Remote work is better for the planet – fact! Changing where we work and how we work is making our planet greener. Remote work is the future of work, and the environmental benefits of remote work are enormous.
Less cars on the road, less energy used during a work day, and reducing the outrageous footprints of big offices. And that’s just the start. In this article we explore the many important environmental benefits of remote work and how we can all play a part in making the planet greener, just by working remotely.
1. Skipping the Commute Massively Reduces Fossil Fuel Consumption
Offices can go greener and reduce their fossil fuel consumption, but there’s no getting around getting to work. 90% of the fuel used for transport comes from petroleum products. Just think about how much gasoline is used for one person to drive 45 minutes to work, then 45 minutes back home, five times a week.
It’s a crazy fossil fuel consumption and what’s worse is that most commuters drive alone. Millions upon millions of cars on the road, all with only occupant, burning through fossil fuels just to get to the office. One of the great benefits of remote work is not having to commute. That means more time in bed, more time doing what you want to do. And not getting stuck in traffic.
It’s believed that the daily commute consumes over 200 million gallons of gasoline, ever single day, only in the USA. Multiple that by the rest of the world. Plus all the work days in a year. Digital nomads are sometimes criticised for their fossil fuel consumption when traveling the world on planes and trains. But these nomads don’t commute. Not driving to work can be the number one factor in reducing our planet’s consumption.
2. Reducing Single-Use Plastic Consumption
One disadvantage of working from home is being so close to your fridge. It’s so easy to get distracted and aimlessly grab something to eat. But working close to the fridge has environmental benefits. Think about the oceans of single-use plastic consumed every single day by office workers.
All those cups of takeaway coffee. All those pre-packaged sandwiches. Everything that gets taken away wrapped in plastic, ready to eat or drink. Almost all of us use disposable plastic at home as well, but convenience is a much bigger factor when working from an office. Think of all those straws, packages, utensils and coffee cup lids.
To counteract this you can have an office worker brewing their own coffee in their own reusable pot, using reusable dishware and preparing their meals in an office kitchen. But that hardly happens. So being next to the fridge can be good for the planet!
3. Reducing Paper Consumption
While we’re in the office, let’s talk about the mountains of paper that get printed and then discarded. It’s estimated that 40% of US garbage is made up of paper and paperboard. 40%! Sure, a good office recycles paper, but it’s still much better to leave that paper as trees and forest. Waste reduction is always more cost effective then recycling – just think of the energy required to manufacture, transport, collect, process and re-manufacture paper.
The United States goes through 700 trillion sheets of copy paper every single year. 700 trillion! Who can even compute that figure? Working online can eliminate 247 trillion sheets of paper, just in the US. Multiple that by the rest of the world. Working remotely means working smartly, such as collaborating on documents in real time, online.
4. Less Greenhouse Gas Emissions
This point is worth stretching. Fewer telecommuters leads to hugely reduced greenhouse gas emissions. This environmental benefit of remote work can be worth more than 54 million tons of greenhouse gases every single year, in the United States. That’s an estimate by Global Workforce Analytics, based on every office worker doing their work from home, for just half of the week.
Imagine the positive impact on our planet if nobody worked in an office. All around the world, coronavirus lockdowns have forced people to work from home. Less vehicles on the road has also contributed to increased wildlife and cleaner air.
Right now we have two main options if we want to be greener. One is to work remotely and not emit so much carbon. Or we can offset. So we can return to the office and plant millions of trees to offset all the carbon emissions. Guess how many trees you would need to plant to offset 54 million tons of greenhouse gases? 1.365 billion! That’s 1,365,000,000 new trees. Crazy!
5. Environmental Benefits of More Evenly Distributed Populations
Remote work is not only the future of work. Remote work is remaking how and where we live. Rental prices in big cities are decreasing. Populations are spreading out. Wealth is being redistributed as people take advantage of working from anywhere. In 2019 there were 7 million people working remotely. That figure is now at 700 million.
As people spread more evenly across the planet we see further environmental benefits to remote working. Demand on transport infrastructure is reduced, especially at peak commute times. So that’s even more gasoline and greenhouse gases to be saved. As populations spread out, spikes in energy demand and energy use are flattened. This is good for green energy. Instead of tens of millions of people in a single city, tens of millions of people can utilise alternative energy sources.
The benefits continue. It’s cheaper to live outside cities. There is less noise, less light pollution and better air quality. Moving out of the cities provides a better place for children to grow up. As populations spread, smaller towns get their opportunity to develop. A study from Yale University argues that urbanisation contributes to 5% of all greenhouse emissions. So de-urbanisation is one of the enormous environmental benefits of remote work.
