Anthropogenic climate change and its environmenmtal and social
consequences are of increasing concern worldwide. Approaches that
advocate a 'greening' of current economic and social systems through
technological innovation and development tend to dominate policy
responses, especially in resource-intensive sectors such as transport.
This position is labeled as shallow Ecological Modernisation (EM)
thinking whereby technology is preceived in (over)optimistic terms, with
limited evidence of challenges to contemporary growth-centric models of
development, production, and consumption that cause climate change.
Work takes up a considerable portion of people's lives whilst
travelling to and from work has become a key feature of everyday
mobility in many development and developing countries. A significant
contributor to Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions, transport in its current
form is deemed to be unsustainable. In a European context, telework -
an arrangement that enables employees work from home - has been
suggested as a virtual mobility option with the potential to reduce the
'consumption of distance' associated with regular commuting. Given its
emphasis on the application of technology to solve environmental
problems, the uncritical promotion of telework constitutes a prime
example of shallow EM thinking.
Despite the prominence of EM thinking in climate policy and
practice, theoretically informed empirical explorations of its
implementation and impacts remain incomplete. Drawing on a multi-method
investigation of telework in the Republic of Ireland, this paper finds
current EM thinking amongst decision-makers to be shallow and largely
reflective of neo-liberal environmentalism, contributing little to
curbing the consumerist impluses of contemporary economic models and
lifestyles. The environmental benefits of telework are also questioned,
as is the rationale for existing teleworking schemes. This paper
further asserts that actual and potential environmental gains can
conflict with potentially negative implications for fairness, equity and
well-being, with teleworkers shouldering a substanial social burden
arising from technology-aided changes in work practices.