ice from melting in my tea? Or our respective kitchens, lights, vacuums and motorized doors that pull back only when you wave at them like a Jedi? 

All of those things cost energy that may or may not be used if you’re not there. For instance, of the 146 million people with jobs in the U.S., roughly 51 million (about 35 percent) work in office settings. In 2003, there were about 826,000 office buildings. Adjusted for inflation, that’s about a million buildings today. So, on average, there are 51 people per office building, and each person homesteads on about 292 square feet of floor space.

What that all boils down to is that office buildings are crowded. And, as the carpoolers among us will be happy to tell you (seriously, don’t get them started), packing more people into the same space reduces the average energy consumption per person. 

Office buildings use a little over 800 trillion BTU of energy each year. That makes it about 16 million BTUs per person. But let’s say that you lived at your office 24/7. You’d consume about three times as much energy as in your 8-hour workday, or 48 million BTU.

Telecommuting: But what about at your house? There are five people in my 2100 square-foot house. So, each of us get 420 square feet to call our own. So, slightly less crowded, so we’d expect to see higher energy use. 

We’d be right. Even though we have more floor space each, we still want to keep that space cool, which requires more energy. On average, residential energy use is about 70 million BTU per person. So, moving into my office might save a little energy. 

Points: 
Sitting on Your Butt: 1 
Driving: 1

Round 3: Totals

Okay, so my lawyer sided with accounting. Apparently, napkins aren’t legally binding in America. Land of the free, indeed… But, since I’ve come this far already, I may as well finish and see if I can trade the article for food somewhere. 

We’re neck and neck. Each competitor has one point, so it’s going to come down to total energy consumption. For that, we have to convert the gas I use getting to work into BTU. One gallon of gas is equivalent to 114000 BTU, so my 2 ¼ gallons comes out to 280989 BTU. Per day. 

For an average work year of 260 days, that’s 73 million BTU. I use more energy during my 60 minutes of commuting than I do living in my house all year long.

Post-match Report

Well, that’s it for me, folks. 

I mean it. After the things I said to accounting, and to the nice security guards who escorted me to my car, I may never work in this town again. But, thanks to this installment of Epic Energy Showdown, I’m pretty sure I can telecommute and save some money on gas. 

I promised you brutal, and that was a pretty clear victory for Sitting on Your Butt on home, which I’ll be doing a lot of. I’m gonna go practice. 

How much time, gas and money do you save by telecommuting? Sing the praises of Sitting on Your Butt in the comments below, and don’t forget to share!