Clean Air project looks for leaders

By Clay Wilson

The Clean Air Campaign has encouraged Atlantans to travel to work via carpool, bus, train, bicycle or even on foot.

Last week, the campaign announced an initiative to encourage area residents to go to work via their computer's modem.

The non-profit, regional air quality advocacy group last week launched its Telework Leadership Initiative. The program will offer eight metro area public- and private-sector employers up to $20,000 to start or expand teleworking programs.

According to Clean Air Campaign Communications Director Michael Halicki, teleworking – working at home via computer – "is one of the better options out there as far as short-term, stop-gap solutions" to Atlanta's air quality problems.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says that the metro area is in "serious" violation of federal standards for ground-level ozone, one of the major contributors to smog. As a result, the city is in violation of the federal Clean Air Act.

According to the CAC, traffic in the metro area is one of the major contributors to air quality problems. The campaign, formed in 1996, encourages people to get their cars off the road.

The group already partners with numerous area businesses, which encourage their employees to find alternate means of transportation besides one-car, one-person commuting.

One such partner is Clayton's Southern Regional Medical Center. According to SRMC Human Resources Director James Coleman, the hospital allows CAC representatives to come in once a year to promote commute alternatives.

Coleman said that carpooling seems to be gaining ground among hospital employees. But Joe Elliott, project manager for SRMC's Information Technology Department, said the hospital has had limited success with teleworking.

Elliott said that about three years ago, when SRMC affiliated with the Promina healthcare group, Promina management began pushing a teleworking program. At the time, he said, about six out of the department's approximately 40 people participated.

But he said that when Promina dissolved and corporate encouragement of teleworking ceased, participation in the program fell.

He said, though, that he has seen a resurgence of interest in teleworking in the last three or four months.

The Clean Air Campaign's teleworking initiative falls on the heels of Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue's call for as many state employees as possible to work from home at least one day per week.

SRMC Human Resources Department employee Stacey Hancock has teleworked in the past, and said she is likely to do so again in the future.

Hancock, 31, worked from home for about nine months while she was pregnant and after her child was born.

"I loved it," she said. " – You can get more work done at home in a lesser amount of time because you don't have all the interruptions – and plus, you can throw in a load of laundry at home."

Although Hancock said that after her pregnancy she went back to driving the 10 or so miles from the hospital to her house, she thinks she probably will telework again if she has another child.

At Henry Medical Center, Human Resources Director Maribeth Ledford said the hospital just approved a telecommuting policy for its Management Information Systems Department. The policy was formulated after requests from a MIS employee on maternity leave.

Ledford said HMC experimented with teleworking 10 years ago, but that at the time the results were unsatisfactory.

With the new policy, which sets out guidelines for participating in the program, Ledford said, "Based on that, I think we might be more successful in rolling out (a teleworking option)."

Elliott said his biggest concerns with teleworking center around the technical problems that it can entail and the potentially complex policy that may be required to implement such a program.

"Without the ongoing support and commitment of management – it won't be successful," he said.

CAC's Halicki agreed, saying that the employers who get the Teleworking Leadership Initiative money will be those that are committed to implementing a program.

"This does require a certain amount of commitment on the side of the employer," he said.

But he also said $10,000 of the grant would go toward consultants to help businesses smooth out implementation problems, while the other $10,000 would help make up for staff time spent learning the new system.

And whether or not any Henry or Clayton county businesses partake of the Telework Leadership Initiative funds, Halicki indicated that each person who decides to telework can make a difference.

"Every little bit adds up to cleaner air," he said.