At first glance, working from home unquestionably seems environmentally friendly. Most Covid-19-related studies reveal a decrease in carbon emission and lower fossil fuel consumption. There’s a definite improvement in office supply usage. Overused printers and around-the-clock buzzing coffee machines are all off.
But, more rigorous studies outline more complex problems. A Harvard business review report warns of emissions getting back to pre-pandemic levels. Electricity statistics vary from research to research. Some reveal clear savings after switching to WFH. Meanwhile, others demonstrate how WFH can increase energy consumption.
Instead of criticizing the very model of working from home, most scholars agree on its positive potential. An effective transition to the WFH environment needs fact-based planning to help the planet. How should remote work be organized for it to be environmentally friendly?
It should’ve been an email
Those with corporate job experience very well know the saying “this meeting should have been an email.” The WFH model makes unnecessary meetings an environmental issue because of how much electricity they require.
Research in Canada revealed that “average daily household electricity consumption increased by about 12% in 2020 relative to 2019.” The growing household energy consumption lessens the positive income of cutting back on office supplies. Some of it has to do with online meetings.
Understandably, people called each other more during the pandemic. Taking care of one’s psychological well-being is a priority. And the feeling of isolation was a threat to many. However, that tremendously increased energy consumption in both households and data centers. Employees called each other more frequently than they would organize a meeting in a
workplace. And data centers were overloaded with video stream traffic. It was pushing the servers to their maximum capacity, significantly increasing energy costs.
The challenge is to continue improving after switching to WFH. Remote workers should still turn off unnecessary lights. Some like to have a TV on while working. Air conditioning is unavoidably costly when needed. Companies and employees should work together to improve the WFH model continuously. In other words, even at home there’s a need to cut back on unnecessary consumption.
Personal responsibility changes everything
Reducing carbon dioxide emissions is one of the most significant and most noticeable changes. Londoners can spend an hour and a half driving to work, and then the same amount of time driving home. The sudden traffic reduction immediately resulted in lower air pollution and the biggest drop in carbon dioxide emissions.
Sadly, the numbers are going back up. One of the main reasons is that big corporations are still responsible for most CO2 emissions. On the other hand, researchers that looked into WFH and carbon emissions also found some troubling news.
Many employees travel more. Shorter personal trips replaced long business trips. People want to get away and clear their heads when they spend all of their time at home. But these trips are bringing up CO2 emissions, which is no good from an environmental perspective.
Taking care of technology
Another issue is the manufacturing of technology. During lockdowns, there was a significant increase in tech and household item purchases. Laptops, monitors, routers, tables, and air-conditioning, among other things.
A sudden burst in demand is very profitable for some market players. Overall, it doesn’t come without its challenges. Massive consumption in tech resulted in huge demand for microchips.
With global economies stalling, the manufacturing of this highly complex technology also slowed down, increasing prices. People started buying cheaper, lower-quality products with more energy consumption and higher emissions.
It’s up to the employer to help in every way possible. Tech equipment, adapted work hours, and a comfortable workspace at home is essential. The same applies to cybersecurity software. Remote workers rushed to secure their home networks by hunting for VPN black Friday deals, scared of the rising threat of cyber attacks. But many companies quickly set up secure VPN connections for safe online communication.
Furthermore, many companies added new software to their list. Digital planning tools, better communication software, password managers and VPNs were added for workers’ comfort. After all, secure communication is one of the backbones of the contemporary digital landscape.
With a mutual effort, the transition to WFH was successful. And even though there are various challenges to overcome, the environmental benefits of WFH are clear.