An online tool from data analytics startup Watershed allows users to gauge the climate impact of their remote work policies by inputting various information to see whether changing remote work policies will increase or decrease emissions and by how much.
What is Happening?
- Currently, the online calculator from Watershed models five regions: San Francisco, New York City, Houston, London and Toronto.
- Watershed offers tools for companies to assess their greenhouse gas emissions more holistically, from the power their offices consume to the fuels burned in their supply chain.
- This tool comes as many companies and organisations are giving employees the options to continue remote work partially or completely after the COVID-19 pandemic.
- This tool could guide various policy changes, including the number of employees and how many days per week they’ll be in the office, employees’ living patterns (suburbs vs. urban cores) and commuting methods — cars, trains or biking and walking, the size of offices, which matters for their use of power and natural gas and whether the company buys clean power and gives that option for remote workers.
- However, an analysis by CityLab in San Francisco says that the tool could reduce a company’s overall carbon emissions, but at the expense of increasing their employees’ own carbon footprints.
- Watershed’s site says, “Many people think the climate-conscious choice is to keep as much of the team working remotely for as long as possible. The reality is more complicated. Remote work shifts carbon: Emissions from energy and food still exist, but at employees’ homes, where they may be better or worse than in the office.”
- Businesses like Microsoft, Facebook and Google have pledged to become carbon neutral by 2050. However, such promises from businesses only cover their own workplaces, not the homes of their employees.
- According to Global Workspace Analytics, the average US round-trip commute is about an hour; for those who drive alone to work, like the vast majority of Americans, that equates to nearly 3.2 tons of carbon per year, per person. If all US residents who could and wanted to work from home started doing so for half the week, “it would have the greenhouse gas equivalent of taking the entire New York State workforce off the road.”
- However, depending on whether and where newly remote employees move, these carbon savings may be less guaranteed. A decentralised workforce might lead to more quarterly trips to meet face-to-face, for example, which could up the average number of airplane flights a year that the company is responsible for, erasing any emissions gains seen elsewhere. (Five flights a year for 2 000 employees can add up to nearly 8 800 tons of CO2, according to the calculator.)
- Additionally, a company’s choice to source clean power for the office will put the energy burden for working from home on the employee- as does the choice of where to source that energy from.
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- More people could move to suburban neighbourhoods, which could increase commuting costs.
- Bloomberg suggests some measures to increase climate consciousness in both the employer and employee by limiting long-haul flights to company-wide meetings, encouraging less sprawl by offering better subsidies for public transit than parking, buy carbon offsets to account for employees’ extra home energy use or spend some of the money once spent on snacks on a clean power upgrade. These measures will hopefully help reduce the climate impact of remote work policies should they stay in effect.