Thrifty US dreams up 4-day week

June 30, 2006

As petrol prices rise, staff 'lose' a day to save cash, writes Jon Marcus in Boston

Some US campuses that are largely devoid of students in the summer are even quieter this year as officials pack the working week into fewer days to save on energy costs.

Lynchburg College in Virginia and Juniata College in rural Pennsylvania have introduced four-day weeks so that staff can cut down on commuting costs.

Shirley Bates, Lynchburg's director of human resources, said: "Our employees are experiencing a great financial burden with the ever-increasing price of gasoline. Offering a compressed work schedule to our staff is a way in which the college can provide a no-cost, value-added benefit that will help the employees save money in commuting expenses."

The price of gasoline is more than 25 per cent higher than it was last summer because of political conflicts in the Gulf and the refinery shutdowns that followed Hurricane Katrina, among other reasons. The cost of electricity has also increased.

In response, the California State University campus in Fresno has moved the start of its workday forwards to reduce the need for air conditioning.

In summer, staff begin their day at 7am instead of 8.30am and finish at 3.30pm instead of 5pm, saving money on air conditioning during the hottest hours of the afternoon.

The university also has a four-member team that walks through campus buildings suggesting ways to save energy, such as turning off lights that are not needed. Spokeswoman Shirley Armbruster said the initiative had saved "tens of thousands" of dollars.

At Juniata, workdays also start earlier during the summer months and are shortened by half an hour to cut campus energy costs. Employees are given the choice of working four-day instead of five-day weeks to save gas.

"The initial impetus for this was a staff member who e-mailed the president and said, can we do something about the gas crisis," Michelle Corby, the school's vice-president, said.

"There's a big movement at Juniata for sustainability. Between optional flexitime and things such as car pooling we hope we're making a difference," she added.

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