Working shorter hours may save the environment. This recommendation from the UN International Resource Panel’s most recent report, published on July 20, made headlines around the world. Academic research and experts back it up.
“Reducing average hours of work can reduce a country’s ecological impacts, including its demand for energy and material resources, as well as emission of pollutants. International organizations such as UNEP are beginning to pay attention to that evidence,” says Anders Hayden, an assistant professor at Dalhousie University and author of a book on work time, consumption, and ecology.
The UN report notes that the amount of raw materials extracted from the Earth has tripled over the last 40 years, and that if the current trends continue by 2050, the planet will need 180 billion tons of material every year. This will consequently intensify climate change and pollution and exhaust the Earth’s natural resources. Working shorter hours will presumably help limit the expansion of economic output, which will in turn help reduce demand for energy and other material resources.
One shortcoming with this solution is that it only affects affluent nations. “It could have indirect benefits for lower-income countries by helping to reduce the global resource demands and environmental impacts of the affluent, leaving more ‘ecological space’ for increased output and poverty reduction in the global South,” explains Hayden.