GUEST ARTICLE: An increase in teleworking will boost business productivity and reduce traffic pollution in our major cities, argues Jon Dee the Managing Director of advocacy group Do Something! and NSW Australian of the Year for 2010.
One of the key problems facing Australia’s cities today is traffic congestion and car pollution.
We’ve become a nation of commuters, but the impact that this is having on our health and economic productivity has now become to big to ignore. Despite only having 22 million inhabitants, ABS data shows that Australia currently has 16 million registered vehicles. Far too many of these vehicles are used by people who have to commute into our major cities.
From an environmental standpoint, passenger cars alone are responsible for 8% of Australia’s greenhouse emissions. Then there’s the impact that vehicles have on the air quality in our major cities.
Pollutants such as airborne particles, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and ozone can combine to cause or trigger a wide range of health and environmental problems. Respiratory tract irritation and the exacerbation of asthma and other ailments can all result from the combustion of fossil fuels.
We know that reducing the number of cars traveling into our cities will lead to a range of environmental and health benefits. But increasing the amount that we telework will also benefit us economically. Every visit to the petrol bowser reminds us that running a car is an expensive business. With the average Australian driving 14,100km a year, the cost incentive to work from home is obvious every time we fill up or pay for the running costs of our car.
The really big cost impact to Australians, however, comes with the cost of congestion.
In 2007, the Commonwealth of Australia Bureau of Transport and Regional Economics (BTRE) estimated that the annual ‘avoidable’ cost of congestion could rise from $9.5 billion in 2005 to $20.4 billion in 2020. Some would argue that this is a somewhat conservative figure.
There are other cost impacts of course. Flying to a meeting is far more expensive than doing the same meeting by video conference. Commuting and business travel can lead to a loss in productivity. When you’re stuck in a traffic jam, you’re not at your desk carrying out your normal workload. A bad commuting experience can also leave employees tired or stressed and not fully functional in the workplace.
Some of the strongest arguments in favour of teleworking are the social benefits that arise for employees and their families.
On a personal basis, I commute irregularly from the Blue Mountains to Sydney, so some days of the week I’m spending four or five hours a day in traffic. That’s four or five hours a day away from my family. The emotional and social cost of commuting can therefore be very high.
The solution of course is to work from home. That’s why the inaugural Telework Week this November is so welcome. Overseas case studies have shown that teleworking can bring about cost savings and productivity gains as well as improved workforce flexibility and staff retention. On a personal level, it reduces the stress associated with traffic congestion and increases the amount of time that people can spend with their families.
The current reality is that Australia is a broadband backwater. We have a broadband network that heavily restricts our country’s ability to embrace and adopt teleworking practices.
At the moment, when I work from home I can’t undertake high-definition multiparty videoconferencing. Using real-time collaborative business tools is restricted by a lack of available bandwidth. When it comes to the quick transfer of large files, it takes far too long. If I want to meet someone in Melbourne, I have to fly and see them. With an NBN connection, I could talk to them in high-definition video saving hundreds of dollars on each trip.
Once we have the NBN, we’ll all be able to enjoy high-bandwidth teleworking that overcomes the current restrictions that hold us back. That day can’t come soon enough. The benefits for our environment, society and economy will be significant.
Prior that that in 1991, he co-founded Planet Ark with Pat Cash to show people and businesses the ways they can reduce their impact on the environment. Through his role with Planet Ark, Jon was a driving force behind a number of ground breaking environmental campaigns. He instigated National Recycling Week, the National Recycling Hotline, and Recycling Near You which is used by over a million Australians every year. Jon co-founded National Tree Day with Olivia Newton-John, an event for which Australian volunteers have planted 15 million native trees and shrubs.
Jon Dee has led the way in showing Australia and the world how we can all change our planet for the better.