Proponents of remote working will testify to the numerous benefits of working from home, such as reduced commute durations and more time spent with family. Now, new US research by experts from Cornell University and Microsoft suggests that working from home can slash an employee’s carbon footprint by up to 54%.
Drawing on a wealth of data to compare the carbon footprint of American remote workers with that of their counterparts working on company premises, they found that factors linked to lifestyle and work arrangements influence the environmental impact of each employee.
And, as it turns out, working from home remains the least “polluting” organisational mode. Indeed, travel and office energy use are responsible for the majority of greenhouse gases emitted by employees who do not work remotely.
The researchers found that employees who work from home all the time can cut their carbon footprint by 54% compared to onsite workers. And those who work from home two to four days a week can have a carbon footprint 11-29% lower than that of their colleagues who commute to the office every day.
However, occasional remote work – for instance, working from home one day a week – does not have the same environmental benefits. This reduces workers’ carbon footprint by just 2%.
But this doesn’t mean that working from home has no carbon footprint. “Remote work is not zero carbon, and the benefits of hybrid work are not perfectly linear. Without commuting you save on transportation energy, but there’s always lifestyle effects and many other factors,” said study senior author Fenggi You from Cornell.
The experts found that remote workers tend to travel more for non-business purposes than their onsite colleagues, whether to run errands during their lunch break or to attend a medical appointment between meetings. This increases their carbon footprint, especially if these journeys are made by car.
In addition, working from home sometimes requires the creation of an extra workspace at home, which can lead to additional residential energy consumption.
This is why the authors encourage business leaders to favour a hybrid organisation, combining in-person and remote working, for their teams.
“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 realise its environmental benefits,” the researchers concluded.