The Pros and Cons of the Environmental Impacts of Working from Home
The pandemic forced many employees to work from home for months and this got a lot of people thinking about whether remote working is better for the environment. We certainly saw that air quality was measurably better when the majority of people cut their work commute out of their day. But there’s always two sides to every coin and that means there are arguments for, and against, remote work being better for the environment. Let’s dive in and break it all down.
That’s a No For Me…
First, let’s take a look at some of the environmental impacts going remote had that were considered bad for the environment, and some possible arguments against those thoughts.
- Office buildings are designed to utilize energy better than most homes. (Let’s face it, not everyone lives in an energy star rated home; but then again, not every office is super energy efficient either.)
- Remote workers need supplies shipped to them and that burns environmental resources.
- People working from home might still need to travel for in-person meetings or to see clients. (But if workers are in the office, a client may have to travel to see them, so we see this part as a toss up).
- Making video calls and internet usage takes energy, which translates to CO2 emissions. (Most companies still have high internet usage at the office, so for us, this pretty much equals out.)
- Hybrid work can increase negative environmental impacts as both homes and offices are powered up.
It’s Sunshine and Roses Over Here
Now let’s look at some of the ways remote work is good for the environment, and some possible arguments against those thoughts as well.
- No work commute means a reduction in emissions and better air quality. It also means that gas and electricity are consumed at lower levels, since you don’t have to power up your car as often. It can also mean less wear on the roads, requiring less construction to fix problems (and most construction trucks are not very environmentally friendly).
- Workers use less paper because they are sending things electronically. (On the other hand, that internet usage comes with an energy consumption price, but if your company used the internet a lot anyway, it can be a toss up.)
- Less waste is made in the office kitchen because instead of plastic or paper cups, plates and utensils, people at home are using their own dishware and silverware. (And while this means less in the landfill, it does mean higher dishwasher use and not everyone has a newer, more efficient dishwasher.)
- The energy needed to power up an office building is greatly reduced as the company shifts to a smaller office space with a smaller ecological footprint.
- Working from home gives people greater opportunity to consume more eco-friendly diets. When you are at the office, it’s easy enough to make that McDonald’s run, but at home, you have your fridge full of fresh fruits and veggies calling your name. (But you can’t control people’s eating habits and they may still get that Micky D’s delivered by UberEats…)
So Is Working Remote More Environmentally Friendly?
Most initial signs seem to point more toward yes, however more research could give us more conclusive answers. Plus, it sort of depends on the company and the employees! Some of the arguments for, or against, remote working being better for the environment were a bit of a toss up just because you are switching up where and who the onus is on for creating emissions and waste. Scientists did notice an improvement in air quality during the “great pause” but environmental events like fires, hurricanes, and more seem to be just as bad if not worse even now. It’s important to remember that eighteen months of working from home won’t change the environment drastically for the better, especially not overnight.
So if you want to make the switch to remote work to cut down on your transportation emissions, you might also consider mitigating some of the negative impacts that working from home may create. Now might be a good time to upgrade to more energy-efficient appliances if you can. Remember, doing better by the environment is about your cumulative behaviors and that means making changes in all parts of your daily life, such as consuming less, using renewable resources and perhaps even making changes to your diet. (We promise we won’t judge you for indulging in McD’s every once in a while, though! We love their fries!)
If you want to find a company that aligns with your environmental values, utilize Workzinga! Our personality test isn’t just for employees but for companies too. With Workzinga, you’ll be able to find a company that not only is a good fit for your personality, but whose core values align with yours. This means you can find a company that appreciates the environment as much as you do! (Hey, Patagonia, we’re looking at you!)