Telecommuting and CSR: A New Law to Pass in the San Francisco Bay Area

Telecommuting and CSRBy Michael Gutman 

Offering commuter benefits is a great way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and differentiate a company’s CSR program from its competitors.

However, companies in the San Francisco Bay Area will have to find new ways to rise above the competition and expand their CSR programs, because the commuter benefit playing field is about to be leveled.

Approved Senate bill SB 1339 will require all Bay Area companies that employ more than 50 people to offer commuter benefits.

What is so interesting about this law is that they are including telecommuting as one of the benefits employers can offer to comply with the legislation.

I interviewed David Burch, principal environmental planner at the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD), and he stated that if employers want to take advantage of the telecommuting option, it “will likely include requirements that a certain percent of the employer’s workforce be eligible to telecommute.”

The social and environmental benefits of telecommuting are numerous, but for some reason, they often get left out of corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs and reports. As head of customer development for Sqwiggle, a cloud-based office application that enables people to work from anywhere, I am not sure why.

After interviewing our customers who telecommute, they report being happier and healthier.  They also spend less money on office supplies and spend much less time stuck in a car commuting and polluting. These are tangible benefits that can be documented and reported on in a CSR report, but often aren’t.

According to Burch, “Employees who telecommute on a regular basis can significantly reduce their commute trips to the worksite.  Studies have found that telecommuting can reduce commute trips by as much 40 percent at employers with comprehensive telecommuting programs.”

A 40 percent reduction in driving means a 40 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.  My hope is that this makes folks think twice about the benefits of telecommuting and how it relates to CSR.

Burch lays out some more of the benefits of SB 1339 here:

“The Air District and MTC anticipate a number of benefits to employers, employees and the Bay Area as a whole, as a result of the program.

“Air quality: Transportation is the largest source of air pollution in the Bay Area.  The goal of the Commuter Benefits Program is to reduce motor vehicle travel, which will help to reduce air pollution that adversely impacts public health.

“Climate protection: By reducing emissions of greenhouse gases, the program would help to protect the climate and achieve state and regional greenhouse gas reduction targets.

“Financial savings: Employers and employees may both experience financial savings as a result of the program.  The potential savings to employers depends in large part on which option the employer chooses to provide to its employees.”

The core motive behind SB 1339 is to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  This means that all companies that did not consider the environment will be forced to, and whether they like it or not, they will have made the first step towards creating a CSR program.  Pretty cool.  Those who have existing CSR programs can just lump this new benefit into their mix of initiatives

Although I feel telecommuting is the most interesting piece of this puzzle, here is a rundown of all the options employers can choose from when complying with this law.  Telecommuting falls under the fourth option.

  1. Pre-Tax Option: Allow employees to pay for their transit or vanpooling costs with pre-tax dollars;
  2. Employer Provided Subsidy: A transit or vanpool subsidy to reduce or cover employees monthly transit or vanpool costs;
  3. Employer Provided Transportation: A free or low-cost bus, shuttle or vanpool service for employees;
  4. Alternative Commuter Benefit: An alternative method that would be as effective as the other options in reducing drive alone vehicle trips (and/or vehicle emissions).

Conclusion:  This law will validate the great CSR work that industry leaders are already practicing and force the laggards to catch up.  Sure, there will be some administrative hoops employers will need to jump through to comply.  However, the end result will be happier, healthier employees who pollute less…  And that is something to write home (or tweet) about.

Michael Gutman is the Founder and CEO of REACH The Future, a San Francisco-based social enterprise that supplements businesses’ CSR efforts with community and environmental stewardship. 

Currently, Michael is Head of Customer Development at Sqwiggle.  Sqwiggle is a cloud based office application that helps remote and distributed teams connect to each other from anywhere in the world.  He is a telecommuting evangelist and aims to help others commute less, pollute less and have more freedom to live life to its fullest.

Image is thanks to Tom Moore at Sqwiggle who was telecommuting in NYC when he took the photo – Thanks Tom.

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