Remote Work’s Sustainability Secret

Published 16 October 2023

2 min read

New research from the US suggests that employees with entirely remote work schedules more than halve their carbon...

  • Fully Remote Schedules Enjoy Eco-Halo: The researchers modelled a variety of situations to determine how employees’ work behaviours affect their carbon emissions. Considering energy usage related to heating one’s home, running errands, commuting and powering an office, the study suggests that fully remote work is significantly less carbon-intensive than hybrid or in-person schedules.

    Even working in-person one or two days a week drastically increases the amount of energy needed for powering offices and commuting. It’s only when both are eliminated that there’s a demonstrable decrease in emissions.

  • Individual Behaviour Holds the Key: Rather than being a business directive, experts note that the study underlines just how much individual behaviour influences emissions. Consequently, companies should also consider how they can incentivise employees to practice sustainable behaviours outside of remote working, such as choosing public transport or cycling instead of private car travel. See the model put forward by Walmart’s cycle-to-work initiative, as outlined in Resilient Cities.

  • Employee Pressure: More research – and lived experience – is needed to untangle how remote versus in-person work affects carbon emissions. Remote schedules may increase emissions if they result in an uptick in long-haul flights due to a surge in the number of digital nomads or lead people to spend more on heating their homes during winter (a topic previously addressed on The Brief). If sustainability is the end goal, employers must consider their work policies holistically to ensure they reduce their climate impact.

 

For more on sustainability mindsets, see Meet the Eco-Pragmatists.

  • Fully Remote Schedules Enjoy Eco-Halo: The researchers modelled a variety of situations to determine how employees’ work behaviours affect their carbon emissions. Considering energy usage related to heating one’s home, running errands, commuting and powering an office, the study suggests that fully remote work is significantly less carbon-intensive than hybrid or in-person schedules.

    Even working in-person one or two days a week drastically increases the amount of energy needed for powering offices and commuting. It’s only when both are eliminated that there’s a demonstrable decrease in emissions.

  • Individual Behaviour Holds the Key: Rather than being a business directive, experts note that the study underlines just how much individual behaviour influences emissions. Consequently, companies should also consider how they can incentivise employees to practice sustainable behaviours outside of remote working, such as choosing public transport or cycling instead of private car travel. See the model put forward by Walmart’s cycle-to-work initiative, as outlined in Resilient Cities.

  • Employee Pressure: More research – and lived experience – is needed to untangle how remote versus in-person work affects carbon emissions. Remote schedules may increase emissions if they result in an uptick in long-haul flights due to a surge in the number of digital nomads or lead people to spend more on heating their homes during winter (a topic previously addressed on The Brief). If sustainability is the end goal, employers must consider their work policies holistically to ensure they reduce their climate impact.

 

For more on sustainability mindsets, see Meet the Eco-Pragmatists.