Employees who don’t want to return to deserted offices can now offer a powerful counter-argument: Working from home is good for the planet.
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The coronavirus pandemic altered the lives of countless people in the US and throughout the world… mostly in ways that were bad. However, there is one change that many Americans have embraced: working from home.
What used to be the exception pre-pandemic has now become a regular arrangement. Before the arrival of the virus, only 7 percent of Americans who had jobs that they could do from home did so all the time. At the height of the pandemic, that number had soared to 55 percent. Since then, it has gone down, but about one-third of Americans who can work from home full-time are still taking advantage of that opportunity.
While working from home has proven to be very popular among employees, companies increasingly want their workers to return to their offices at least part of the time.
Among the reasons they cite is a lack of productivity, which research contradicts, and the fact that office spaces across the country are now empty.
However, workers who don’t want to return to those deserted offices can now offer a powerful counter-argument: Working from home is good for the environment.
New research shows that remote work can cut a person’s employment-related carbon footprint by more than half.
“We find that, in the United States, switching from working onsite to working from home can reduce up to 58 percent of work’s carbon footprint,” the researchers say.
Most of those reductions can be attributed to a lower energy use in offices and the impact of workers no longer commuting.
“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,” the study finds.
A hybrid model that would see workers return to their offices two to four days per week also yields environmental benefits. However, in that case, they are cut in half.
Having employees work remotely only one day per week, on the other hand, yields hardly any benefits at all.
The authors of the study, which was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, arrived at their conclusions by examining data from a range of sources, including Microsoft, the National Household Travel Survey, and the Residential Energy Consumption Survey.
The scientists’ findings are consistent with previous studies showing that working from home benefits the environment.
For example, scientists in Germany showed that more remote work could yield a reduction of 3.7 million tons of hazardous greenhouse gas emissions annually. That equals the emissions of one million cars.