A study by Alliance Virtual Offices projects 34.3 million tons of greenhouse gas will be produced in 2021 by employees working from home; however, remote work is still better for the environment than working in an office.
The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently published a report warning “time is running out” as a global warming of two degrees Celsius will be exceeded during the 21st century unless there are rapid reductions in CO2 and other greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
The Alliance survey incorporates information from more than 20 sources encompassing 457,171 employees, exploring the impacts of commuting, paper usage, employee well-being and business practices in office settings as opposed to remote work environments.
The study says although remote workers are projected to produce 34.3 million tons of greenhouse gas, working from home is still better for the environment than working in an office and might help reduce GHG emissions, slowing climate change.
Remote workers reportedly save approximately 16.5 billion trees per year from deforestation, a leading cause of climate change. The average person who works in an office uses more than 10,000 sheets of paper per year — equivalent to nearly one tree per person — roughly 1,410 of which are unnecessary.
Approximately 247 trillion sheets of paper are saved each year by working outside an office. This is because in office settings, there are mailing, paper and printing costs to account for, as well as filing cabinets and storage space, distribution (often in cardboard boxes) and staff time spent handling paper.
Remote work better for environment
“The average worker reduces their carbon footprint by approximately 1,800 pounds by working from home,” said Alliance Virtual Offices in a release.
But how does working from home, as opposed to an office, reduce a person’s carbon footprint or save 16.5 billion trees? Remote work can benefit the environment in several ways:
– Working from home means less commuting. A Statistics Canada study shows a transition to full telework could reduce annual GHG emissions attributable to transportation by about 8.6 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent. This represents six per cent of the direct GHG emissions from Canadian households in 2015 and 11 per cent of emissions attributable to transportation;
– Employees who work from home use less electricity. The reduced consumption among commercial and industrial users in the U.S. resulted in a six to seven per cent drop in electricity use at the height of working from home during the pandemic;
– Remote workers reportedly waste less. There was a 67 per cent decrease in office waste production in the U.S. in 2020;
– The amount of paper saved each year by enabling employees to work from home saves approximately 16.5 billion trees — nearly three million acres — from deforestation;
– Employees who spend more time commuting report higher cholesterol, more frequent chronic pain and higher levels of mental health disorders than those who have little or no commute;
– Companies with work-from-home options experience increased customer bases and brand loyalty, which leads to increased profitability. This is because companies which allow employees to work from home appear to care more about the environment, which is particularly appealing to millennials — the largest population group — who tend to be more selective when it comes to where they spend their money;
– Buying a home or commercial property is more environmentally friendly — and sometimes even less expensive — than renting or building new construction.
New construction significantly impacts the environment. Every year, 6.13 billion square metres of buildings are constructed globally. The embodied carbon emissions from that construction equals approximately 3,729 million metric tons of CO2 annually.
Embodied carbon will be responsible for nearly half of new construction emissions between now and 2050.
Working from home can, however, still cause a significant amount of greenhouse gases, particularly due to the amount of time employees spend meeting virtually with their teams.
When workers started video streaming and using online meeting platforms to perform their daily duties, internet data use rose nearly 40 per cent in the U.S. from January to March 2020.
In Canada, more than one-third (36 per cent) of residents 15 years of age and older worked from home using the Internet more often than prior to the pandemic, with 12 per cent doing so for the first time.
In addition to telework, seven per cent of Canadians reported using the Internet more frequently to earn income than they did prior to the pandemic. There are ways, however, to lessen this additional energy use.
Video streaming consumes data at a higher rate than voice only, so turning off the camera during meetings saves energy. Using recycled or reusable materials such as plates, cups and dishes at home can help prevent deforestation, as can powering household appliances with renewable resources such as wind or solar.
“When this pandemic ends, our massive climate change problem will not have gone away … What I really hope is that the environmental lens of this will stay focused,” said Kerry Bowman, assistant professor, faculty of medicine, University of Toronto, in a release. “The good news would be, if we can change behaviour that quickly, we can do it on other environmental fronts.”
About Alliance Virtual Offices
Alliance Virtual Offices is a virtual office network offering online workspaces, private meeting rooms and technology infrastructure. The company has more than 1,000 virtual offices worldwide.