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Dane Co. makes a pro-environment case to keep working from home

Published: Jun. 2, 2021 at 9:12 PM CDT|Updated: Jun. 2, 2021 at 10:28 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - While many prepare to head back to the office, the man who leads Dane County is suggesting an alternative idea, one that he says will help the environment and one he plans to bring to the county government as well.

Dane Co. Executive Joe Parisi said continuing to work from home will improve air quality, reduce traffic congestion and improve workplace productivity. The pandemic led to the largest decline in carbon dioxide emissions since World War II, according to a March report by the International Energy Agency.

Parisi projects that a hundred employees telecommuting three days a week is comparable to reducing the consumption of 15 thousand gallons of gasoline or driving about 340 thousand fewer miles.

Pitching the challenge to local businesses, Parisi is making plans among his own staff to continue remote working in the fall. He says up to 950 county employees could keep the pandemic practice.

“Our staff effectively developed and implemented some of the most innovative local government led COVID-19 response programs in the entire country,” Parisi said. ”If they can do that incredibly difficult work under the circumstances in which they did, I have high confidence that telecommuting is sustainable.”

Gregory Nemet, a UW-Madison professor studying innovation in climate change, said “staying home and not moving around” are not the ways to see a continued decline in emissions. The key, he said, is in applying clean technologies and digitalizing activities.

“I don’t expect that we would get the type of reduction that we saw this past year,” Nemet said, looking into next year. “But the flexibility that’s been shown and the ability to work remotely is likely to give us some improvement in the right direction.”

Dane Co. Regional Airport (MSN) told NBC15 News that it typically attracts business travelers. In April 2021, travel was about 55 percent down from the same time in 2019, before the pandemic. The airport also said travel this April was up almost 1500 percent compared to the same time in 2020, during the pandemic.

“As an academic, I have had a horrible carbon footprint,” Nemet said, “I traveled around the world researching a book about solar energy, and I traveled to a lot of different places to talk about that book.”

“I’m not going to do that anymore, one because I think the tools that we’ve developed work pretty well, at least for avoiding a large portion of those trips,” he said.

Parisi said Dane Co. departments are looking into the exact number of full-time employees who can continue to work remotely starting September, when the office is set to return.

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