Working From Home vs In-Office: What is Better for the Environment?

Working from home seems the most viable solution to sustainability when you have zero commutes and office energy consumption. However, whether remote work is better for the environment remains in question. The answer to making the future of work more sustainable isn’t quite that simple.

One would think that taking the commute and office heat out of the equation would positively impact carbon footprint. After all, sustainability relies on reducing emissions and energy consumption from large buildings.

However, this may not be the case.

Work From Home vs. The Office

For the average American worker, 29% of respondents say they spend 15 to 29 minutes commuting to work. Meanwhile, 25% of workers say they do not commute to work. For the employees who commute, that’s plenty of time and energy they could save when getting ready for remote work.

Many people do not enjoy commuting as the work-life balance is of the utmost importance for the modern-day employee. Plus, the expenses add up when it comes to public transit, gas, and maintenance.

Remote work may have its perks on people and the environment. In fact, carbon dioxide emissions from traveling decreased by 11% in 2020 when the pandemic forced people to stay home.

The Environmental Impact of Remote Work

When limiting the carbon footprint, remote work can easily seem like the simple solution to driving sustainability. However, when each person decides to use their home as an office, the following questions come through.

How much energy are people using at home with the air conditioner and heat? Is that energy use coming from clean sources?

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According to the International Energy Agency, electrical home energy consumption increased by 20% due to spending time at home. This analysis shows that emissions could increase when working remotely versus someone who uses public transportation or drives less than a few miles each way.

Additionally, employees that live near the office choose to walk, bike, or take public transportation. If those same employees end up working remotely, does this mean they’ll move out of their city apartment and live in a house? Suburban homes account for 43% of energy consumption — meanwhile, apartments with over five units utilize 25% of energy consumption.

Furthermore, if they move into a house, they’ll have to buy a car as well. So, the question is if they buy a car, will it be electric or gas-powered?

As these factors come into play, a hybrid work environment seems to be the more favorable solution to sustainability.

The Possibility of Sustainability Through Hybrid Work

Remote jobs might seem like the future of work, but many companies are navigating the flexibility of working from home and in the office. Could hybrid jobs be the solution to environmental sustainability?

To create better sustainability, people will have to turn to electric vehicles to reduce emissions. On the other hand, it’s more costly for the environment and for companies to have a physical office. So, companies will have to work around the issue by downsizing their offices. In fact, 74% of Fortune 500 CEOs expect to decrease their office space after the pandemic.

A happy medium between employees working remotely and, in the office, could save energy when downsizing and scattering remote days.

However, the carbon will inadvertently fall on individual workers to invest in low emissions with people working remotely. For instance, solar paneling can save energy and reduce billing expenses.

Although solar panels are more expensive, the overall effect, in the long run, will help save on energy costs. Solar power accounts for only 2.3% of energy consumption in 2020. Nevertheless, this will become a work-in-progress as people find solutions to reduce their carbon footprint.

Total Sustainability Will Take Time

We may be close to achieving the sustainable option when working, but we’re not out of the water just yet. When thinking about sustainability solutions, it all comes down to companies and employees working together.

Remote work may not be the most effective way to create a better environment. Regardless, a hybrid approach could temporarily solve the issue until society can ultimately impact climate change. Still, this will take time and energy to rethink the effects of working from home vs. the office.