Due to the recent Covid-19 pandemic more of us have been working from home and are likely to continue in the future. On the face of it it looks like good news for the environment – no more daily commutes into work; less disposable packaging for food and drink; less unnecessary, power-hungry hardware waiting on standby to be used. However, as always, it’s not quite as simple as that. The environmental impact of working from home is going to depend on seasonal and geographical factors and local environmental policy.
It is true that most commutes to work in the UK are reliant on cars – particularly outside of the main cities – so a reduction in traffic is likely to have an environmental benefit. In a country where 84% (2020) of vehicles still use petrol or diesel, we should expect to see a considerable improvement in air quality and CO2 emissions. However, if we look at the impact on a global scale it is much more varied. For instance, in Norway, more than 40% of vehicles sold in 2019 were electric and the impact of commutes in Norway is far lower than other countries still highly reliant on petrol.
Heating and cooling
In the UK we heat our workspaces and it appears the environmental impact of remote work is higher in winter due to the need to heat individual workers’ buildings versus one office building. These buildings tend to be larger areas but modern premises have more sophisticated energy management systems in place than individual homes. and because each individual remote worker tends to heat an entire house, working in a single office building often ends up having a lower impact – even with the commute added in.
The reverse is true in summer in countries with warmer climates where air-conditioning is commonplace at both home and work. And, places that experience extreme temperature differences are hit with a double whammy.
But again, local environmental policy has a huge part to play. Using Norway as an example again, where 98% of its energy comes from renewable sources, heating and cooling – whether offices or homes – are less impactful on the environment.
Minimise your environmental impact of working from home
- switch your home electricity to a supplier or plan that supports 100% renewable sources
- convince your organisation to switch their energy supplier to one that supports 100% renewable sources
- host your digital tools and websites on hosting providers who use 100% renewable energy sources to power their data centres.
- only heat the room you are working in, not the whole house. A single portable electric radiator will be more efficient than firing up the central heating. Alternatively, fit electronic thermostatic radiator valves that can shut-off radiators in unused rooms.