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Is Working From Home Better For The Environment?

In 2023, as society continues to value hybrid work models, we ask, is working from home better for the environment than working in person?

Benefits of Hybrid Work

Working from home provides flexibility and convenience by eliminating commute times and allowing for adaptable work hours and a flexible work environment. Some employees even reported increased productivity when shifting to a hybrid environment with fewer distractions than in the office.

In 2023, almost 13% of full-time employees work remotely. By 2025, that number could rise to 22%, totaling about 33 million Americans. This data paints a clear picture that society continues to embrace hybrid work environments in our future, making it important to evaluate the effects of hybrid work on all aspects of our lives today, including its impact on the environment.

Covid-19 Impact on Remote Work

In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic prompted many companies to move “non-essential” employees to remote positions as part of wider shelter-in-place mandates at various levels of the U.S. and global governments. The sudden shift to remote work had a significant impact on our environment, largely by way of reducing the amount of air pollution associated with vehicles and rush hour traffic.

Fast forward to the end of 2023 with many companies evaluating their hybrid or remote work policies, many of us are asking, does working from home have greater environmental benefits than in-person work? Aside from any social benefits of working in person, are there larger-level impacts on an organization’s sustainability goals? We should compare carbon emissions, energy consumption, and waste from hybrid and in-office environments in considering their environmental impact.

The Impact of Commuting on Carbon Emissions

A clear distinction between remote work and in-person work is the commute. Remote workers are just steps away from their desks, ready to get started shortly after waking up. The average commute time for Americans working in an office is about 27 minutes, not including the time it takes to get out the door. Commuting times decreased for most people during and after the pandemic, but they have increased again as employees steadily return to the office.

The average car emits 400 grams of CO2 per mile, and with an average commute time of 27 minutes, a daily commute can result in a substantial carbon footprint. Remote employees still contribute carbon emissions despite not having a commute to work. In theory, working from home, by eliminating a commute, has the potential to decrease someone’s carbon footprint by 54%, but only if they take additional steps to live sustainably. Carbon emissions can be linked and calculated with every activity, so we all contribute to carbon emissions in our daily routines.

Whether you commute to the office or work remotely, you can consider your carbon footprint and look for more sustainable choices and even modes of transportation.

The Impact of Energy Consumption on Corporate Sustainability

Commercial buildings are estimated to account for 18% of the total energy used by the U.S. The energy required to power an entire office is substantially more than needed to run a house, depending on the size and how many people live/ work in either building.

In the office, employees commonly leave lights on at the end of the day, especially in buildings not updated with lighting controls and occupancy settings. In addition, devices such as computers, chargers, and coffee makers are left on or plugged in, continuously drawing power even when not in use. Companies should encourage employees to take responsibility for energy conservation, even if they have little personal stake.

An energy conservation strategy can look different depending on the company’s ability and resources. Some solutions include updating lights in the office to have lighting controls or putting equipment on power strips to be turned off at the end of the day. For remote employees, you are more likely to be aware of energy consumption at home since you see your bill every month, but you can also take steps to be more conscious of energy use.

Does Working from Home Reduce Waste?

As work has become dependent on computers and other digital tools, the need for paper has decreased. Yet, in an office setting, it is common for there to be unnecessary paper waste. Remote work minimizes the unnecessary paper waste prevalent in office settings. Whether the team is meeting in person or virtually, there are opportunities for teams to reduce waste. For example, presenters can send meeting materials via email rather than printouts. And, if you must print something, print double-sided and make sure to print only what you need.

Another factor is waste production – how much waste are you producing at home or in the office? Awareness of personal waste, particularly of single-use plastics, is crucial. Offices can play a role by promoting reusable items and implementing waste-reduction strategies in shared spaces.

Office building energy usage

Is Working from Home Better for The Environment?

For companies evaluating their policies as we enter another year post-pandemic, they should consider the environmental costs and the resulting scope three emissions from employees. While employees may have limited control over their work environment, this blog aims to provide practical tips for both remote and in-office settings.

So, is working from home better for the environment? – Potentially. Working from home is not intrinsically better for the environment, but paired with additional measures, it can reduce your carbon footprint. Whether you work from home or go to the office, you can take steps to live more sustainably.

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