Working from home could cut carbon footprint in half: research

The trend of working from home could be a big benefit for the environment, according to a study released this week. Remote work could cut a person’s carbon footprint by as much as 58 percent, researchers said.

“The growth in remote and hybrid work catalyzed by the COVID-19 pandemic could have significant environmental implications,” researchers wrote for the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the U.S. (PNAS).

Researchers studied five aspects of work life — IT, power use at home and at the office and travel for commuting and noncommuting activities. Most of the carbon savings comes from transportation, with the other four aspects having a negligible impact on the environment.

Hybrid work is enough to have a measurable effect too, with working from home a few days a week saving as much as 29 percent in carbon impact, according to the study.

However, those who only take one day per week at home don’t see much of a change in carbon footprint because they tend to travel more overall in noncommuting trips, the study found.

Working from home has become commonplace since the beginning of the pandemic, forcing some employers and municipalities to encourage workers back to the office as bosses worry about productivity — concerns that studies show are unfounded — and empty office spaces hurt downtown economies.

But employees are pushing back, with an August survey finding that nearly 90 percent of Americans would prefer a flexible schedule.

Researchers said in the PNAS study that remote work could be a net positive for the environment, but that longer commute times and other post-pandemic trends could dampen those positive consequences.

“Our research shows the potential of remote work to reduce carbon footprint and the actions to realize it,” the study reads. “Implementing the actions in practice requires proper tradeoffs.”

“While remote work shows potential in reducing carbon footprint, careful consideration of commuting patterns, building energy consumption, vehicle ownership, and non-commute-related travel is essential to fully realize its environmental benefits,” it continues.

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