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Flexible Work

By John Addison (12/26/07). Great organizations are improving employee productivity, increasing retention of key people, and often saving millions of dollars annually. We admire corporations that contribute to the triple bottom line: people, profits, and planet. Flexible work and flexible transportation programs are enabling great employers to achieve all three.

In the Oil and Coal Age, everyone drove solo during gridlock hours to their one work location to toil over their designated machine. Now people are most effective working some days at one location, other times at home, others at a customer or supplier location. We are becoming increasingly flexible and mobile. We can take advantage of the new flexible workplace solutions to annually save hundreds of wasted hours, thousands of gallons of wasted gas, and pocket thousands of dollars.

Currently, over 2,500 Applied Materials employees participate in Applied Anywhere, a comprehensive flexible work location program.

The semiconductor chips in your computers, electronic games, solar panels, and mobile devices are likely to be made with equipment from Applied Materials. Their flexible work location program, Applied Anywhere, addresses their global business environment and provides agility to be closer to the customer as well as supporting the needs of many employees who perform some or their entire job outside the traditional office place. Applied Anywhere supports eligible employees that at different times may need to work from one of several corporate offices, at home, at an airport, or at a customer site.

Ann Zis, a Senior Program Manager for Applied, explained that the program has made global teams more effective, reduced commute hours, increased productivity, and saved gas miles.

The new workforce is mobile; at times working at their office, other times at home, other times at a customer site. Effective mobile working often requires wireless services, Internet services, IP telephony, security, laptops, and a variety of mobile devices. Hundreds of technology companies are benefiting from mobile work include Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Sun Microsystems, Cisco, Nokia, Google, Yahoo, and Symantec.

Flexible work allows millions to travel less. Flexible transportation can enable most employees to save money and fuel when they do travel. 93% of all U.S. car trips are with only one person in the vehicle. The picture is better with work related travel. 12% share rides and 5% use public transit.

Your employer may pay you $1,380 per year, tax free, to use flexible transportation. The IRS allows ridesharing, public transit, and other creative commute options to be reimbursed up to $115 per month tax free in 2008, increased from $110 in 2007. Check-out the commute programs offered by your employer. Investigate regional transit and ridesharing programs. You could save a bundle.

37% of Yahoo! headquarters employees get to work without driving solo, reported Danielle Bricker with Yahoo during my interview with her. Yahoo’s Commute Alternatives Program is comprehensive, popular, and getting results.

As one of two dedicated Commute Coordinators at Yahoo, Danielle practices what she preaches. For four years, she has commuted 90-miles daily without owning a car. She commutes by train, walking to the station at one end, and boarding a Yahoo shuttle for the last mile to work. Living in San Francisco, Daniel will occasionally use CityCarShare to travel a distance at night, or when shopping at multiple locations requires carrying heavier loads.

Yahoo provides employees with free Eco-Passes for bus and light rail on VTA, the area’s rapid transit provider. Employees may also order online discounted passes for other public transit providers. Yahoo has achieved high ridership on public buses, light rail and trains by providing shuttle buses to take its employees to and from major transit stops such as Caltrain and Amtrak. Several full-size contracted buses transport employees to and from their homes in San Francisco.

These buses run on B20 biodiesel. Yahoo further reduces its carbon foot print by using locally grown food for 40% of its cafeteria meals. Cafeteria waste is used for biodiesel production.

Yahoo makes it easy for people to ride together. Yahoo has an intranet site where people can locate other employees near their homes for carpooling. There are special events, education, lunch-and-learns, and weekly education to encourage the growing use of Yahoo’s Commute Alternatives Program. These people use Yahoo!Groups to communicate and stay informed. Some car pools, such as those in Santa Cruz, merged into van pools with one van carrying 15 people. The Santa Cruz van provided by Enterprise includes wi-fi, allowing people to email, Yahoo Message, and create when crawling in stop-and-go traffic.

A number of highways used by ride sharers have high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes, allowing car and van poolers to fly by solo drivers stuck in traffic.

Yahoo encourages the use of a zero-emission vehicle owned by one billion people on this planet – the bicycle. Yahoo provides bicyclers with secure storage of their bikes. Free lockers and showers are available. To help people quickly navigate Yahoo’s campus of buildings, loaner bikes are also available.
Many of the Yahoo commuters are able to get extra work done using laptops and other mobile devices while commuting on transit.

Yahoo’s results are impressive, considering that Silicon Valley workers live widely dispersed; many are forced to live miles from Silicon Valley so that they can live in affordable housing. Technologists work long and irregular hours, which makes ridesharing more challenging. Many Silicon Valley locations provide a long and uncomfortable walk in the dark to public transit.

Yahoo addresses these problems in a number of ways. One is that it provides a guaranteed ride home. Yahoo will pay for a late worker’s taxi or rental car. Commute program managers agree that a guaranteed ride home is critical to a commute program’s success. All agreed that employees rarely use the guarantee, making the cost minimal.

Yahoo rewards – employees who come to work without driving alone are rewarded with free lunches, movie tickets and massages. For her tireless work in making the program a success, Danielle Bricker was nominated by fellow employees for one of Yahoo’s most prestigious awards. Out of 14,000 employees, she was recognized with the Super Star Award.

Yahoo’s flexible transportation programs reflect the organization’s commitment to make a difference. Yahoo! is carbon neutral by offsetting its 250,000 metric ton carbon footprint (from 2006) through hydropower in rural Brazil and wind turbines in India.

Each month, a growing wealth of information and solutions to the global warming problem are available to Yahoo’s 500 million users at Yahoo Green.

