As more people remotely working from home, it’s fascinating to see how it has impacted the environment. Generally speaking, more remote workers means a healthier environment, but higher energy consumption levels may be a drawback.
With an unprecedented number of remote workers in the world at the moment, it’s no surprise that there will be significant social, economic, and cultural shifts in the workforce.More and more companies are adopting a hybrid approach to their work model, allowing employees to work from home and in-office during the workweek. How could this shift be affecting the environment?
Explore some surprising impacts of remotely working from home that are affecting the environment in both positive and negative ways.
Positive Environmental Impacts of Remotely Working from Home
Because of the drastic transition to remote work due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, it’s interesting to see how the environment is being impacted. Let’s discuss some of the positive environmental effects remote work has on the planet.
1. Reduced Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GHGs)
There’s no denying that remote employees benefit from the elimination of commuting, and the environment is also benefiting from reduced GHGs emitted from personal vehicles and modes of public transportation, such as trains or buses.
According to Global Workplace Analytics, it would be possible to reduce GHG emissions by 54 million tons if telework-compatible employees worked from home half of the time they currently do.
Additionally, when remote work began, data from Breathe London showed that GHG emissions fell by 25% during morning commutes and 34% during evening commutes. This goes to show how remote work can make a positive environmental impact.
2. Improved Air Quality
As a result of lowering GHG emissions, the air quality in the environment would vastly improve. More people die from air pollution compared to malaria and HIV/AIDS, according to a report from The Guardian.
One study from the National Environmental Satellite Data and Information Service found that COVID-19 lockdowns led to reduced nitrogen dioxide (NO2) in cities nationwide. It’s commonly known that improving air quality comes with its fair share of benefits, including reduced:
- Premature deaths due to diseases and strokes
- Cases of lung cancer
- Heart disease
- Chronic and acute respiratory conditions, including asthma
3. Less Plastic Pollution
It’s a challenge to find reliable data on how much plastic pollution can be reduced. Still, if employees are not commuting to work in-office, companies can cut back on plastic waste.
Even something as simple as eliminating plastic cups or straws in an office can help reduce the amount of plastic entering the environment. One UK survey found that people remotely working from home are more willing to cut down on their plastic consumption than those working on-premises.
4. Reduced Impact on Infrastructure
It’s commonly known that many large cities struggle with meeting demand, such as in public transport. Before the pandemic, cities got jam-packed with vehicles during morning and evening commutes. With more people at home, it’s clear that cities were experiencing less traffic congestion, sometimes even seeing empty downtown streets.
Vehicles increase GHG emissions and make roads more congested. The more cars on the road, the more damage they cause. When remote employees eliminate their commute, this could help make public transportation more reliable and meet citizen demand.
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Negative Environmental Impacts of Remote Work
Next, we’ll look at some of the negative effects on the environment due to more employees working from home.
1. Higher Energy Consumption
You may wonder, “Does working at home lead to less energy consumption?” The answer to this question is a bit of a mixed bag; virtual work still consumes energy within the homes of remote employees. Evidence suggests that remote work leads to higher utility bills for employees, which is certainly a negative effect on the environment.
Climate calculations regarding office versus remote work are complex, it factors into the calculations of all of the people working remotely and the devices they use to get their job done. Laptops, tablets, and smartphones all require power. While one person may not make a significant impact, the total population of remote workers does.
2. Partial Reduction of Global Carbon Footprint
Some companies, as mentioned above, are adopting hybrid work models. This would mean hybrid employees, meaning they work both from home while still traveling during their commutes. Alternate between remote and in-office work, which may help us reduce our carbon footprint, but only partially.
To truly combat the effects of climate change, there need to be sweeping policy changes, and all countries need to focus on sustainability and reducing their carbon footprint. No one solution will fix the climate crisis. Still, remote work is helping to improve the environment’s state slightly.
It’s no secret that more work needs to be done to help the environment flourish. Remote work may contribute to a partially healthy environment, but it won’t solve environmental crises on its own.
Remote Work: Better or Worse for the Environment?
Based on the information outlined above, it seems as though eliminating commutes for employees can certainly help reduce GHG emissions. That’s a positive for the environment. However, it’s important to note that remote work is only a small part in the overall fight against climate change, achieving sustainability, and creating a better environment for people to live in.