The environmental benefit of working from home

Remote working and working from home were growing trends in 2019 but adoption was relatively slow. Fast forward to April 2020 and the UK’s Office for National Statistics stated 49.2% of working adults were now working from home. A dramatic increase as a result of home working recommendations by the UK government in a bid to slow down the spread of Covid-19.

Now 17 months since the first lockdown in the UK, working from home is still the default for millions. But what, if any, is the environmental benefit of working from home.

Working From Home

The main benefit to working from home, at least in my role, is the now lack of the commute. More importantly the dramatic reduction in my commutes carbon footprint. The round trip from my home to the office is roughly a 34-mile round trip. If I was to go into the office 5 days a week for a year, this would be roughly 220 round trips a year (minus weekends, holidays, and bank holidays). This would total 7,480 driving miles. The University of Michigan has calculated that the average passenger car emits 0.78 pounds of CO2 per mile driven. This means, just by working from home for a year, I could reduce my carbon footprint by almost 6000 pounds of CO2.

But that’s just the start. I have found that by working from home I am eating better and using much less single-use plastics. Prior to 2020 my typical lunch, I am sorry to say, was a supermarket meal deal. Usually a plastic pasta pot or plastic/cardboard sandwich pack, a bag of crisps and a bottle of water or coke. Now that I am working from home, I am finishing off the previous night’s meal, eating fruit or making something fresh. Although I may use the cooker a little bit more, overall my impact is far less.

When working from home, I try to be careful of my electric and gas use. The heating is rarely on between April and October. I try to use just my laptop and an additional screen, maybe a light, and use the kettle a handful of times throughout the day. If I have the radio or music on I use my laptop to save switching on an additional device. But until you really think about it, there are many other small differences in my working from a home life that benefit my carbon footprint. As an example, I don’t print handouts for meetings (they are all digital), I don’t buy a single-use cup of coffee on the way to a meeting, I don’t print plane or train tickets, I don’t need to eat on the move, I don’t need to stay in hotels, the list goes on.

Now, this is only my working from home experience and everyone is different. I mean, one of my neighbours who has been working from home due to Covid-19, has a takeaway delivered almost daily as well as other home deliveries. I am not sure how far his commute was previously, but he could well be cancelling this out.

Photo - Working from home 2019
Working from home 2019

From my personal experience, the environmental benefit of working from home has been significant. This has been further increased as I now spend some of the money I would have spent on petrol towards planting trees.

One important distinction to make here though is ‘Remote working’ and ‘Working from home, is not the same thing.

Working from home, means just that, as remote could be anywhere. Both have a significantly different impact on your carbon footprint.

Remote working in 2019

During 2019, I worked fully remote as a Technical Customer Success Manager. I spent around 50% of my time working from home, and the other 50% working fully remote. By fully remote I mean, traveling, coffee shops, client offices, planes, trains, and anywhere else I found myself with a laptop and wifi connection that wasn’t at home, or in a work-owned office.

During the first 6 months of the year I clocked up:

22,518 (Approx) Air Miles
2192 (Approx) Train Miles
5000 (Approx) Car Miles

In total just short of 30,000 miles of travel, across the US, UK, and Mainland Europe. A relatively large carbon footprint for just one person for 6 months. Then add to this the other contributions to my carbon footprint such as the amount of single-use coffee cups, hotel stays, single-use cold drinks, single-use plates, food packaging, and so on. Even printing off plane tickets, hotel bookings, and handouts for customer meetings, all added to the impact.

It is fair to say ‘remote working’ created an individual carbon footprint of significant size. Substantially different to my carbon footprint from working at home.

Highway - Driving between San Diego and Los Angeles
Driving between San Diego and Los Angeles

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