Consuming distance or (all) consuming work? The case of telework
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Hynes, M (2014) 'Consuming Distance or (all) Consuming Work? The case of telework' Part 2, Chapter 5, In: Anna R. Davies, Frances Fahy, Henrike Rau(Eds.). Challenging Consumption: pathways to a more sustainable future. London : Routledge.
The reality of anthropogenic climate change and the consequences for society and environment is of growing concern to many worldwide. Sustainable Development - development which addresses existing human needs while preserving sufficient resources for future generations to meet their requirements has emerged as a fundamental aspiration in efforts to reconcile the desire for economic growth and greater social justice with the need for environmental protection. Ecological Modernisation approaches that advocate a greening of current economic and social systems through technological innovation have tended to dominate Sustainable Development debates. Technology is frequently perceived in (over)optimistic terms, with little evidence of measures to restrict growth-centric models of production and consumption. Work takes up a considerable portion of people s lives whilst travelling to and from work has become a key feature of everyday mobility. A significant contributor to Greenhouse Gas emissions, the transportation of people and goods in its current form is deemed unsustainable. Teleworking has been suggested as a virtual mobility option which potentially can diminish the overall consumption of distance associated with regular commuting. Given its emphasis on the application of technology to solve environmental problems, telework constitutes a prime example of an unsophisticated Ecological Modernisation policy approach. Despite the prominence of Ecological Modernisation rhetoric in environmental policy-making, rigorous theoretical and empirical testing of its key assumptions remains incomplete. This paper draws on a multi-method exploration of telework in Ireland to reveal current interpretations of Ecological Modernisation remain shallow and largely limited to technological fix solutions, contributing little to curbing the consumerist impulses of contemporary economic models and lifestyles. The environmental benefits associated with telework are also questioned. Furthermore, any environmental sustainability gains attributed to telework frequently occur at the expense of individuals who work from home, their families and society, thereby bringing the three key pillars of sustainability into conflict.
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