People who constantly work remotely produce less than half the greenhouse gas emissions of office workers, a new study finds.
In the United States, employees who work from home all the time are expected to reduce their emissions by 54% compared to workers in an office, according to the study. But hybrid workers didn’t reduce their emissions as dramatically, according to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
One day of remote working per week reduced emissions by just 2%, as energy savings from not being in the office were offset by factors such as increased travel outside the home when the we work from home. Working remotely two or four days a week reduced an individual’s emissions by up to 29% compared to on-site workers.
Researchers from Cornell University and Microsoft used multiple datasets, including Microsoft employees’ own data on commuting and teleworking behaviors, to model predicted greenhouse gas emissions from office workers , remote workers, and hybrid workers in the United States, looking at five categories of emissions, including office and residential energy use. .
They found that information and communications technologies had a negligible impact on the carbon footprint of individuals’ work.
The main causes of reduced emissions from remote workers were lower energy consumption in the office, as well as reduced emissions from daily commuting.
The larger emissions reduction benefits of working from home include reducing peak-hour vehicle congestion in commuting areas, which is likely to improve fuel economy. But the authors warned that working from home needs to be carefully planned to help reduce emissions.
“People say, ‘I work from home, I’m net zero.’ This is not true,” said co-author Fengqi You of Cornell University. “The net benefit of remote work is positive, but the key question is how positive it is. When people work remotely, they tend to spend more time on social activities.
The study found that non-work travel among remote workers has increased, with more car trips and more flights. You said that homes were not always optimized for decarbonization, in terms of renewable energy use and appliance efficiency, and that there were energy savings linked to scale. For example, a small home printer will likely be less energy efficient than an office printer.
The Covid-19 pandemic has created a remote working revolution for many office workers. In the United States and elsewhere, many people have moved from “high-density commuting areas” – relatively close to large cities and offices – to more rural “low-density commuting areas.” According to the study, this could lead to longer travel distances for hybrid workers and a larger carbon footprint due to increased use of private vehicles.
The authors said: “While remote working shows potential to reduce carbon footprints, careful consideration of travel patterns, building energy use, vehicle ownership and travel non-travel related is essential to fully realize its environmental benefits. »
Although the findings do not apply to workers in many sectors – a bus driver, for example, cannot work from home – they provide insight into how employers working in offices can reduce their emissions. business.
You said that although the results were specific to the United States, the modeling and trends were likely to be replicated in Europe and Japan. He called on businesses to consider energy efficiency measures, reduce staff numbers and share office space. “By sharing office space, we reduce the capacity and size and reduce the energy consumption of our offices,” he said.
The study found that IT and communications accounted for a small percentage of overall emissions and that emissions reductions should therefore focus on renewable energy for office heating and cooling, as well as decarbonisation of commuting -work.