6 Environmental Benefits of Remote Work
Before the pandemic began in 2020, very few companies offered the option to work remotely. Once the virus started to spread and offices shut down, the number of people working from home jumped from 4% to 47% in April 2020.
Some offices have reopened and now require their teams to return to work in person, but others choose to stay remote because it offers more benefits. What are the environmental benefits of remote work?
Working remotely eliminates the need for a daily commute, which in turn reduces the amount of CO2 emissions each driver generates. Studies found that staying home four days a week can reduce nitrogen dioxide emissions by around 10%.
The environmental impact of commuting can be severe. Nitrogen dioxide is the primary pollutant caused by vehicle emissions. A hybrid work model – where employees can spend part of their time at home and the rest in the office – greatly reduces collective nitrogen dioxide emissions.
Better Air Quality
Air quality in urban areas is always a concern. Lockdowns showed dramatic improvements in air quality, but when people started heading back into the office, the pollution numbers began climbing again. Once the restrictions were lifted, nitrogen dioxide emissions remained about 20% lower than before the pandemic began.
Air pollution can impact the local environment and the health of anyone who lives there. Exposure can cause respiratory conditions such as asthma, emphysema, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Reduced Paper Waste
Paper use isn’t efficient when everyone is working from home. Requiring paper contracts or other physical paperwork means that everyone needs a printer or people end up waiting for important documents to arrive in the mail.
Switching to digital makes life easier for remote work while helping to reduce the 85 million tons of paper Americans use every year. With the introduction of touchscreens that allow you to sign contracts or convey information without needing paper in hand, creating a paper-free environment becomes much easier.
How much time do you spend commuting to and from the office every day? Getting rid of your daily commute frees up that time for workers to spend how they see fit.
In addition to reducing your fuel costs and shrinking your carbon footprint, having this extra time to yourself during the day is a valuable tool to help you avoid burnout. Make sure you’re taking time to disconnect from work when your workday ends. Shut off the computer, close the laptop, and shut off notifications from your work email or messaging apps.
Wasting Less Power
While the world is looking for alternative energy sources, most modern grids still rely on traditional fossil fuels, so the more power we use, the larger our carbon footprint becomes. Keeping people at home might increase the utility costs of individual homes, but it reduces or eliminates those same utility costs from larger commercial buildings. It also allows building owners to shut down power and other utilities to large structures currently sitting unused.
Better solutions may present themselves in the future for repurposing or altering office buildings that are sitting empty because their teams are working remotely, but for the moment, keeping them shuttered makes more sense environmentally.
Reduced Plastic Waste
Avoiding single-use plastics is significantly easier when you’re spending time at home. Your morning coffee comes in your favorite mug instead of a disposable cup. Cooking at home and reducing food costs will reduce the plastics and styrofoam that come from delivering food. Drinking from your tap or a filter installed on your faucet or fridge means you’re not using single-use water bottles to stay hydrated.
It’s not a flawless benefit because staying home means you’re generating more overall waste, but it does make it easier to avoid single-use plastics.
Should Remote Work Become Permanent?
Some managers and business owners believe, now that the COVID-19 pandemic is winding down, the best course of action is to bring everyone back to the office.
The control and micromanagement potential of being in the office does not outweigh the environmental benefits of remote work. Nor does it outweigh the physical, mental, and emotional benefits that employees experience from being able to skip their daily commute in favor of working from home.
There are some positions where staying home isn’t an option, but as many companies learned throughout the pandemic, remote work helps improve employee productivity and morale. Companies will have to decide whether remote work can become a permanent option for their teams.