People who work remotely could have a 54% lower carbon footprint than those who work in an office, according to a new study.
The research was published Sunday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). These results come as employees gradually return to the office following significant growth in hybrid and remote work catalyzed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The study, focused on the United States, a**lyzed the environmental implications of remote, hybrid and fully on-site working. Lifestyle and time spent working from home appear to have the most significant impact on reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
Office energy is the largest contributor to the carbon footprint of on-site and hybrid workers, the study found. In contrast, the use of information and communication technologies (ICT) by remote and hybrid workers had very little impact on the carbon footprint.
Examples of ICT are computers, cell phones and printers, all of which are common devices in the workplace.
“This shows that people should shift away from the use of ICT to focus on decarbonising commuting, reducing the size of facilities and penetrating renewable energy in office buildings to mitigate GHG emissions related to remote and on-site work,” the study says.
Hybrid workers working two to four days from home can reduce their emissions by 11 to 29 percent, the study found. This value is significantly reduced if employees only work from home for one day, reducing emissions by just 2 percent.
Fengqi You, study author and professor at Cornell University, says that while it’s important that remote work can cut emissions by more than half, there’s still room for improvement.
“It’s only half, not 85 or 95 percent,” You told PKBNEWS.
He says that with more people working remotely, residential energy consumption is increasing. This includes the energy used to prepare lunches at home and run the dishwasher more often.
However, even though it’s not necessary to commute to work, the biggest environmental issue with remote working still involves time spent in the car. Working from home often allows for more time to drive to various non-work related destinations.
The study found that non-commuting travel accounts for 79 percent of GHG emissions for remote workers and only 31 percent for on-site workers.
Although remote workers in the study traveled shorter distances, their number of trips was approximately 1.6 times higher than that of on-site workers.
Yet You says the GHG emissions produced by remote workers during non-work travel are still much lower than those from office energy.
“Heating, air conditioning, ventilation. They all use energy and they’re all things you need in the office,” he said. “The carbon footprint of office buildings is definitely much larger than that induced… by remote working. It’s not the same scale.
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You say remote workers can reduce their emissions by using public transportation and carpooling and, if possible, retrofitting their homes with more energy-efficient appliances.
“It all helps. It all comes from small pieces and small steps to contribute to a larger perspective,” he said.
You note that the study only a**lyzed office workers and that the results may be different for employees in other job sectors.
But having fewer employees in the office without reducing the office footprint does not help reduce emissions.
Reducing building occupancy from 50 to 10 percent would likely result in doubling the carbon footprint of an on-site worker since “a substantial portion of building emissions is not sensitive to occupancy,” says the study.
By reducing office space and providing shared desks that workers pa*s through while on site, emissions can be reduced by up to 28 percent.
Overall, the study encourages individuals, businesses, and policymakers to maximize the benefits of remote work by “choosing public transportation over driving, encouraging car sharing, multi-staffing by headquarters, reducing or eliminating office space for remote workers and improving energy efficiency. » for office buildings.
You say that offices and commuting are the most critical elements in the decarbonization discussion.
“It’s not about how much energy you use to cook (or) how much energy you use to entertain. It’s all about buildings and transportation,” he said.
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