Believe it or not, it has already been ten years since Sun Microsystems launched “Open Work,” a platform that allows Sun employees to work from almost any location –- provided that they can access the internet.
Although originally launched as a means for Sun to demonstrate its corporate vision (“The Network is the Computer”), many companies are now turning to Open Work as a model for creating energy efficiencies and job flexibility. After all, with utility and gasoline prices now at record highs, it seems that we’re all looking for ways to innovate. How can we trim energy budgets? What can we do to help cut commuting costs for employees? How can these efforts add to our overall CSR goals?
Thanks to Sun, there’s now some hard data to consider when answering questions like these. Last month, the company released results from an in-depth study that meticulously picked apart energy consumption by Open Work employees. By looking at the habits and productivity of more than 100 Open Work participants, the study was specifically designed to answer this fundamental question: Does Open Work really save energy, or does it just transfer energy cost and load to employees?
That’s a great question. And, I have to admit, it’s one that has crossed my mind more than once over the past ten years.
- Home office energy consumption rates were half of Sun office equipment energy consumption rates — approximately 64 watts per hour at a home office vs. 130 watts per hour at a Sun campus office.
- Commuting accounted for more than 98 percent of each employee’s carbon footprint for work. Compare this to less than 1.7 percent of total carbon emissions to power office equipment. (In addition, by reducing energy use from employees working in its facilities and decreasing its real estate holdings, Sun estimates that in 2007, Open Work prevented a total of 29,000 tons of CO2 from entering the atmosphere.)
- By eliminating commuting just 2.5 days per week, an employee reduces energy used for work by the equivalent of 5,400 Kilowatt hours/year. (Keep in mind that the average home uses 1,000 KWh per month in energy.)
- By working at home an average of 2.5 days a week, employees saved more than $1,700 per year in both gasoline and wear-and-tear on their vehicles.
- Working from home 2.5 days per week saved Open Work employees in the study an average of 104 hr/yr –the equivalent of 2.5 weeks (8 hours/day, 5 days/week).
At the end of Q3, 2008, Sun reported that more than 56% of its workforce (nearly 19,000 employees) were working flexibly, away from the office, at least one or two days a week, and the company says that in addition to savings on CO2 emissions, energy consumption, and transportation costs, the Open Work platform has other important, but less tangible, benefits, as well. For example, Open Work employees report a better work/life balance, greater flexibility in planning work and meetings, and less stress from commutes.
And remember how it all began… Sun launched Open Work ten years ago as a platform geared not toward climate change, but toward demonstrating a corporate vision. Turns out that Open Work is now one more example of how these days we’re looking at everything a little differently, and how the law of unexpected consequences sometimes works in our favor.