Monday, November 23, 2009

SUN's Virtually Carbon Free Commute

What’s the largest component of your employee’s footprint? At SUN Microsystems, commuting contributes more than 90%.
SUN’s approach to a greener commute is telework enabled by its Open Work product.

Using more conservative figures compiled by the EPA, commuting still generates more than 80% for the average office worker’s total carbon emissions. [Note 1] This dramatic contribution should focus all employers and employees on making our commutes greener.

Recently I met with Ann Bamesberger, Sun Vice President of Open Work Services and her team to learn how SUN has achieved one of the highest rates of telework adoption. 56% of SUN's workforce is working away from the office at least one or two days a week. 

The Opportunity – From Here to Jupiter

The typical US employee’s commute generates 26 pounds of CO2 and consumes 1.3 gallons of gas each day. If that typical employee were to telework 2 days per week, more than a ton of CO2 could be eliminated and 115 gallons of gas saved annually. If telework is expanded more broadly the impact will be enormous. For example, if 25% of the drive alone commuters teleworked two days per week, then the US would be able to stop 78 billion pounds of CO2 emissions and save 3 billion gallons of gas. On any given workday, the US could save enough gas to drive from the earth to Jupiter. [Note 2]

Green Grows Green
The other benefits to SUN include:

Reduced expenses. Open Work is credited for saving $70M annually due to reduced real estate and associated expenses. Specifically 30% less cost for each flexible worker (combination of in-office and telework).

Improved retention. Employees appreciate the time and financial savings with telework. 82% of its employees said they would recommend Sun because Its flexible work environment and attracting top talent.

Increased productivity. Of the time savings realized with the reduced commute, studies showed that a high percentage of the time saved is given back to the company in extra work by the employee. Telework also provides a great environment for focused heads-down work. This type of technology helps more than workers at home. The tools also support cross team collaboration at a client or remote office. Finally, these tools allow company to be prepared for disasters that make the office location unavailable.

Tools Plus New Approach to Work
To enable telework, specific tools are critical. Thankfully SUN and others have provided mature technology to facilitate remote communications and access to corporate resources. Open Work is the branded technology that SUN developed and refined over a decade. As Ann Bamesberger described, “Open Work enables a workstyle that emphasizes mobility and online collaboration and embodies Sun's vision of The Network Is the Computer.” But technology alone will not guarantee success, a different approach to work is required.

Telework for those of us still working in a traditional office environment is likely to require some adjustments. But those adjustments will enhance the work whether performed remotely or elbow-to-elbow. As Ann Bamesberger pithily observed, “Open work can shed light on poor management practices, such as managing by line of sight.  It takes leadership and a results focus, both of which engender trust, to do it well.” 

Managing by objectives
We all manage by objectives to some extent, yet sometimes we can be lulled by a false sense of control by observing. Most of us have experienced that teams were very busy yet still failing to meet schedules. Divorcing oneself from observing the level of effort, would force focus on the objectives objectively. Ann Bamesberger described the transition, “Open Work grew because it was endorsed and supported from the top. When we first started over 15 years ago, SUN provided training for both manager and employee to effectively transition to result-based work management — and online training is always available for both managers, new hires, and employees. It is now entrenched in how we work.”

What’s Next
SUN is not just focused on telework to enhance productivity and sustainability. Recently they have invested a great deal of effort in making the office more productive for local and remote collaboration. Like many companies, SUN’s facilities are configured with high-walled individual cubicles or offices that support heads-down work, but did little to engender spontaneous collaboration. The have developed a physical work environment that achieves what may be considered two opposing goals --- privacy for heads-down work and openness for collaboration. They have also paid special attention to technology to make remote colleagues a part of the day-to-day working team including a telepresence tool.

As Ann Bamesberger shared, “Everyone at Sun is an Open Worker. The program is not about working from home or working from the office. It’s about having the tools to work wherever skills and knowledge can be most effectively deployed.”

Related Posts
There are other methods to reduce impact of the commute including, encouraging employees to use public transportation or carpool. Some companies have also provided bus services or subsidized a van for a vanpool.

SUN's Open Work

Note 1: 90% of SUN office worker footprint is due to the commute.
  • SUN’s sample group drove 45 miles round trip
  • 4,000 watts per day for equipment, lighting and HVAC.
  • SUN’s detailed measurement and analysis, provides a useful methodology for estimating the footprint of workers in general. The examples provided in this post were more conservative and used EPA statistics:
  • 32 miles roundtrip at 24 mpg
Note 2: Reduction GHG emissions 
  • SUN in its study also found that there was a reduction in energy used for office equipment and HVAC.  These savings were not included. 
  • 105 million drive alone commuters
  • 9.6 million barrels of oil imported daily to US
  • 20 gallons of gasoline per barrel of oil
  • Three billion gallons requires 150 million barrels of oil or almost 5% of our oil imports.
  • 365 million miles to Jupiter requires 15 million gallons of gas or the average daily amount that could be saved by telecommuting 2 days per week.

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