There’s not much everyone seems to agree on nowadays but one thing that is relatively clear is that energy consumption derived from burning fossil fuels is a bad thing.
This produces gases and carbon dioxide that damage the environment and reduce the sustainability of our environment in the long term,
However, does that mean that remote working from home has environmental benefits, or is the environmental impact of work from home arrangements every bit as significant as working from your traditional office space?
We asked an environmental consultant and this is what they told us.
Remote Work And Greenhouse Gas Emissions
On the face of things, working remotely appears to be a no-brainer. For example, the US EPA says that a lot of the planet’s pollution is caused by commuting.
No commute to work means, no greenhouse gas emissions from your transport and, in fact, data suggest that if you travel by car to work for a distance in excess of 4 miles or 6 kilometers, each way, then working from home is a net benefit to your carbon footprint.
This is because when you reduce emissions from a car, you significantly benefit the overall level of greenhouse gasses.
However, working from home is not always an effective use of energy.
Remote Work And Carbon Emissions
If you travel to work within a very short commuting distance or you use public transport, your greenhouse gas emissions (or your share of them on the bus, train, etc.) aren’t actually going to be all that high in the first place.
In this case, your savings in terms of emissions on the commute won’t outweigh the fact that energy use at home is not as efficient, per person, as energy use in an office.
While you will save some carbon by working in a remote location, you will produce more carbon emissions because your home energy consumption will need power stations to burn more fuel to create the energy you need when compared to the office.
If you do work remotely, we’d hope you’d do so in a sustainable home office chair to ensure your furniture isn’t hurting the planet.
In fact, the International Energy Agency, says that on average if you work from home, your energy use goes up by 20%!
One other thing that was seen during the Covid-19 pandemic which could have a major impact on the sustainability of remote working relationships is that when people could work from home all the time – they opted to move into bigger homes further out of the city.
This has two potential issues for the environment – the first being that if we move into a bigger home, it takes more energy to run that home, potentially further reducing the benefits of remote work.
And many people who live in the country opt for a bigger SUV-style car which is going to use more fuel than the car they might have run in the city. More to the point, the person may be taking on a car, in place of the very environmentally friendly public transport solution that they’d been using to get to work before.
Does Remote Work Really Reduce Our Carbon Footprint?
Remote working certainly could improve the carbon footprint of the workforce if the facility for remote work were to be shared equitably among the workforce.
For example, the data suggest that if every single one of all the employees in the world, took just one day a year out of the office to work remotely, this would have the effect of saving approximately 1% of all global oil consumption for road passengers in a single year.
This would be the equivalent of reducing carbon emissions by around 24 million tonnes! That’s about the amount of carbon that London produces each year!
However, while companies with remote employees, on the balance of things, are probably going to help with the overall sustainability of the planet – they’re not going to prevent climate change by themselves.
Even if the entire workforce became fully remote on a permanent basis, there are still other sources of carbon production out there that are greater than that produced by employees working in companies and their offices.
Final Thoughts On Your Carbon Footprint And Remote Work
Working remotely, may or may not be the ideal sustainable solution for you and your company. However, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t work from home or another location of your choosing.
What it does mean is that if you want to lead a truly sustainable work life, you’re going to need to do your homework and see where else you can make energy savings in your life. Improving the energy efficiency of the heating or air conditioning at home, for example, could offset any environmental cost of your new freer working life.