By taking a carbon neutral approach, Yahoo goes beyond a simple commute program. Yahoo looks for ways to eliminate unnecessary employee trips. Yahoo’s high-tech flexible work allows people to work at home and other locations when appropriate. Employees manage their own work hours, allowing them to avoid the crawl of gridlock hours. When at Yahoo headquarters, employees can take advantage of on-site services to avoid running errands and traveling off-site for meals. Yahoo succeeds in the triple bottom line of people, profits, and planet.

Effective organizations have gone far beyond having a few employees telecommute. Flexible work is created so that all unnecessary travel is eliminated. Global teams of employees, partners, and customers use the new Internet to effectively work together without always being together in the same building. Solo gridlock commutes are replaced with more healthy and productive travel where mobile work can be done while ride sharing and using public transportation.

Flexible work and flexible travel are greatly helping people to be more productive, save money, and help us achieve energy independence.

Copyright © 2007 John Addison. This article is part of John Addison’s upcoming book, Save Gas, Save the Planet. John Addison publishes the Clean Fleet Report

Is Microsoft Vista Global Warming Friendly?

Is Microsoft Vista global warming friendly? Could Vista be the best selling cleantech product in the world? I was thinking about this question the other day, and started emailing the Microsoft (Nasdaq:MSFT) press relations folks looking for an answer.

The Microsoft answer – yes it is. They have a recent release entitled “Windows Vista Power Management Features Can Help UK Companies Reduce Their Carbon Footprint” on some independent research they had done by PC Pro Labs in the UK.

Here’s their quote:

“Windows Vista is Microsoft’s most energy efficient operating system to date with its power management system, functionality, reliability and default settings focused on helping to reduce overall PC energy consumption. The key areas where the Sleep mode in Windows Vista has been improved compared to the equivalent Standby mode in Windows XP include:

• Enter Sleep mode after being inactive for 60 minutes
• In Windows Vista, it is much easier for users to change the power management settings themselves
• The Sleep mode is more reliable than Windows XP’s Standby mode, both in terms of entering the mode and safely resuming back into Windows
• Windows Vista is much quicker at resuming from Sleep, now taking two to three seconds compared to five seconds for Windows XP”

They also published a whitepaper entitled “Windows Vista Energy Conservation“. Reading through it all, Vista does seem to be an energy efficiency masterpiece.

But I wonder – the description of these tests seemed to quite fairly compare the XP and Vista operating systems running through a series of different scenarios – but it’s not a survey of real world conditions.

So I’m probably convinced that if you run the same computer post-Vista the exact same way you ran it on XP, that you’d use less power. Vista itself may actually BE the best selling cleantech product in the world. But in the real world, we don’t work that way. Each year we add a whole lot of new features and programs that suck down power, and buy more powerful PCs to run them on with every upgrade. And part of the promise of Vista is to enable even more such goodies – possibly offsetting the energy savings.

So are Windows users who have upgraded to Vista running the same programs in the same way, and the same (or more energy efficient PCs) and therefore using less power? Or are they actually using more or different features, or on a more powerful energy hog PC, and despite Microsoft’s energy efficiency efforts, using more power on a daily basis anyway after the upgrade? That might not be something Microsoft could control – but I’m sure curious as to the answer from a carbon standpoint.

As a matter of full disclosure, I run XP at the office, Vista at home, own a small amount of Microsoft stock (and am a very big fan) and have a very bad habit of leaving my computer and monitor on – but I’m working on that.

Neal Dikeman is a founding partner at Jane Capital Partners LLC, a boutique merchant bank advising strategic investors and startups in cleantech. He is founding contributor of Cleantech Blog, a Contributing Author for Inside Greentech, and a Contributing Editor to Alt Energy Stocks, and a blogger for CNET’s Green tech blog.

Blogroll Review: Flash, Reforestation, ED

by Frank Ling

Memory Revolution

Here’s another example of nanotechnology contributing to energy efficiency. Through improved ability to manufacture memory, flash is starting to replace traditional hard drive applications.

Hank Green at EcoGeek writes:

“There’s a lot of reasons to herald the dawn of flash-based hard drives. They’re faster, smaller, silent and, of course, tremendously more energy efficient. The difference between a traditional hard drive and a flash drive is roughly the difference between an incandescent light and a compact fluorescent light.”

Still, isn’t the brain the most energy efficient means of storing information or is it DNA?

Forest Better than Biofuels?

Just as biofuels are becoming accepted, more evidence is coming in that their overall effects on emissions and the environment is negative. One recent study shows that reforestation is much more effective at offsetting CO2 than biofuel production.

Jeremy Elton Jacquot writes in Treehuggger:

“Renton Righelato of the World Land Trust and Dominick Spracklen of the University of Leeds estimhttp://www.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gifated that the initial cutting down of forests to plant more food crops, like corn and sugarcane, would release as much as 100 – 200 tons of carbon per hectare. “

Endocrine Disruption

Back when I was a chemist, I used to play around with exotic compounds like phthalates, which are used in plastics and cosmetics. Though touted as safe in commercial products, they are also recognized as being absorbed into humans, causing endocrine disruptions.

In this week’s Gristmill, Theo Colborn writes:

“Endocrine disruption should be right at the top of the list of most critical technological disasters facing the world today, up with climate change. With little notice, vast volumes and combinations of synthetic chemicals have settled in every environment in the world, including the womb environment.”

No more sniffing chemicals for me! :)

Frank Ling is a postdoctoral fellow at the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory (RAEL) at UC Berkeley. He is also a producer of the Berkeley Groks Science Show.