When I was in first grade, the highlight of each week was Free-day Fridaya span of seven glorious hours when we got to choose whether to assemble tangrams, read Frog and Toad, or play tunnel tag. It was a simple redesign of the standard week but the benefits were far-reaching. As a tool for easing the daily grind, it's a hack we could learn from.
Among professional adults, engaging in leisure activities on a workday is called "playing hooky." Unless you are employed by the state of Utah. Just over a year ago, Utah launched an experiment, changing the government employee work schedule from five days per week to four, and increasing daily hours to ten. With a full 12-month cycle behind them, analysts were able to draw conclusions about how this system affected people, the planet, and the state's budget (also known as the triple bottom line), and it turns out that Free-day Friday is a win-win-win for grown-ups too.
According to Scientific American, by decreasing the need for lighting, janitorial services, air conditioning, heat, and electricity, Utah saved money and shrank their annual carbon footprint by over 6000 metric tons (not including the CO2 eliminated by reducing the number of commuters driving to work on Fridays, which bumps that figure up considerably). On top of all that, while the wellbeing of workers tends to be an afterthought in many sweeping employment policy changes, the 4-day workweek has left most state employees positively jubilant. With their free day they are able to enjoy more family time and relaxation, and to focus on personal health with some extra time for exercise, reducing the number of sick days they have to take during the year. A surprising number of Utah residents are also using their additional day to volunteer in their communities. Research shows that 43 percent of the state's adult population volunteers, compared to a 28 percent national average. For residents trying to complete an education while holding down a full-time job, the free Friday also affords time for study and daytime classes.
For design firms and studios looking for office-wide sustainable solutions, free-day Friday is the ultimate hack.
Sure you can put a compost bucket next to the water cooler and replace the water cooler with a water filter; you can create a paperless memo system and replace your task light bulbs with LEDs; you can set up bike storage for motivated commuters and eliminate paper coffee cups. You can even start an e-waste recycling program. And you should. But even if you hack your office into sustainable bits, the results might not compare to keeping tens of thousands (or hundreds of thousands) of people out of the office one day per week.
An article at The Oil Drum presents some hypothetical figures for the energy saved by giving all 133 million American workers a free Friday, perhaps most strikingly an estimate that we could save over 8 million barrels of crude oil for every 4-day week. The implications for human safety and lives saved through fewer traffic accidents and less exposure to pollutants should also not be overlooked. (For sixteen more compelling reasons check out the article.)
Even more significant than the money saved by the state was the money saved by individual employees when they cut 52 round-trip commutes out of their year. Like all good green solutions, the environmental upshots of this change were secondary to the positive impacts on stress levels and bank statements. As hacks go, implementing a national 4-day workweek policy is not exactly DIY, but with an extra day of freedom each week, you'll have plenty of time to scheme green solutions before Monday rolls around again.
Sarah Rich is an editor at Dwell and director of content for Dwell.com. She lives in San Francisco.