UTAH (ABC4) – Working from home, or remote work as it is also known, became a necessity for many at the onset of the pandemic.
It didn’t take long for air quality researchers to notice the difference it made to have fewer vehicles on the road, commuting back and forth to their place of employment. It makes sense considering that 40 percent of all harmful emissions put into the air along the Wasatch Front are due to commuter traffic, according to the Utah Division of Air Quality (DAQ).
The Division’s Director, Bryce Bird, says that at the onset of the pandemic the increase in air quality was “very evident.”
Eventually, as life came to open up near the end of 2020 and into 2021, the air quality dipped back closer to its original levels. Still, by the end of 2020, the emissions total had subsided by 15% from the year before.
While for the most part, the pandemic was – and continues to be – a major disruption from the normal routine, learning that remote work could have a positive effect on the environment has been a meaningful takeaway.
Should Utah continue to grow its population (the indication is that the state could add around 2.2 million residents in the next 40 years), working from home could become even more commonplace and vital to maintaining healthy air quality, says Bird.
It might even become mandatory for employers to provide the option of remote work at some point in the future. For some Utah workers that’s already the case.
Senate Bill 15, which was signed by Governor Spencer Cox in March 2021, gives state employees the option of teleworking on days that are either deemed a “mandatory action day” by the DAQ or where roads have been deemed overly dangerous due to snowfall or other weather conditions.
By the way, the DAQ has determined that Wednesday, as well as the remainder of the workweek, have been ruled as mandatory action days, primarily due to the current inversion covering the Salt Lake Valley.
To ABC4 Chief Meteorologist Alana Brophy, the “dreaded inversion season” calls for increased responsibility by Utah drivers, even if it means staying home if possible and carpooling if not.
“Our weather pattern and geography can create an ideal environment for inverted conditions, but we can do our part by reducing the amount of pollution we put out there,” she explains. “We see carpooling encouraged a lot during prolonged periods of inversion, and that’s just a great way to reduce pollution and emissions. One car on the road is better than four, especially when we know that pollution lingers in our air until the inversion clears.”
Bird states that around 5,000 state employees are eligible for teleworking, including many of his own department. While he acknowledges there are some challenges to working from home, for the most part, he and his staff are still able to accomplish their work at a high level. He suspects that could be the case for many other Utah employers.
As of now, there is no law in place to require the option to telework by any employer in the public sector. However, as the state continues to gather data on air quality and evaluate the success of its own teleworking pilot program, it’s not impossible to see a requirement in place sometime in the future.
At the moment, the air quality action statuses are more of notice and request for most Utahns, Bird says.
Still, staying off the roads, especially when the inversion effect is in place and trapping the worst of the emission, is very strongly suggested.
“It’s very important to reduce carbon emissions and reducing vehicle trips is an important part of that strategy,” Bird says.