Can Remote Work Lead to a Greener Environment? by@nehapant

Can Remote Work Lead to a Greener Environment?

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Neha Pant

A skilled wordsmith with a penchant for tech and life-related content. She believes that to learn one must teach.

“Is remote work more environmentally friendly?

How does remote work impact the environment?

How eco-friendly is remote working?”

These are all questions worth musting over ever since remote work became mainstream because of the pandemic.

Environment and humans are interlinked and hence, affect each other. So, it's only natural for us to wonder how a change in the work environment could impact our real environment.

In this blog, we will take you through a set of points about remote work and its impact on the environment and explore how beneficial remote work is, environmentally.

The pandemic brought with it one of the largest experiments ever done on a global scale - remote work.

Data shows that the rise in people working from home during the peak pandemic was 32% in the US alone.

A study conducted by Gallup among 9000 US workers revealed that 91% of them wanted to continue working remotely at least partially and that a hybrid work format is the most preferred.

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So, are we looking at a paradigm shift in terms of where people work from? Perhaps. The jury is still out on that one.

However, the environment and how people work - their commuting habits, the energy consumption at work, etc. - are closely related. There was indeed a temporary __decline __of 17% in global CO2 emissions in April 2020 compared to the highest levels of 2019.

The video below shows us the impact of people staying at home: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HVwjs_D_kRI

We can see how nature responded when humanity was locked away in their homes. From a human standpoint, being locked away was a traumatic experience they would never want to relive. However, now as humanity gets back to workplaces and students go back to schools, the pollution levels are pretty much back to pre-pandemic levels.

We know that a complete lockdown brought about a significant drop in all kinds of pollution. Hence, it is worth thinking about the positive impacts the work-from-anywhere (WFA) model can have on our carbon footprint. Can WFA lead to a greener future? Here are some thoughts:

Telecommuting means reduced greenhouse gas emissions: Telecommuting is not new; businesses used it even before the pandemic. However, the impact of large-scale telecommuting was not observed until during the pandemic. People staying and working from their homes reduced greenhouse gas emissions like never before.

Commuting to work adds to greenhouse gas emissions. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average time a worker spends traveling to the office increased from 25.3 minutes in 2010 to 27.1 minutes in 2018. The number of people using cars for commuting increased to about 118 million in 2018.

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A CoPilot research shows that this trend may have been reversed by the pandemic, with remote workers gaining close to 10.4 percent of their workweek back. This also shows that the remote workers are spending that much less time on roads, consequently bringing about a drop in carbon dioxide addition to the environment.

For employers, this is a chance to position themselves as eco-friendly. Additionally, they can also save big money that goes into the worker commute. It is a win-win situation for the employer, the employee, and the environment.

Energy Consumption is Reduced

An OUC Business Energy Advisor report tells us that large office buildings in the US consume 20kWh of electricity and 24 cubic feet of natural gas per square foot on average annually.

Businesses use up this amount of energy for lighting, heating, cooling, and running electrical equipment in their office buildings. The huge energy consumption in offices also leads to increased greenhouse gas pressure on the environment.

For remote workers work from anywhere, the automatic implication is that they are not occupying the huge office space. Moreover, people working from home have the option of switching off lights, fans, air conditioners, and other electrical equipment when not in use.

Some people’s homes are naturally ventilated and lit, thus, reducing the dependence on manufactured energy. Overall, remote workers can control their energy use better, thus positively impacting the environment.

Minimal Use of Paper

One of the many benefits that remote working has on the environment is a reduced use of paper. How you ask. Well, remote workers need the same documents in digitized format. This has led to an increase in the number of software applications that can help you create safe and secure digital documents. Digitized documentation brings about a drastic reduction in the use of paper annually.

Research shows that the average annual consumption of paper in the US is 85,000,000 tons which translates to 680 tons per person per year. Another statistic shows that an average American uses about seven trees a year, amounting to about 2,000,000,000 trees consumed by Americans alone in a year! Moreover, only about two-thirds of the paper consumed is recycled.

So, with remote work, we are thinking about bringing down this paper consumption drastically. Interestingly, every tree saved can also absorb 14.7 pounds of carbon dioxide, leading to a substantial reduction in greenhouse gas emissions over a year.

Reduction in Waste Generated

Regular office work doesn’t just involve tons of paperwork, office goers often get food take-outs, use a lot of disposable plates, cups, napkins, etc. As a result, they generate huge amounts of waste.

Working remotely usually means working from home. At home, people use washable and reusable utensils, thus, avoiding a large chunk of waste. Moreover, when working from home, people use digital files with digital signatures, thereby reducing paper waste.

Minimized Use of Plastic

Just as the other kinds of waste, plastic use is also less when people work from home. Why - you may ask. At home, people have access to regular water, so there is no need for single-use plastic bottles. Similarly, they can make coffee at home, and hence, there is no need for plastic lids for coffee cups.

Reducing plastic waste is an urgency because:

  • We produce 380 million tons of plastic annually

  • Our oceans get a dump of 10 million tons of plastic annually

  • Single-use plastic comprises 50% of plastic production

  • Less than 9% of all plastic gets recycled

  • 1 million marine animals are killed annually because of plastic pollution

  • Humans consume more than 40 pounds of plastic in their lives

With work-from-home, people have the chance to contribute to plastic waste reduction and pave the way for a greener future.

Better Air Quality

We have all seen the viral videos of clean air and water during the pandemic's peak. Well, if you haven’t, there are a few shared in this article. Various research conducted after the pandemic began shows the improvement in air quality during the lockdown period when people were working from home. The cleaner air is a direct outcome of fewer cars on the road because fewer people are commuting.

While all kinds of workers cannot work remotely, the pandemic has revealed many can. A survey done by Global Action Plan and Guy’s and St. Thomas’s Charity in 2020 showed that if people continued to work from home, the daily commute could come down by 20%. Moreover, many people enjoy working from home and feel less stressed because of not having to hustle through the rush-hour traffic. With the possibility of a greener future in mind, Global Action Plan urged businesses to embrace remote working permanently for all employees that could stay at home.

Extra Time for Green Efforts

The pandemic also unraveled the creative sides of most people as they stayed and worked from home. People had more time at their disposal, and hence many engaged in activities like singing, dancing, cooking, painting, etc. However, there was one activity that a large number of people seemed to like - gardening.

Staying at home, especially in flats in the urban areas, meant people felt the natural urge to connect more with nature. With extra time at hand, they could spare some for making greener balconies and terraces.

Now with the lockdown lifted in most countries and areas, but with people still working remotely, they can utilize the extra time to engage in several activities that can create a greener environment, such as:

  • Volunteering at local parks and water bodies to clear trash

  • Planting trees

  • Starting a community garden

  • Making compost or organic manure

  • Spreading awareness

Remote work gives people the opportunity to build a greener future, but people need to dig for motivation within.

For example, if you aren’t using lights and fans, you can turn them off or not depending on how internally motivated you are. Apart from motivation, not finding reliable remote opportunities dissuades people from working remotely.

Similarly, organizations find it challenging to vet employees for remote work positions. If we really want to build a greener future, artificial-intelligence-based deep jobs platforms can help. Both companies and employees can benefit from such platforms, which save hundreds of hours of vetting time and create real remote working possibilities.

Remote work can lead to a greener future, but we need true motivation and opportunity.

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