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Helping the planet by remote working
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Is working from home greener than being in the office?

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Businesses must act with sufficient due diligence to assess which way of working is better for the planet. Here are some things you can do to make a difference.

24th Aug 2022
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When the world shut down in Spring 2020 due to the Coronavirus pandemic, mixed in amongst the fear and worry was relief from those who no longer had to endure long, expensive commutes. Other than essential and frontline workers, a large majority of the world’s population set up offices at home and, for a while, enjoyed the small silver lining of not commuting.  

Now, over two years on from the start of the pandemic, employers are still grappling with how their workforce should work and importantly, where.

Business travel has been slow to recover but while employers are enjoying the economic savings, many should be appreciating the carbon emissions they will be saving too

What was the environmental impact of lockdown?

The global shutdown had a significant impact on the environment. The national lockdowns that took place over the world saw wildlife sightings increase, air quality improve and carbon emissions drop. Transport makes up 23% of global carbon emissions with driving contributing 72% of the transport sector’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Two weeks after the nationwide lockdown was announced on March 23rd in the UK, NO₂ pollution in some cities fell by as much as 60% compared to the same period in 2019. NASA revealed that NO₂ pollution over New York and other major metropolitan areas in north-eastern USA was 30% lower in March 2020, compared to the monthly average from 2015 to 2019.

The global financial crash in 2008 saw a fall in global emissions as a result of a reduction in travel and industrial activity. This led to an overall dip in emissions of 1.3%, however, emissions rebounded by 2010 as the economy recovered, leading to an all-time high.  

Business travel was significantly curbed during both the pandemic and the 2008 financial crash. During the pandemic, businesses turned to video conferencing rather than putting employees on short or long-haul flights. No doubt the move to video conferencing during the pandemic was a result of technological advances in telecommunications. A zoom or teams meeting can today be easily accessed from a basic laptop or phone. Business travel has been slow to recover but while employers are enjoying the economic savings, many should be appreciating the carbon emissions they will be saving too.

By omitting commuting or working from home emissions, businesses have an incomplete picture of their carbon footprint

Why we should prioritise carbon emissions

As businesses recover from the pandemic and navigate the return to the office, it’s imperative employers consider which way of working is better for our environment. People who live an hour’s drive from the office could work primarily from home, reducing their daily carbon emissions, whereas people who can use public transport or walk or cycle to the office might find their overall emissions are actually lower when working in the office.

As carbon management becomes embedded in business, employers should start to consider the emissions associated with how and where people work, whilst of course taking into consideration fairness for the entire workforce and ensuring employee wellbeing

The Greenhouse Gas Protocol provides standards and tools that help countries and cities track progress toward climate goals. Scope 1, 2 and 3 is a way of categorising the different kinds of carbon emissions a company creates in its own operations, and in its wider value chain. Currently, these scopes do not require businesses to report emissions associated with working from home, but companies must start to factor these in if they are to stay ahead of the curve.

By omitting commuting or working from home emissions, businesses have an incomplete picture of their carbon footprint. We anticipate the Greenhouse Gas Protocol will continue to evolve and expand.  

Now parts of Scope 3 for certain companies are becoming mandatory, we are seeing more aspects of business operations being brought within organisational boundaries of responsibility from an emissions perspective. It is essential employers future-proof their carbon management today if they are to have a system that is fit for purpose tomorrow.

Supporting working from home

There are opportunities for employers to manage carbon emissions through working from home by supporting the switch to renewable electricity among their employees or by subsiding energy efficiency upgrades in employees’ homes. 

Business owners can not only help our environment but potentially save money if they put carbon emissions first when deciding on their working from home policies

Upgrades could include a range of individually small things that add up to a large impact in totality, such as maximising current insulation with draught blockers, using curtains and blinds effectively, moving furniture or installing quick-sealing windows. Employers could also subsidise interest-free loans for the installation of heat pumps, double glazing, or more energy-efficient boilers. 

I predict that we will see businesses consider more and more how and where they operate. By minimising commuting emissions businesses not only have an opportunity to lower their carbon footprint but they can reduce business costs. As the world struggles with the rise in the cost of living, business owners can not only help our environment but potentially save money if they put carbon emissions first when deciding on their working from home policies. 

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