What Would Be The Environmental Impact of a Four-Day Workweek?

The Eco Experts

A four-day workweek could reduce the UK’s annual carbon footprint by 21.3%

People who work fewer hours are more likely to have eco-friendly behaviours

A four-day work week could also help businesses reduce their energy costs

In 2022, the UK hosted the world’s largest four-day workweek trial. The results of the six-month trial, which came out in March 2023, showed a general increase in company productivity, as well as employee well-being and satisfaction.

Beyond productivity and numerous health benefits, many advocates of the four-day workweek also argue that reducing working hours could have a positive impact on the environment.

But just how significant could this impact be? In this article, we’ll explain exactly what a four-day workweek is, how it could benefit the environment, and what potential problems it could cause.

Smiling female flower shop employee

What does a ‘four-day workweek’ really mean?

A four-day workweek involves full-time employees working four days, instead of the traditional five, with no reduction to their pay.

In practice, this means working 32 hours a week, instead of the current standard of 40 hours. It also doesn’t necessarily make it mandatory for employees to take either Friday or Monday off, it could also mean working for fewer hours over five days.

Is the UK seriously thinking about implementing it?

So far, the UK government has not announced any plans to implement a four-day workweek.

In October 2022, the UK Parliament debated a proposal – put forward by the Labour Party – to reduce the maximum working week to 32 hours, essentially four days. The bill, which is still under discussion, was introduced following the success of a UK trial that took place earlier in 2022 – the world’s largest four-day workweek experiment so far.

Once the six-month trial had ended, 92% of the 61 companies that participated reported positive results, and decided to continue with a four-day workweek.

Introducing a four-day workweek could also help reduce business costs, due to reduced energy consumption. You can read about the best ways for businesses to reduce costs here.

The organisation that coordinated the trial, 4 Day Work Week Global, is currently lobbying the UK government to change legislation, so that employees can have the right to request four-day working weeks from their employers.

Would a four-day workweek include everyone?

A four-day workweek might not be possible for all industries – or even all company sizes.

It would be particularly difficult for some industries, such as the emergency services and transport sector, to have all their employees work four days per week, since they operate seven days a week.

To explore this obstacle further, the 2022 UK trial included a small number of companies in the healthcare, education, and retail industries to see how they would work under this new structure.

However, the majority of the companies taking part in the trial were marketing and advertising companies in the professional services industry, or nonprofits and charities.

Most of the businesses involved in the trial were also small companies, with fewer than 25 employees. That said, a few larger companies have done their own independent four-day workweek trials, such as Microsoft Japan, which saw a 40% increase in productivity.

This shows that a four-day workweek could be possible on a larger scale.

Would a four-day workweek reduce the UK’s carbon footprint? 

There’s evidence to suggest that a four-day workweek could reduce the UK’s carbon footprint by up to 21.3%, according to a 2021 report by Stop The Clock.

The report estimates that a four-day workweek could cut UK carbon emissions by 127 million tonnes per year.

An earlier study, by the Political Economy Research Institute, showed that reducing work hours by just 10% – say from 48 hours to 43.2 hours – could reduce a country’s carbon footprint by 8.6%. By that estimate, a 32-hour work week would reduce it even more.

Some companies that participated in the 2022 UK trial also reported having reduced emissions.

For example, one managing director at a company that participated in the trial told The Guardian that the company’s carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions dropped by “almost 30%”, mostly because of a reduction in transport.

Man planting crops in a garden

Why would a four-day workweek be good for the environment?

A four-day workweek could reduce the UK’s emissions by cutting down on commuting and energy use in office buildings. There’s also evidence to suggest that people who work shorter hours develop more sustainable habits.

Reduced commuting

Transport emissions account for around one-fifth of global CO2 emissions, with the biggest percentage of transport emissions coming from road transport.

With this in mind, a four-day workweek would reduce work-related travel, which would cut the carbon emissions created by commuting.

This could have a big impact on the UK’s carbon footprint when you consider that around 45% of workers in Wales and England drive to work. To compare, only 9% use other forms of transport, such as buses or trains, which generate fewer carbon emissions than cars.

Reducing carbon emissions is an important step in the effort to slow down climate change, and it will also improve air quality.

Reduced energy use in office buildings

Having people in offices for fewer days a week would reduce energy consumption in office buildings. This is because electrical equipment, elevators, and heating and cooling systems would be used less frequently.

Using less electricity and gas is always a good thing for the environment, since 61.8% of the energy that we use in the UK still comes from fossil fuels. Unlike renewable energy sources, fossil fuels produce high amounts of greenhouse gases – a key factor speeding up climate change.

Want to find out how some companies have changed their behaviour to become carbon neutral? Check out our page UK Companies: Who’s Going Carbon Neutral?

An increase in environmentally friendly lifestyles

There’s evidence that suggests spending less time at work could also allow employees to live more environmentally friendly lives.

A 2011 study in France showed that people who worked longer hours were more likely to consume more energy, and lead less sustainable lives. For example, people who worked longer hours consumed more takeouts or ready-meals on average, and so used more single-use plastic packaging.

The 2022 UK four-day workweek trial backs up this finding. Participating employees increased their eco-conscious behaviour through activities such as recycling, buying environmentally friendly products, or volunteering for environmental causes.

This might in part be because the companies that participated in the trial were already environmentally conscious, and so were their employees.

The employees in the UK trial also typically spent their extra free time doing low-carbon activities, such as exercise or at-home hobbies.

Would a four-day workweek cause any environmental problems?

One potential risk of a four-day workweek is that employees would use the extra leisure time to travel more – both domestically and abroad – leading to increased transport emissions.

This has not been the case in any of the trials organised by Four Day Week Global, who oversaw the 2022 UK trial.

However, since a nationwide four-day workweek hasn’t been tested, there’s no guarantee that employees at other companies would behave in the same way that the participants of the trials did.


Multiple trials and studies have shown that a four-day workweek could have a positive impact on the environment.

If the majority of UK businesses cut back on working hours, they could significantly reduce the UK’s carbon emissions, and bring the government closer to achieving its net zero goal.

However, for the government to actually achieve net zero emissions by 2050, more needs to be done to make the energy we do use more sustainable.

If you want to find out more about how the government is doing this, you can read our page about the state of renewable energy in the UK.

Written by:
Tatiana has written about multiple environmental topics, including heat pumps, energy-efficient household products, and solar panels. She is dedicated to demystifying green tech to make eco-friendly living more accessible.
Back to Top