The drive to work from home has risen massively in the past few decades, with the pandemic increasing demand for remote working.
While there are many ways of reducing your carbon footprint at work, working from home can also be sustainable. But by how much?
How does working from home affect the environment?
A 2020 review of energy and climate impacts of teleworking found that “evidence suggests that economy-wide energy savings are typically modest, and in many circumstances could be negative or non-existent”. This is due to uncertainties and ambiguities around energy-saving, as there are many more factors at play.
After all, if your house is usually empty during your work hours and you start working from home, your electricity consumption rises. If the office is still open and retains the same level of electricity usage then you’re actually adding more electricity consumption.
If your company goes remote-only in your area you’ll at least know that the office space is no longer consuming electricity on your part, but every household will.
Remote working is also linked to reduced emissions from commuting, which is also marred by factors like non-work travel or whether you use public transportation.
For people who rely on public transportation to commute to work, little is changed, but for others, it can make a massive impact.
Fewer cars on the road for commutes help reduce traffic, gas emissions, and road maintenance, all of which add up over time and cannot be easily charted.
It’s especially greener if you only have a vehicle for work – without your commute, it may be more economically and environmentally beneficial to downgrade your vehicle or swap to a more eco-friendly mode of transport (like cycling or using public transportation).
With fewer vehicles on the roads, the reduction in gas emissions also results in better air quality!
For Ho Chi Minh City, a study determined that reducing commuting would “have a positive impact on congestion and pollution”.
While a review of the 2009 US National Household Travel Survey found that remote working – telecommuting – resulted in 15% more walk trips a week and 44% higher odds of 30+ minutes of physical activity per day. The study also found that people were 41% more likely to walk or cycle over 1 mile but 3.58 times more likely to drive distances under 10 miles.
Benefits vary depending on the person in question, however, commuting to a cafe more local to you instead of the office in a city still reduces transportation emissions considerably, especially if you spend less time stuck in traffic.
Why working from home is better for the environment
While working from home doesn’t necessarily guarantee that you’re being more sustainable, it does open many advantages for employees.
It’s also worth considering how businesses can be more sustainable by changing up the office or workplace.
Some reasons why working from home is better for the environment include:
- Fewer vehicles during busy hours
- Having more time to run errands within walking/cycling distance
- Reduced paper consumption
- More eco-friendly, locally-sourced food choices
- Less plastic usage by reducing takeaway food convenience and using glass
To become more sustainable, companies should look to:
- Allow remote working for employees who don’t need to be at the place of work
- Downsize offices and implement sustainable practices like adjusting heating to when people need it
- Avoid hybrid working, which wastes energy consumption and commutes
- Don’t keep all computers on standby – let alone on by default!
Is remote working more sustainable?
The International Energy Agency in 2020 found that even working from home for one day a week would save approximately 1% of global oil consumption per year. There would even be an “annual decline of 24 million tonnes” of global CO2 emissions.
It’s important to remember that not everybody would contribute to that decline – some people may use their remote working to travel more. But ultimately remote working would at the very worst balance out over a year.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, working from home and redundancies resulted in a drop in rush-hour congestion in major cities of around 65-95%.
And by reducing rush-hour traffic, air quality, oil consumption, and road maintenance can all be improved.
After all, a thousand vehicles stuck in traffic reduced to half means less time pumping out emissions just sitting on the road.
What are the environmental benefits of working from home?
The main environmental benefits of working from home include the reduction of transportation emissions and the rise of more sustainable practices.
People are less likely to be environmentally conscious at work because there’s no “direct financial incentive” to reduce their energy use.
The financial incentive could be saving money or even just the knowledge of how much electricity is being used. When working from home, saving money on your heating and electricity usage is a direct incentive, and you have more control over the devices you use and buy.
Does working from home reduce your carbon footprint?
98% of an employee’s carbon footprint is due to the daily commute to and from the workplace. Even if you take public transportation for your commute, your absence frees up a space for someone else during rush hour and allows you to only commute when you need or want to.
Being able to prepare all your food fresh can also help reduce your carbon footprint. Without a commute, you have more time to spend at home, and this includes in the kitchen.
The convenience of grabbing a sandwich on the way to work or stopping by Starbucks goes away and you can make more decisions on what to include in your diet.
You might have more time to dedicate to going vegan or vegetarian, or maybe you’ll reduce plastic consumption because you’re preparing meals more often.
Even if you choose to go out for lunch, you’re more likely to dine locally, and that means within walking or cycling distance!
Does working from home save energy?
Working from home can help save energy by reducing how much electricity is used and the number of emissions released from transportation.
Being able to work from home also allows employees to consume only as much energy as needed, whether it’s by reducing transport emissions or being sustainable with electricity consumption.
If a computer is only turned on when you need to work, you’re bound to be using less energy than if your computer is always on standby in the workplace.
Does working from home help fight climate change?
Working from home doesn’t help fight climate change alone, though the changes you make around transportation and energy use does.
The change might be small, with your energy consumption battling the emissions you’ve reduced by ditching the commute, but they will add up.
Without a commute, you’ll also have more time to think about how you live and what changes you can make to be more eco-friendly. That time could be used for learning an eco-friendly hobby, like sewing or gardening, which can further your sustainability.
Is working from home more energy efficient?
While workplaces drain a lot of energy, if the size of the workplace corresponds to how many employees need to work there it’s generally better to continue working there. However, if most employees can work remotely then the workplace is more than likely consuming more energy than all those employees working from home create.
This is especially true if the employees live with other people or intend to work remotely from public spaces, as the energy consumption won’t rise enough to meet the workplace’s energy consumption.
Working from home can also be more energy efficient because people have control over their electricity consumption, transportation emissions, and heating or air conditioning.
It’s much easier to adjust your heating or air conditioning for one person than it is for a whole office!