How lessons learned from teleworking could help clean Utah’s air

Teleworker Windy Aphayrath, assistant director for the Utah Division of Purchasing, works from her Herriman home on Monday, July 8, 2019. A new report called “The Way Home: The Shift to Telework and its Air Quality Ramifications” details that travel to and from work accounts for nearly one-third of all passenger vehicle miles traveled and impacts pollution levels along the Wasatch Front.

Teleworker Windy Aphayrath, assistant director for the Utah Division of Purchasing, works from her Herriman home on Monday, July 8, 2019. A new report called “The Way Home: The Shift to Telework and its Air Quality Ramifications” details that travel to and from work accounts for nearly one-third of all passenger vehicle miles traveled and impacts pollution levels along the Wasatch Front. | Scott G Winterton, Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Habits from pandemic could become permanent

SALT LAKE CITY — A new report by the Utah Foundation predicts that teleworking — to some degree — will remain in place as an option for some employees even after the COVID-19 pandemic ends, which could help Utah’s air quality.

The report found that in Utah, more than half of households had at least one person shift to remote work as a result of the pandemic, the largest increase among Intermountain states that include Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, Montana, Idaho, Wyoming and Nevada.

Commuter traffic dropped off sharply in the early stages of the coronavirus outbreak, but traffic patterns have largely returned to normal, according to the report.

The foundation did emphasize that should telework take off in a more permanent fashion, other drivers could act opportunistically by taking longer or more frequent trips, effectively shaving off some of the air pollution benefits that could result from remote work.

The opportunity for remote work could also add a layer of flexibility when it comes to where people live, with workers choosing to live in less dense areas with greater affordability when it comes to the housing stock.

Called “The Way Home: The Shift to Telework and its Air Quality Ramifications,” the report details that travel to and from work accounts for nearly one-third of all passenger vehicle miles traveled.

Utah’s commute time is the 12th briefest in the nation and teleworking, if widely embraced, has potential to shave time off commutes if there are fewer vehicles on the road.

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In 2018, the state of Utah implemented a teleworking pilot program for some of its employees, and fueled by the pandemic, 8,500 people were working remotely by April 2020.

The state found that it could improve its space utilization by as much as 30% and in one instance, the Utah Department of Health was able to save $220,000 by not having to renew a building lease.

The report said Utah could realize benefits with a targeted push for periodic remote work that coincides with periods of high pollution such as during winter inversions and ozone smog in the summer.

Sen. Daniel McKay, R-Riverton, plans to push SB15, which encourages state agencies to meet a goal of 40% of employees teleworking on certain bad air days or even as high as 70% if pollution conditions are really bad.

The measure comes with reporting requirements from state agencies related to how many of its employees are able to telework under those conditions.

The Utah Foundation report is the second installment in a series of probes that explore telework, its challenges and …read more

Source:: Deseret News – Utah News

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