14th July 2021. Work | Energy
The four day week is coming; Closing down coal
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The more I look at the work trends in the richer world, the more I conclude that we’re heading towards a four day work week, and probably sooner rather than later.
Stowe Boyd has a terrific roundup of the current trials and experiments around the world.
Spain is launching a full trial in September involving several hundred companies. It will run for three years, and the government will compensate businesses if they incur higher costs. The government’s motive isn’t productivity increases, it’s the health and wellbeing of employees.
”The four-day week has never been tested on this level,” says Héctor Tejero, political coordinator of Más País, the left-wing party that put forward the proposal. “Until now there’s only been fragmented evidence and research from different countries.” Tejero believes the benefits of shifting away from the Monday to Friday, 9-to-5 status quo could be profound and wide-ranging: improving employee wellbeing, reducing carbon emissions, increasing gender equality and raising productivity.
Meanwhile, Iceland has just concluded a large scale trial, involving 1% of the workforce, which cut working hours to 35-36 hours a week. Research on the outcomes describe it as “an overwhelming success”—which has had an effect in the workplace:
Joint analysis by think-tanks in Iceland and the UK found that the trials, which ran from 2015 to 2019 and involved more than 2,500 people, boosted productivity and wellbeing and are already leading to permanent changes.
Icelandic trade union federations, which collectively negotiate wages and conditions for most Icelandic employees, have already begun to negotiate reduced working hours as a result. The researchers estimate that as a result of new agreements struck in 2019-2021 after the trials ended, 86 per cent of Iceland's entire working population now either have reduced hours or flexibility within their contracts to reduce hours.
And at the Atlantic there’s also a long piece on company responses to the pressure for shorter working hours. As ever, progressive companies are getting the message. A national campaign has been launched in the US to promote the idea that includes the futurist Alex Pang, who has written widely on this subject:
People who work a four-day week generally report that they’re healthier, happier, and less crunched for time; their employers report that they’re more efficient and more focused. These companies’ success points to a tantalizing possibility: that the conventional approach to work and productivity is fundamentally misguided... “The idea that you can succeed as a company by working fewer hours sounds like you’re reading druidic runes or something.” But, (Pang) said, “we’ve had the productivity gains that make a four-day week possible. It’s just that they’re buried under the rubble of meetings that are too long and Slack threads that go on forever.”
I’ve been following the energy transition here, so it’s notable to see that Bangladesh has just announced that it is scrapping plans for ten coal-fired power stations.
(Coal fired power station diagram from Wikimedia Commons.)
An interesting intersection of trends have combined to lead to this decision.
One, it’s more difficult to raise finance for coal-fired power stations.
The G-7 countries in May pledged to stop fresh financing of coal-fired energy projects by the end of the year. The Asian Development Bank and Japanese banks support the move, while China informed Bangladesh in a February letter that it "shall no longer consider projects with high pollution and high energy consumption, such as coal mining and coal-fired power stations."
Two, the economics no longer stack up.
The U.S.-based Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis also chimed in, saying that "Increased reliance on expensive imported coal and LNG is a burden the Bangladesh government simply can't afford to bear going forward."
The original plan for the coal-fired stations was that they’d represent low-cost power. But those economics have changed in the long period it takes to get a power station online.
Third, diplomatic status matters:
Bangladesh's prime minister chairs the Climate Vulnerable Forum, a global body committed to achieving 100% renewable energy by 2050.
Bangladesh has enough energy for the moment, and a plan to generate 40% of its electricity from renewables by 2041. In the medium term they may adapt some of the proposed plants to liquid natural gas or other fuels.
The country hasn’t yet said that it will build no further coal-fired power stations. But it seems that it’s only a matter of time.
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