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Want to green your job? Stay home

Telecommuting can help prevent both workers and natural resources from burning out, says the American Electronics Association.

Maybe I shouldn't come to the office anymore. Working from home would treat the planet better, according to the American Electronics Association.

The trade group issued an Earth Day report Tuesday encouraging employers to expand telecommuting, partly to help cut carbon emissions and use of electricity. Among its arguments:

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If everyone who could perform a job remotely did so just 1.6 days per week, $4.5 billion worth of fuel would be spared. That would prevent the release of 26 billion pounds of carbon dioxide each year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Nearly half of workers commute more than 20 miles total every weekday, according to a 2006 study by the University of Maryland.

Some 45 million people work remotely, according to the Telework Coalition. Employees of IBM, for one, take novel approaches, such as using Second Life to interact.

Various studies show that telecommuting helps to lure attractive employees, prevents them from burning out, and saves companies money. The American Electronics Association promotes telework for potentially bringing parents, retirees, and others with scheduling constraints back into the workforce as baby boomers retire.

That's all good news for providers of Web-based software and broadband services seeking yet another marketing angle.

Online collaborative software, for instance, can reduce a company's paper waste and reduce IT management expenses. The makers of Cisco's WebEx, Google's apps, and others push telecommuting as a "green" practice.

However, telework has downsides. It may help families better balance their personal and professional lives, but it can also can lead to working around the clock, thanks to always-on gadgets. Americans have paltry vacation time as it is, compared with Europeans.

And although workers can deduct many expenses of a home office, utility bills for maintaining one can be expensive.

Plus, companies need to ramp up security measures when allowing a worker to toil on a virtual private network, or cart around a laptop loaded with sensitive data.

Congressional bills have been introduced that would force federal agencies to set up telework programs. Part of the reasoning has been to keep people working despite emergencies such as a natural disaster or terrorist strike.