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Environmental impact of working from home

Climate change and the human impact on the environment are at the forefront of the issues we face in this era. As international leaders and representatives from across the globe gather at COP26 this month, it’s now more important than ever to figure out how we can minimize our impact on the environment. 

It is understood that we need to drastically change our behaviours to reduce our impact on the environment. But in the year (or two!) when our everyday living and working lives have dramatically changed, have any of the changes we’ve been required to make had a positive knock-on effect on the environment?  

At Hart Square, we moved to remote working back in March 2020. This means, that at the time of writing this article, we have been working remotely for 20 months. After our initial move to remote working, we used a Social Impact tool created by Manchester based Reason Digital to understand our social impact of working from home. This tool also calculates the environmental impact of remote working.  

So, what environmental impact have we found? 

Calculating that, from March 2020 to November 2021, our 21 staff have spent 413 days working from home This means we have saved 10,051 kg of CO2 emissions – equivalent to 457 trees planted.  

This figure is not so much of a surprise when you consider that the restrictions imposed around the world during the Covid pandemic saw an overall decline in global emissions of CO2 of 5.6%. Transportation is one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions in the UK, so as the majority of people stopped commuting and worked from home, carbon dioxide emissions from transportation dropped by 20%. 

Are there other benefits?

We could argue that the reduction in CO2 emissions from no longer commuting is not the only environmental benefit from working from home.  

A daily habit of many when working in an office is purchasing take away lunches, which in the main still tend to be bought in single-use containers. By making your own food at home, you can make your own choices about the food you buy and the packaging it comes in, so the amount of food waste packaging you generate should dramatically reduce. This goes for disposable coffee cups as well.  

Additionally, as your home is now your office, you can decide on how eco-friendly your environment is. Simple things, including home recycling and using a green energy supplier, are under your control in your home office. So, you can determine how sustainable you are when working in your home office.  

What about hybrid working?

As some organisations begin to transition into hybrid working, will this contribute to workplaces reducing their impact on the environment?  

Unfortunately, hybrid working can mean offices are running as if they were at full capacity, for example having the lights on for the whole office, even though only half of the office space is being used.  

A recent study also found that depending on local climate, an organisation’s total energy footprint can in fact be higher when staff work from home. Researchers found that the environmental impact of remote work was higher in the winter due to the need to heat individual workers’ buildings versus one office building. 

So, if we’re not careful, hybrid working could in fact result in a larger increase in your total carbon footprint.  

It falls on us as individuals

The global pandemic has certainly jolted us to understand the large positive impact we can have on the environment by making a change (albeit drastic!) to our workplace.  

But there are perhaps less drastic changes we could make. For example, if you are going hybrid, perhaps be more tactical with your space – can you downsize your office or implement zonal light sensors? Or if you are not travelling into the office, are there ways you can make your home office more energy efficient?  

There’s no doubt there is more that we should and could be doing to reduce our carbon footprint in our workplace – whether that’s at home or in the company office. Certainly, it is possible to make positive changes and ultimately it falls to us, as individuals and organisations, to do so.