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Environment

New 28-Hour Work Week in Germany Is Great for the Environment

An estimated 2.3 million Germans are eligible for a 28-hour work week next year after the industrial union IG Metall won concessions from major employers throughout the country, according to CNN.

The deal covers metal and engineering workers who will be able to take advantage of this opportunity for up to two years, according to the Independent.

However, the change could be the beginning of a much longer-term and broader victory for workers throughout the country, CNN reports, as unions take advantage of low unemployment and stable economic growth.

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Further, as efficiency and automation accelerate throughout Germany, shorter work weeks could be a solution to future job insecurity and job deficits, CNN notes.

"You can expect similar deals to come in other sectors and regions soon," Famke Krumbmüller, a partner at OpenCitiz, a political risk consultancy, told CNN.

All the workers eligible for this benefit are probably sighing with relief as they approach a better work-life balance.

But they’re not the only ones who will benefit from a less stressful existence.

So will the Earth.

Read More: What Is Earth Overshoot Day and Why Should You Be Very Concerned?

That’s because shorter work weeks put less strain on the environment. If similar working conditions were adopted globally, then major environmental challenges like climate change could be mitigated, according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

Conventional working conditions are inefficient and harmful to the planet in multiple ways.  

First, they force people to commute long distances every day, which leads to enormous greenhouse gas emissions, according to Grist. US citizens alone spend 30 billion hours a year going to and from work, and most of them are driving gas-powered vehicles.

All across the world, cities and countries are deciding to phase out cars to reduce air pollution and mitigate climate change.

One easy way to limit car use is to reduce the work week.

Read More: Paris and Pittsburgh Don’t Want Their Citizens to Own Cars Anymore

Another reason why standard work weeks are inefficient is because workplaces consume huge amounts of energy for lights, computers, air conditioning, heating, and more.

All throughout the world, the majority of electricity is supplied through fossil fuels, which generate greenhouse gas emissions and drive climate change.  

Reducing work weeks by 10% could simultaneously reduce carbon emissions by 15%, according to the sociologist Juliet Shor.  

There would be cost-savings as well.

When Utah experimented with slashing the work week to four days for government workers, they saved $1.8 million in 10 months from lower electricity costs.  

Finally, humans are consuming an unsustainable amount of raw materials. In 2010, for example, more than 70 billion tons of raw materials were used, compared to 22 billion tons in 1970.

Read More: These Are 6 of the Most Exploited Resources on Earth

As the human population grows and more people demand middle class living standards, resource consumption will only continue to grow.

One way to constrain energy consumption is to limit work weeks because offices, factories, farms, and more are major consumers of raw materials, from wood to oil to water.

The shift to 28 hours in Germany is limited and temporary, but it reimagines what working in the 21st century can look like. And it makes it possible for similar victories to be achieved elsewhere.

Global Citizen campaigns on environmental sustainability and you can take action on this issue here.