-- It sounds, at first blush, like some "Dilbert"-ized doublespeak that, in real-life English, means massive layoffs:
Keep your employees at home, win valuable incentives.
But this deal is no shaggy Dogbert story, at least not according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (www.epa.gov
). Instead, employee telecommuting is the big dog that's driving the EPA offer. Specifically, the agency is offering pollution credits to companies in five U.S. metros that allow employees to telecommute from home.
The five affected metros selected for the EPA's National Telework and Air Quality Pilot Project are Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. In what was almost certainly no coincidence, the EPA's pilot program, backed by a Bush administration whose environmental policies have generated a firestorm of controversy, was announced at a news conference held outside the Capitol during Earth Week.
Los Angeles (above) has been selected as one of the five metros for the pilot telecommuting program. The other four metros are Denver, Houston, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.
EPA Administrator Christie Whitman (below), who has caught much of the flak for the Bush administration's environmental policies, said the pilot telecommuting program would "create a growing economy and clean environment."
Whitman: Program Promises
'Growing Economy, Clean Environment'
Advocates of telecommuting, one of the first high-profile examples of virtual work's viability, have long maintained that employees are more productive when working remotely from home. Speaking in front of the Capitol, EPA Administrator Christie Whitman seemed to embrace that logic. The pilot program would "create a growing economy and clean environment," she said.
"Reducing the amount of time workers spend in traffic is a tangible way that each and every one of us can help to improve our environment," Whitman continued. "It also strengthens families; it's good for our communities and our quality of life."
The program's potential environmental pluses were buttressed by figures from the National Environmental Policy Institute (NEPI www.nepi.org
), the Washington, D.C.-based research and advocacy group that hosted the news conference.
According to the NEPI, every 100,000 people who participate in the program would slash emissions by 2,613 tons per year. NEPI has also calculated the weekly benefits if 10 percent of the U.S. work force telecommuted one day a week: 24.4 million fewer miles (39.3 million km.) driven, 12,963 tons of air pollution eliminated, and more than 1.2 million gallons (4.5 million liters) of fuel conserved.
Online Software a Key Program Element
The Telework and Air Quality Pilot Project isn't a totally new idea. The federal government already has a program in place that awards pollution credits to U.S. power companies that reduce emissions.
What is new is extending pollution-credit incentives to the private sector. Heretofore, a private-sector program had languished because of the lack of a reliable system for measuring emissions eliminated by home telecommuting. What's now made the pilot program possible, said EPA officials, is online software developed by Teletrips.com (www.teletrips.com
Program participants will use Teletrips software to track their reductions in auto emissions from employee telecommuting. Documented reductions will translate into mobile emissions credits that companies can accumulate, trade or donate.
"What is different about this approach is that we can contribute to a better environment not by regulating behavior, but by 'incentivizing' behavior to reach community objectives," said NEPI Chairman Don Ritter. "This empowers companies to make a difference on air quality within their community."
The five pilot-project metros were selected for two reasons, according to EPA officials. First, the areas have large numbers of workers with long commutes, officials said. Second, those metros have a substantial number of businesses that lend themselves to employee telecommuting, they added.
Pilot Already Hitting Flak
The pilot program, however, has already drawn environmental activists' ire.
Ann Mesnikoff, a Washington, D.C.-based Sierra Club (www.sierraclub.org
) representative, said, "While it's fine to promote telecommuting, if you're going to sell [credits] to someone else to pollute, it doesn't really help things."
Environmental Defense Fund (www.edf.org
) officials also attacked one of the program's major assumptions. The EPA's envisioned pollution reduction targets assume that telecommuters won't use their cars at all for non-work tasks like running errands, they said.
American Business Conference (www.americanbusinessconference.org
) President Barry Rogstad contended that the program's success will depend on the financial benefits for participating firms.
Other observers, however, maintained that the program is well behind the curve. Total U.S. telecommuters have skyrocketed from 1990's 4 million to today's 23.6 million, according to the International Telework Assn. and Council (www.telecommute.org
). And EPA officials conceded that companies will receive pollution credits only for increasing
the firms sign up for the program.
The NEPI has launched a Web site (www.ecommute-nepi.org
) to provide prospective participant companies with information about the National Telework and Air Quality Pilot Project. NEPI officials say that the Web site will also be used for program participants to communicate with one another.
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