6. Remote Workers are More Environmentally Conscious
Some argue that the energy savings from offices are not that great. Working remotely and working from home still requires energy, such as lights, air conditioning or heating, powering a computer and other electronic items. However, most people are more environmentally conscious when they work from home, often because they have to pay the energy bill.
Think about big offices and how much electronic equipment is on standby, 12 hours a day. Like big printing stations, computers, or air conditioning and heating to control the climate in a massive open space. People switch off lights in their own house because if they don’t, they have to pay for all that wasted energy. But in an office? It’s somebody else’s problem.
A study from Sun Microsystems showed that personal energy consumption is double for every person working from the office, compared to working from home. Just by working from home instead, each person can save at least 5,400 kWh each year.
7. More Money to Invest in Going Green and Staying Green
Switching long-term habits and energy use can be challenging. Often there are associated costs. Gasoline is cheap, because, well, the world has been designed to run off gasoline. Developing new technologies takes time and money. Businesses and individuals need to invest in new infrastructures and we can pay for it just by not working from the office.
A study from Global Workplace Analytics found that a “typical employer can save around $11,000 a year for every employee who works remotely half of the time.” Employees save $2500 – 4000 a year. They save even more if they can move to a less expensive area and work remotely all of the time.
That cost saving can be invested into green technology and infrastructure. It can be used to plant trees and re-forest parts of the planet. This is a great way to counteract some of the negative environmental impacts of remote working. For example, three hours of video calls every single work day creates around 2000 kgs of CO2 gasses, because of the energy required to transmit an ultra HD video call. Zapier, a fully remote company, offsets this by buying 650 metric tons of carbon offsets via reforestation.
8. Digital Nomads Can Be Environmentally Smart
Digital nomads have been heavily criticised for their carbon footprint. For example, they fly often and use cowork offices, which have many of the same negative environmental impacts as normal offices. But digital nomads are usually very environmentally smart. And their flight consumption still pales in comparison to traditional international business travel.
Digital nomads usually consume less, because they don’t have room in their backpacks. They live their life from a single bag, which is usually a minimalistic way to go. That means buying fewer physical goods and clothes. Digital nomads tend to stay in long-term apartment rentals and pay their own bills, quite different to large hotels used by traditional business travellers.
It’s also worth celebrating the learning and inspiration digital nomads can find by working and living in places all around the world. People in different countries have different environmental challenges and solutions. There is no right and wrong, just always more to learn and adapt into your own way of life. So although digital nomads may be consuming more than people working from home, they are conscious of their impact and try to counter this impact.
9. Better Air Quality
The basic way to improve air quality is to switch from fossil fuels to green energy. Renewable fuel is vastly superior to fossil fuels. One of the biggest benefits when making the switch is an improvement in air quality. Studies show how remote working hugely increases personal productivity. Better air quality does the same. And it helps us to live longer.
Air quality is a threat to public health in big cities. One way to counter this is a greener commute, such as cycling to work or using a car pool service. A more effective counter method is to not commute. Spreading populations out of the cities will improve air quality everywhere.
10. The End of the Office
Just imagine a world with no traditional offices. All those lights that burn bright throughout day and night. All those forests fed through big printing machines. All that space that is needed to accommodate employees. Most people have two carbon footprints. Their home. And then their place of work. So how about removing one of them. Getting rid of the office is one of the great environmental benefits of remote work.
And it doesn’t need to be all or nothing. Of course there will be a transition period, just like there is now a transition towards being carbon neutral by 2030. Or is that 2040? Or 2050! A new generation of remote workers has been created during the coronavirus pandemic. Okay, it was difficult. But think how quickly people have adapted to this new normal. Most people want to continue working remotely after the pandemic, it’s just that companies are not so sure.
Just think of what can be achieved by 2030 if companies listen to their employees and transition towards the end of the office. That alone will create huge strides towards a greener planet and a carbon neutral existence. All the evidence shows that remote workers are more productive and better value for businesses. As soon as businesses fully appreciate these benefits, we will all see more of the incredible environmental benefits of remote work.
Search Remotely is the leading jobs platform for remote work. It’s exclusively focused on remote jobs and supports a vast community of remote workers and remote employees. Hiring the right talent and finding the right remote employer leads to the many benefits of working remotely. Not just for individuals and employers, but for the planet as well.