What Does Sustainable Home-Working Look Like?

5 mins

Public transport is better for the environment than private vehicles. It’s something we can all agree on, right? 

Less fuel gets consumed per traveller across the same journey, and this same reasoning can be applied to office environments. 

Instead of having hundreds of employees spread across numerous houses, each using their own individual heating and electricity, it’s clearly more energy-efficient to have everyone sharing the same facilities. 

This has environmentalists understandably concerned about the ongoing sustainability of home-working (Source: The Guardian). 

After all, does it really make sustainable sense to have staff members travelling around the world, working from boats and planes, spreading their damaging carbon footprint?

 

(Source: Zervero)

The environmental positives of office-working

In today’s heavily regulated corporate environments, 90% of S&P 500 businesses have strict internal ESG and wastage guidelines (Source: McKinsey).

So, it’s almost guaranteed that the majority of office environments will have:

  1. Recycling bins readily available.

  2. Rules about turning off computers after use.

  3. Automated energy-saving systems.

This makes it convenient for staff members to take sustainability seriously, with their ethical actions contributing toward their company’s overall green goals. 

However, who’s to say that these individuals are following (or even applying) the same practices at home? 

While there’s certainly no doubt that less commuting has resulted in reduced consumption of fossil fuels… is home-working really sustainable?

How does working from home impact the environment?

In April 2020, a groundbreaking headline was shared with the world. 

Research conducted by environmentalists had identified a 17% fall in CO2 emissions - which seemed to directly correlate with the reduction in staff that travelled to work. (Source: Harvard Business Review).

However, this shining light in a dark tunnel did not last.

As of 2022, emissions are now almost back at pre-pandemic levels, even as employees aren’t.

“Common sense says that without a commute, employees who can work from home have a lower environmental impact than their in-office peers, but this isn’t necessarily the case. In fact, when multiple environmental net impacts are taken into consideration, including factors like energy and technology usage, WFH is not a clear win for the environment.” 

- Harvard Business Review

While businesses face social pressure to make ethical decisions and act sustainability in order to maintain their brand reputation, it’s clear that individuals don’t feel the same level of responsibility. 

In industries like technology, where qualified electricians might have their own workspaces and tools at home, wastage could skyrocket. Rather than having to follow a strict set of waste management protocols, they can simply discard scrap materials without blinking an eye. 

It’s concerning, and could have significant environmental impacts if left uncontrolled.

How to run environmentally-friendly home offices

Today, it’s a personal choice to recycle and turn lights off when leaving a room, rather than a corporate-mandated policy. 

As it stands, no one is going to directly face the consequences of their actions; only future generations will. 

Whether you’re a leader who’s desperately trying to adjust to new working environments, or an employee enjoying the extra freedom that flexible working has granted… know this. 

You do, in fact, have a personal responsibility to continue acting sustainably. We all do. 

A change in employee behaviour across the US and the UK is going to prove fundamental to each country achieving its climate target. 

The extra time it takes to turn off your printer after use - rather than having it idle for the next four hours - is worth it.

To be more environmentally friendly at home, try:

  1. Exploiting natural light.

  2. Investing in energy-efficient LEDs.

  3. Adding some plants to your office.

  4. Purchasing sustainably-sourced resources.

  5. Reducing, reusing, recycling.

  6. Restricting thermostat use.

  7. Unplugging less-frequently used devices.

“It’s entirely possible to create an eco-friendly home office, saving energy and reducing waste. You’ll be doing your part to protect the environment while also saving money on your utility bills.”

 - Greener Ideal

Doesn’t that sound ideal?

What does sustainable home-working look like?

In a world where you can travel as you work, try to contribute towards a sustainable future.

Always remain conscious of the impact of your actions. 

Ultimately, to reduce our total energy consumption and shrink our carbon footprint, employees need to be as strict with themselves at home as corporations are in the office. 

Every individual, especially in technology environments where mass amounts of electricity are consumed, should look to take responsibility for the efficiency of their usage.

(Source: Statista)

On a day where you’ll be spending hours coding complex software or trawling through masses of data:

  1. Turn down your screen brightness.

  2. Set your device to“battery saving” mode.

  3. Close additional tabs.

This could significantly reduce the amount of time you have to spend charging your devices. Additionally, rather than leaving your laptop plugged in all night, aim to have a full battery in the early evening.

Then, you’ll be ready for the next day.

“Human use, population and technology have reached that certain stage where Mother Earth no longer accepts our presence with silence.” 

- Dalai Lama

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