Assessing Remote Work SustainabilityBusinesses may want to implement remote work to become more sustainable, but remote work has both positive and negative impacts.

Is Remote Work Truly More Sustainable?

With huge advancements in technology, online communication, and collaboration tools, over five million Americans are working from home - and enjoying every minute. Besides the multiple benefits of remote working (increased employee productivity being one), businesses are realizing the sustainable potential working from home generates.

Sustainability is becoming more important for all companies in every industry. As consumers become more aware of climate change and carbon footprints, they have raised their expectations of corporate responsibility. In fact, 62% of shoppers prefer to buy from sustainable brands , making sustainability a key focus. Additionally, sustainability can also help businesses become more efficient, improve brand value, and cut costs.

Opting for remote work might seem like a shoo-in. However, despite all of the benefits, it's important to consider how sustainable remote work actually is, both in terms of its environmental impact and its longevity.

Positive Environmental Impacts of Working from Home

More and more businesses are trying to become more sustainable and understand the benefits of working remotely. There are many positive ways working from home can affect the environment.

Reduced Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Transportation is the largest source of greenhouse gases , while company offices are the fourth-largest contributor. By opting to stay home, workers can greatly reduce their carbon footprint and air pollution. Greenhouse gases can trap heat around the planet making it warmer. As millions of people commute to work daily, their cars release pollutants that lead to poor air quality and health problems. Remote work can reduce the number of cars on the road which can help reduce greenhouse gases immensely.

Lessened Impact on Infrastructure

Heavy traffic can cause damage to roads, including cracks in the asphalt and potholes. Though asphalt can supposedly last for a long time, the stress of weight upon the roads from cars causes the road to break down faster. Likewise, bridges can also feel the same effects from cars. The continual upkeep on roads can have lasting effects on the environment, including:

  • Noise pollution;
  • Vibrations, which can cause damage to buildings and surrounding infrastructure;
  • Dust;
  • Pollutants from road materials;
  • Disruptions to habitats;
  • And waste.

Remote workers lessen the impact on infrastructure because they use their cars at a lower rate than commuting workers.

Reduced Consumption of Fossil Fuels

Burning fossil fuels releases numerous pollutants in the air, which are harmful to both the environment and public health. These non-renewable fuels make up most of the world's energy. However, when burned, they release carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses which contribute to global warming. By choosing to stay home, workers with a long commute can help reduce the use of fossil fuels.

Decreased Use of Commercial Resources

The energy costs of a business are expensive. The need for heat in the winter or air conditioning in the summer can use a large number of resources. By employing remote workers, businesses can reduce their electricity and energy use. Typically, a remote worker only needs a computer and a reliable internet connection to get the job done. Additionally, remote workers could reduce the use of other resources, including paper and plastic, opting for digital work tools instead.

Negative Environmental Impacts of Working from Home

Though there are many positives, there are also negative aspects of remote work that impact the environment - aspects that many are not aware of.

Increased Use of Home Resources

While remote workers help decrease the amount of business resources in use, they also increase the amount of home resources. Multiple printers, copiers, and internet routers can prove to use almost as much electricity as a business office. Remote workers can help mitigate these uses by comparing office tools. The difference in installing fiber optic internet or cable internet , depending on what is available, could make a huge difference in sustainability. Typically a fiber internet infrastructure would be more green for the environment because it reduces the demand for copper, and it consumes little energy compared to cable.

Additionally, many people struggle with web accessibility, which can affect people with physical disabilities, situational disabilities, and socio-economic restrictions. Without the proper tools, these workers would have difficulty completing their work.

Greater Electrical Consumption

Many people think that people who work from home use less electricity. While this is true in the summer months, the same cannot be said during the winter. The average remote worker produces 80% more carbon than an office worker. This is because during the winter months, people are heating their homes for longer periods of time. Heating the whole house produces more carbon than what would be produced by commuting to work. Working from home in the summer and working at the office in the winter could provide the ideal blend of sustainability.

Increased Consumption of Goods

To complete their home office, people must consume more, including purchasing items like computers and other office accessories, in order to work from home. This can create waste, as these items will need replacing sooner or later. Additionally, consumption can lead to greater electrical use - an indirect impact on the environment.

Working Remotely vs. Working at the Office: Which Is Better?

Neither option is necessarily better. Both modes of work have positive and negative effects that business leaders must be aware of. Remote work does provide other benefits that might outweigh sustainability. These benefits can include:

  • Increased accessibility for employees and employers;
  • Improved employee retention;
  • Lower costs;
  • Increased productivity;
  • And better use of technology.

In an increasingly digital world, remote work will likely be sustainable for years to come. To determine if remote work is right for a business, leaders must look at the average commute time and energy consumption. If a business finds that most of its workers are in suburban areas with long commutes, it could be practical to implement a work-from-home policy. On the other hand, big cities are more likely to provide sharable public transit, which can also reduce a commuter's carbon footprint, and therefore they could still come into the office.

Working from home might not suit all businesses in terms of sustainability, and it is not a cut-and-dry answer. However, by gauging all sustainable options available to a business, leaders can make and implement the right decisions for their company.

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