Is Remote Work Better For Our Planet?

Is remote work greener? We could say there was a time when this question didn’t matter so much. The environment has always been a point of concern, but with traditional office spaces being the norm, who was paying attention to the environmental benefits that remote work can bring?

With time, however, it has become more common than anyone could have predicted particularly with the shift in working due to Covid19. When we talk about a full or hybrid work from home schedule, we tend to speak in terms of personal convenience.

Now, we may be realising the cumulative benefits from the extent to which persons are being allowed to work from their home offices. So, the idea here is to take a deep dive and ask ourselves the question, “is it more sustainable for us to work remotely?”

Travel

In Europe, there is no bigger contributor to greenhouse gas emissions than the energy sector. Almost 77.01% of greenhouse gasses are from the sector, with about ⅓ of that accounts for transport. It’s not hard to see why that is if you think about what you typically see on the road.

Sure, some choose to take a bus or use the subway to get to their destinations, particularly in larger cities like London or Munich. What’s the implication of those who don’t, and how many private vehicles do you see per public one? Let’s take two sets of 30 people. The first set rides the bus to work, which emits some amounts of greenhouse gas. 

Now, let’s say the second set of 30 have their own vehicles and drive to work. That’s 30 points of emission achieving the same end goal that the bus would. In 2020, carbon dioxide admissions dropped by 15% as people found themselves at home more. Let that one sink in for a moment. 

Deforestation

Trees are critically important in helping us with managing our air quality. A single tree can remove just under 21KG of carbon dioxide from the air in a single year. Not only that, but when used in a tree’s nutrition process called photosynthesis, we get pure and breathable oxygen in return.

Of course, for every tree that’s cut known, we lose one more agent of proper air quality. In the remote work environment, you tend to find that there is more widespread digitisation of documents.

Businesses must adapt, as paper submissions become far less feasible when people are no longer in the same business building. How are you going to drop off that expense claim form by the accounting department when you work 20 miles from your office? Naturally, digital methods are way more valuable here.

Here’s a shocker for you. Did you know that Americans use over 80 million tons of paper annually? If you were to account for the whole population, that would equate to just under 700 pounds of paper per person. If you’re mind blown, that’s quite understandable. When you think of those numbers, reducing paper production becomes a lot more appealing!

Energy Consumption

According to the World Economic Forum, with people working from home as much as they did in 2020, there was an overall reduction in power consumption. However, this came with a condition. The hybrid work from home model shows no positive difference.

The best results were achieved when people worked from home full time. Why would this be? Well, it seems persons are way more responsible with electricity when it’s being paid for out of their own pockets.

In an office space, there tends to be little regard for the number of lights on, powering off systems when they’re not being used, etc. However, you find that people are more disciplined at home because they must stand the costs directly.

Additionally, there is less enterprise-class equipment in the home office space, meaning more gets done with lower power requirement baselines.

If you’re from home more, consider looking at a renewable energy supplier, like Octopus Energy in the UK or Ostrom in Germany. 

Plastic Waste

There is an estimated 300 million tons of plastic produced annually, approximately half of which is single-use.

Unfortunately, plastic isn’t biodegradable, and upon ending up in landfills, drains, or in our ocean., you start to deal with flooding, pollution, reef destruction, and more.

When you are out of the house, it’s the norm to use plastic in areas you may not even realise. For example, compare the utensils you use at home to those you use to the plastic ones in the office when you buy your lunch. You may drink from plastic-lined paper cups without a second thought in the office or on your way to work, while you are likely to use a glass or a mug at home.

Even if you do not always cook, consistently working from home means there is going to be a somewhat regular cooking schedule. Every time you eat this way, any plastics that would be used by the daily Pret sandwich are no longer needed! 

Air Quality

The energy reduction and less burning of fossil fuels translate to better air quality. This is compounded even further if mass deforestation can be avoided. On aggregate in the UK, projections indicate that working from home can slash car mileage by 11 million annually.

London alone would be emitting 3.3 million tons less of greenhouse gases. Imagine the kind of air quality improvement from that if practised worldwide!

Final Remarks – What Impact Does Remote Work Have on the Environment?

Is remote work more environmentally friendly? The information above would certainly give that impression, but without action behind it, the extent of its use becomes limited. People like you who have read this are going to need to spread awareness as effectively as possible, considering a mindset change is going to be required! Consider taking personal action first. Think about things you can remove, and then what can be reduced. Look at taking a personal carbon emissions calculator like the one here from the WWF to really understand what impact you have on the planet.

It’s a shared responsibility, and each of us needs to do what we can to halt and even reverse the current climate crisis.

Find out more about the WeEngage Climate commitment here: Our Climate Commitment

About the author

Thomas Heywood

Thomas Heywood

Hey, I'm Tom 👋I'm one of the founders of the WeEngage Group! We're always open to suggestions and keen to hear feedback so do get in touch if there's anything, in particular, you want us to write about.I hope you enjoy our content & happy learning!

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