A year into remote work, many of us have come to understand the personal benefits that come with it, including flexibility, autonomy, better work-life balance, location independence, and more. However, on Earth Day 2021, we wanted to highlight the environmental benefits of remote work, something which many of us may not consider. The largest of these come from not commuting every day, making the carbon footprint that each remote employee leaves much smaller than those who travel back and forth to offices. Supporting this claim, a British clean air campaign has found that continuing to work remotely even after the COVID-19 lockdown could reduce two airports’ worth of emissions. In this article, we're going to break this down further into the top four environmental benefits of remote work.
Reduces greenhouse gas emissions
Climate change is being accelerated by the increased emission of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, and methane. Wildlife extinction, severe weather, and higher sea levels are some of the many adverse consequences climate change, and human behavior plays a role in adding to these problems. A report from BBC has revealed that private transport is one the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. Without daily commutes, remote work can go a long way toward cutting back on the carbon dioxide that is released into the air. New York, one of the largest cities in the USA, has gained 15.2% of its time back from not commuting. This shows the extent to which remote work can reduce the number of cars on the road and, thus, the emissions that result from that.
Decreases energy consumption
The amount of energy consumed at the workplace every day is enormous. On average, large commercial buildings in the United States consume 20 kWh of electricity. Between lighting, heating, and cooling, this large energy consumption can result in higher CO2 emissions, which is again one of the major contributors to environmental degradation. While working from home, employees can switch off air conditioners, lights, fans, and heaters when not in use. Some even prefer natural lights over electric and LED lights. Overall, remote employees have more control over their energy consumption at home than they do in an office environment.
Minimizes waste generation
Remote work plays a huge role in reducing waste. Research conducted by The Environmental Research & Education Foundation has shown that business waste generation has reduced by 67% since the broader adoption of remote work. Most remote workers have moved toward digital document management systems with e-signature features, which has cut down on paper waste. And at home, many people use reusable plates and cups, meaning that plastic and paper waste from the disposal utensils and dishes used at office cafeterias has also dropped.
Improves air quality
As remote work reduces daily commuting, it also reduces the air pollution resulting from fuel combustion and vehicle emissions. It may not seem like it has that much of an impact, but in fact this improves the quality of air that we breathe every day. Last year, a survey conducted by Global Action Plan and Guy’s and St. Thomas’s Charity encouraged businesses to embrace remote work as much as possible to keep air pollution levels down even after the lockdown measures. Reducing air pollution and improving air quality can bring about a whole host of health benefits.
A note on efficacy
It seems natural that remote work would reduce our energy consumption and be better for the planet overall, but there are still some things to keep in mind if we plan to reap these benefits in the long term. One is that even if teams are not traveling to the office each day, splurging on corporate meetups and gatherings can actually offset any emission benefits due to air travel. Another factor to consider is that office buildings being empty doesn't mean they aren't consuming power. If remote work is truly going to have a positive impact on climate change, then it must come with a shift in organizational mindsets around the world toward eco-friendly and sustainable operations. Digital tools can be used to host large events, or large offices can be shut down in favor of smaller workplaces that support a hybrid working model and use less energy. Another way to create sustained benefits for the planet is to encourage your remote employees to implement environmentally friendly practices into their everyday life.
Living a sustainable lifestyle as a remote employee
If possible, take this Earth Day as an opportunity to educate your employees on how they can adopt a more eco-friendly lifestyle. Climate change is a global issue, and your employees may not know how they can start helping or whether their small actions matter. Remind them that every measure—big or small—adds up, and remind them of simple ways they can reduce their carbon footprint. Here are some tips to help you get started:
Encourage your remote employees to switch off electrical appliances and lights when they are not in use. To make this more interesting, you can reward employees who are able to reduce their electricity bill over time.
Find those employees who have an interest in gardening and motivate them to take it up as a hobby. As a start, you can send them Grow Your Own Plant kits. Gardening can be relaxing and act as a way for employees to grow some of their own food.
Conduct food leftover challenges, where interested employees prepare a new dish with their leftovers. Encourage them to post the process on your company's intranet to inspire their peers.
Motivate your employees to use eco-friendly furniture, energy-efficient lighting systems, and green office supplies in their home office as much as possible. You can also offer a small allowance to help them afford more environmentally friendly options.
Organize webinars with environmental activists to educate your employees on recycling and reuse techniques.
Building environmental consciousness among your workforce can go a long way towards saving our planet. Small changes that you make to your everyday habits to live in harmony with the environment can make a huge difference not only to the world but also to your health and happiness. This Earth Day, embrace remote work, be mindful about large business decisions that impact energy consumption, and educate your employees about climate change and all the ways they can help leave this planet a better place for future generations!