Elance Blog

Why Online Work Makes Every Day Earth Day

Anyone who works online could be the poster child for Earth Day. The green advantages of working at home, for both workers and employers, are astonishing.

The environmental benefits of using public transportation or biking to work are well known as viable alternatives to traditional passenger car commuting. Incredibly, our recent research based on Census Bureau data shows that in 5 of the largest U.S. metro areas, more employees telecommute than travel to work via public transportation, taxi, motorcycle, bike or walking. How’s that for eco-friendly commuting!

Those same online workers are saving their employers about $10,000 a year each, too, thanks to increased productivity, reduced facility costs, lower absenteeism, and reduced turnover. Those aren’t Earth Day benefits, per se, but if companies do more with less, an indirect benefit is less pollution.

Based on all the research we’ve done we estimate that, out of a workforce of 143 million, 5.9 million people consider home their primary place of work, and half of those people are self-employed.

Not everyone can work from home online, of course—bus drivers and baseball players come to mind (yes, a catcher works at home, but that doesn't count, silly). Our research shows that about 65% of jobs in the U.S. are compatible with online work. You wouldn't think that manufacturing, for example, would lend itself to online work, but manufacturers hire exactly the kind of people whose talents are available on Elance, where there are Engineering and Manufacturing professionals in addition to professionals in more traditional online areas like Web Development and Programming, Graphic Design, and Article Writing. And companies in every industry are discovering that using a 'contingent workforce' is a powerful strategy that goes way beyond just controlling their carbon footprint.

Still, not everyone wants to work at home, even if his or her job is compatible. Some parents, for example, prefer commuting to an office because they can talk with big people who use full sentences, and—for the most part—act like adults.

Anyway, with all that in mind, if the employees in the U.S. who want to, and have compatible jobs, worked at home just half the time (the current national average) they would collectively:


  • Avoid creating about 50 million tons of greenhouse gases every year, an impact similar to taking 10 million cars off the road.
  • Save more energy than all the renewable U.S. energy sources combined.
  • Reduce our dependence on Persian Gulf oil imports by 46%.

But companies benefit too, as we've said. Hiring freelancers and offering exempt and non-exempt employees flexible work options, including home-based work, offers real bottom line savings and environmental benefits. For example, Sun Microsystems (now part of Oracle) measured a savings of $3 million a year in reduced power consumption and thus pollution by giving qualified employees home-based work options.

If you’d like to see the sort of impact teleworking can have on employees, employers, and communities, you can calculate your Earth Day savings yourself using our free Telework Savings Calculator. Based on public and private data sources, you can pull statistics about the number of telecommuters in your city, county, and metro-area, and determine savings in time, gas, traffic injuries and much more.

About Tom Harnish

Tom Harnish and his wife Kate Lister founded The Telework Research Network as a consulting and research organization that specializes in making the business case for workplace flexibility. Their proprietary Telework Savings Calculator™ has been used by company and community leaders in the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. to quantify the economic, environmental, and societal potential of telecommuting and other flexwork options.

Tom and Kate have also written Undress For Success—The Truth About Making Money at Home (Wiley 2009), Finding Money—The Small Business Guide to Financing (Aerodite 2010, Wiley 1998), and The Directory of Venture Capital (Wiley 2002 and 2004).