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On the Road to Lower Emissions

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For years, the worst part of Greg McKone’s job took place before he started his work day and followed him home to Abbotsford. It was his commute.

After his family moved to Abbotsford in 2006, he made the 100-km commute from the Fraser Valley to his office in Surrey. “With traffic congestion the trip averaged one hour each way. As a trained analyst, I thought this was nuts,” the 20-year veteran of Fraser Health recalls. To ease the pain, Greg connected with three office-mates who also live in Abbotsford and they carpooled together for years.

“Not only did we have a chance to connect, but we saved a good chunk of change.” He estimates that they each saved $3,700 annually on gas, tires, oil changes, and car replacement. The arrangement required some flexibility, but “stress was reduced, community was built, and congestion was reduced. It was a win-win-win.”

Still, for years, they were spending an average of two hours a day commuting, burning fossil fuels along the way.

Then, in March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic arrived. In that uncertain and scary time, Greg and his team, Health Informatics, found a silver lining: they were able to work from home for the first time. According to Greg, in the years prior, Health Informatics’ Workplace Technology Desktop Engineering team had developed infrastructure for remote access. With the onset of the pandemic, the demand for this access went into high gear.

Facilitating remote work for thousands of Fraser Health workers presented Health Informatics with an opportunity to accelerate innovation and challenge the status quo, which is something that also drives Greg. “I’ve always cared about excellence,” he says, “and at Fraser Health, I can solve interesting problems and make things better for healthcare and the patients we serve.”

More than two years later, telecommuting is the “new normal” for many Fraser Health staff members. While protecting health and safety was the impetus for the transition, they’ve also seen significant benefits to staff wellbeing, the organization, and the environment. As the health authority grapples with how to become low-carbon, carbon-neutral or carbon-negative, telecommuting and telehealth services help to reduce corporate carbon emissions. By his estimates, Greg’s five-person work team is saving 14,700 kg of CO2 emissions, which is the same as eight long-haul flights from Vancouver to London, UK, every year!

He sees benefits at home, too. Eliminating his commute meant his family got rid of a car, which reduced their expenses, carbon footprint, and risk of being in a car accident. As well, he has ten “extra” hours each week for the things that matter to him. He’s sleeping more, spending more time with his family, and cycling for exercise.

Just as enthusiastically as he shares about the rewards of working from home, he is also honest about the challenges and limitations. For instance, as a people person, he misses interacting with his colleagues face to face. To maintain their connections as a team, they have regular online meetings that are focused on sharing mutual support, updates, asking questions, and setting a tone for the day.

Greg is sharing his experience and the incredible impact telecommuting has had on his life in the hopes that it can inspire similar action across the health authority.

“I hope all of us can examine our life and work and consider how we each can do our part and collectively fight climate change.”

He looks forward to seeing Fraser Health continue to challenge the status quo and tackle climate “head on.” For now, remote work is a solid start — it might be the best part of his job.