Almost everyone enjoys a bank holiday. A three-day weekend means more time to spend with family and friends, to go out and explore the world, and to relax from the pressures of working life. Imagine if, rather than a few times a year, we had a three-day weekend every week. This isn’t just a nice idea. Beyond the possibilities for leisure, three-day weekends might also be one of the easiest steps we could take to radically reduce our environmental impact – and future-proof our economy.
A reduction in working hours generally correlates with marked reductions in energy consumption, as economists David Rosnick and Mark Weisbrot have argued. In fact, if Americans simply followed European levels of working hours, for example, they would see an estimated 20% reduction in energy use – and hence in carbon emissions.
With a four-day week, huge amounts of commuting to and from work could be avoided, as well as the energy outputs from running workplaces. At a point when we need to massively cut back our carbon outputs, instituting a three-day weekend could be the simplest and most elegant way to make our economy more environmentally friendly.
Time off to relax could help save the environment. Oneinchpunch/Shutterstock
It’s happened before. For example, in 2007 the US state of Utah redefined the working week for state employees, with extended hours on Monday to Thursday meaning it could eliminate Fridays entirely. In its first ten months, the move saved the state at least US$1.8m (£1.36m) in energy costs. Fewer working days meant less office lighting, less air conditioning and less time spent running computers and other equipment – all without even reducing the total number of hours worked.
For one day a week, thousands of commuters were able to stay at home. If the reductions in their greenhouse gas emissions from travel were included, the state estimated a saving of more than 12,000 tons of CO2 each year.
Utah abandoned the experiment in 2011 after residents complained they were unable to access services on Fridays. It seems this sort of change has to be accompanied by a shift in our expectations so that Friday becomes a “third weekend” rather than simply a weekday without work. What Utah does show is that, replicated across an entire country, a four day week would see substantial progress towards an economy that does less damage to the environment.