Energy savings of a holiday shutdown
By Kristina Ross
As corporate culture develops to optimize workplace innovation and productivity, one topic that comes up repeatedly is whether it's better to close the office during the holiday season. Christmas through New Year's Day is an eight-day stretch following a three-week frenzy for retail companies, while corporate businesses have pushed to meet their quarterly and annual goals.
In the days following Christmas, retailers continue to enjoy high sales thanks to vacationers, while corporate offices tend of have a lull. While it's safe to assume an eight-day paid vacation would be welcomed by employees, it may not make sense for a number of businesses. But from an environmental standpoint, how much energy could be saved if a majority of businesses closed for the holidays?
Currently, the United States is the only advanced economy in the world to not legally guarantee paid vacation time. In contrast, Spain and Germany guarantee 34 days of paid leave (holidays and vacations) per year. Despite no legal requirement, about 77 percent of U.S. private sector companies offer paid vacation time, which many employees take during this holiday season.
There are many factors to consider for a holiday shutdown, as every industry and company is affected differently by the holiday season. In order to make any estimates over how much energy would be saved by a holiday shutdown, we need to make several assumptions. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, approximately 121 million Americans are employed either part or full time. This number may be higher, as this data is from 2008, the peak of the financial crisis. With this data in mind, let's assume companies open between Christmas and New Year's with less than their usual number of employees, with many employees using some vacation time during this eight-day stretch.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, in 2012 commercial businesses used 17.5 trillion BTUs of energy, or 48 billion BTUs per day. While every energy source emits different amounts of greenhouse gasses (think coal vs. solar), if we assume it averages out to the equivalent emissions of natural gas at 117 pounds of carbon dioxide per million BTU, U.S. commercial businesses combine to emit about 5.6 million pounds of carbon dioxide per day.
Even if we assume 25 percent of these businesses can't close during this time period (grocery stores, pharmacies, etc.), the country could prevent the emissions of about 30 million pounds of carbon dioxide during this shutdown. These emissions from lighting, heating and cooling buildings and powering appliances and equipment don't even factor in the emissions that could be saved by employees not having to commute to work, especially considering that 76 percent of employees drive alone to their jobs and the average round-trip commute totals 50 minutes.
Read more about energy efficiency in office buildings:
It's clear that this holiday vacation has a favorable environmental output, even when factoring in the additional carbon emissions associated with vacationing. If closing a business is not a possibility, consider giving essential employees the opportunity to work remotely. This may be enough to keep the business running smoothly without opening the entire office.
Closing an office for a holiday vacation may hurt business during the time of the office closure, but could provide financial value over the rest of the year. Many studies have shown that increased vacation time can improve workplace productivity, which depending on the industry may outweigh the value gained during the holiday season. Contrary to what we saw with the government shutdown, the energy savings of a holiday shutdown may have some economic value.
Kristina Ross currently works as the webmaster and sustainability blogger at SaveOnEnergy.com. Her work concentrates on a healthier relationship between the environment and the people that live in it. She promotes the reduction of environmental impact through cleaner means of energy production and consumption.
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