How remote work affects the environment
The canals in Venice are clear and lively fish are visible. Blue skies are replacing smog in some of the world’s most polluted cities has drastically improved. Wild animals are venturing into the streets of shuttered cities. Mother Nature seems to be taking a big breath, but it’s best she doesn’t hold it.
A global shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic has brought heartbreak in more ways than one. However, one thing seems to be enduring – the earth. Though it’s only temporary, pollution has significantly decreased during the crisis. When businesses bounce back to the new normal, it’s likely pollution will also rebound. However, with many companies now operating with remote workforces, the notion of distributed teams as a sustainable option is making waves.
The sustainability component of remote working is not new. Before the coronavirus came into the picture, only 3.4% of the US workforce was remote. As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day while many of us are working from home, we can look at the impact in real-time.
Remote work environmental impacts
The first benefit is obvious – remote workers are not commuting to work, which means they are not adding carbon dioxide emissions to the environment. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), transportation made up 28% of the global greenhouse emissions in 2018. Fewer cars, trains, and buses on the road can help keep the air clean of pollutants that negatively affect the environment, as well as our health. The 2017 State of Telecommuting report said the greenhouse impact of existing telecommuters is equivalent to taking 600,000 cars off the road. Imagine how that number can grow if people began working even a day or two from home.
Another benefit to remote working is the reduction of office operating costs – financially and environmentally. Not only does a remote worker save its employer up to $11,000 per year, remote working lowers the company’s carbon footprint. The EPA calculated that 26.9% of 2018 emissions in the US were from electricity. Much of our electricity is generated from burning fossil fuels, a powerful enemy to the environment. From keeping the lights on to laptop plugins, office buildings are responsible for about 36% of energy-related emissions in the US. Even if it is just one day a week, businesses that allow their teams to work remotely can slash their energy consumption to decrease their carbon footprint.
People that work remotely can also lower their impact by being mindful of their shopping and dining habits. When people work at home, they eat out less often. This cuts down on plastic containers, wrappers, and other waste that is not recyclable.
Help shrink your footprint
Protecting the earth falls on everyone’s shoulders. Distributed teams can take additional steps to lower their carbon footprint.
- Manage electricity usage by focusing your work on one area and be mindful of peak usage times. Consider embracing “earth hour” when all appliances and electronics are turned off.
- Participate in a recycling program, and be sure to adhere to the program’s guidelines.
- Make your home workspace more efficient with high-efficiency light bulbs and appliances.
- Plant something! Not only do plants help your work-at-home aesthetic, but they can also help you be more efficient. As a bonus, they remove air toxins while releasing oxygen into your space.
When the world moves into the “new normal” after the coronavirus pandemic, many things will change. There will be an increase in activities among factories, and business emissions will likely climb back up. However, remote working allows us to make changes to help build a more substantial reward for our earth.