Pandemic-induced remote working led to a significant reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions in 2020. Consequently, many experts have been advocating for less work-related travel, especially by car and aeroplane.
When managed correctly, post-pandemic remote working has the power to protect the environment further. However, this still depends on a number of factors. For example, if all remote employees become digital nomads, that will likely have more adverse effects than benefits. The good news is - not everyone wants to be a digital nomad.
Here we explore the potentials of remote working and how a distributed team can help your company go green.
No More Commuting...By Car
Working from home tends to be better for the environment in terms of less emissions through transportation. Transportation is one of the key emitters of greenhouse gases.
Particularly in the US, commuting to work everyday with light vehicles has been proven to leave a huge carbon footprint. Less commuting by car in particular is doing wonders for the climate. Even in cities like New York, where 58% of commuters use public transport, that still means millions less cars on the road with remote working.
Particularly where passenger vehicles are a common means of transportation, remote working can seriously reduce pollution and green-house gas emissions. However this is also very much tied to the economy. In cities around Asia also, like Beijing, remote working severely improved the air quality at the beginning of the pandemic due to less commuting. This, however, did not last long as many people had to return to places of work out of economic necessity.
Location Is Key
All cities and countries have different requirements and a vastly varying environmental impact. In Norway, for example, 40% of passenger vehicles are run on electricity. This means there are far less emissions through passenger vehicles compared to elsewhere. While this may be the long-term goal for all consumers worldwide, it is not the reality for most countries as of now. The best solution may well be more remote work options.
Moreover, seasonal variations may hamper any serious reductions in carbon footprints achieved through remote working. A study in the UK found that remote working is more efficient in the summer because no air conditioners are used at home. In winter, however, office buildings are far more efficient at regulating heating compared to heating consumed in individual homes.
Clean Energy Sources
The data suggests that remote working alone cannot solve climate change. If people are working from home all day and using resources less efficiently than at work, then all the benefits of not commuting are lost.
At the end of the day, only cleaner energy sources will keep this trend alive. This means less nuclear power and fossil fuels, and much more investment in renewable energy like wind power and geothermal energy. This is not simply a question of company policy, but requires much further reaching input from governments. Building efficiency, low-carbon infrastructure, and tax benefits for electric cars are all viable options.
Right now, better energy technology and standards are needed in order to optimise remote working and its impact on the environment. Some remote companies, like Zapier, are measuring their and their employees’ distributed emissions and buying carbon offsets to make up for their carbon footprint. This is a wider trend among tech companies. As more companies go remote, more initiatives will be needed to ensure the climate gains of remote working have a lasting impact.
Build a Climate-Friendly Remote Team
Remote working is not the end all solution to climate change. But it really does help! While we are not climate scientists, Omnipresent can help you build a resilient remote team and help you do your part for the climate.