Remote Work Sustainability: The Environmental Benefits of WFH Setup

Jeshua Cardenas

Remote working has been gaining popularity at an incredible rate, with employees tending toward flexible work conditions even before the disease outbreak. However, with multiple global sectors gradually recovering from the pandemic, we’re seeing people returning to the corporate offices. But is it the right move, especially environmentally speaking? 

At a time when the health of the planet and humanity is more critical than ever, it’s well worth examining the remote work revolution and its benefits for the environment. Let’s take a closer look at the sustainability benefits of working remotely to understand why employers should allow more flexibility when it comes to WFH opportunities moving forward.

Benefits of Remote Jobs on the Environment 

Following the pandemic, 88% of organizations worldwide either mandated or encouraged their employees to work from home, as reported by Gartner. Before the pandemic, only about 4.7 million people (3.4% of the U.S workforce) were working remotely.

Discussions about working from home typically revolve around employees and their employers. Only a few stakeholders consider the benefits for families and society at large. But even fewer think about the advantages remote work may hold for the atmosphere, the weather, temperature, and the overall environment.

So, let’s consider some of the ways remote work helps to improve our environment.

Remote Work Helps to Reduce Fossil Fuel Consumption

Fossil fuels are some of the biggest selling commodities globally. 90% of the world’s transport engine fuels are petroleum products. And a large percentage of the world’s transport system runs on mineral fuels — gasoline, diesel, paraffin, and until recently, coal.

The average vehicle consumes roughly half a gallon of fuel on a 30-minute trip. Now multiply that amount by ten for the average twice-a-day, five-days-a-week commute. The numbers get overwhelming fast. 

In 2021 alone, the U.S consumed about 134.83 billion gallons of gasoline. Imagine reducing that number by letting even just half of these people stay and work at home. It would make a significant difference.

On an individual level, working from home not only helps cut down your carbon footprint, but it also helps workers save money on fuel costs. Even if you don’t own a vehicle of your own, you’ll still save on overall commuting costs.

It Helps to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Again, one of the most significant contributors to global emissions is the transport industry. That’s likely not surprising, given the industry’s heavy reliance on fossil fuel machines which emit toxic gasses as their by-products. 

And as we already discussed, remote work can help cut down the number of commuters and vehicles in use, which will reduce greenhouse gas emissions as a result.

By reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the world can finally start working more effectively to rectify global warming issues and environmental justice. And as customer sentiment analysis tools can help reveal, shifting to remote work can have a very positive effect on a company’s brand perception.

Of course, global researchers and engineers are working towards more sustainable energy options. In fact, the US electric vehicle market has increased by 83% over the past three years. However, fossil-fueled vehicles are still pretty much the most popular transport option, and they may still be around for a while longer despite the government’s best efforts. So, remote work may be a viable solution for now.

Remote Work Helps to Improve Air Quality 

Fossil fuel consumption and subsequential emissions are harmful on several levels. One of those undesirable effects is environmental pollution. Most on-site workers need to travel by road or subway to get to work, and many more have their own personal vehicles. 

Cars and other vehicles are responsible for a large percentage of the pollutants in the air. So what happens when we remove the need for these individuals to use their cars every day? We get improved air quality. 

During the pandemic and lockdowns that followed, several cities worldwide recorded dramatic improvements in air quality with fewer commuters on the road. Air pollution is a significant problem responsible for difficult and sometimes fatal health conditions and respiratory diseases, so improving air quality should be a top public health priority.

And of course, it also affects sales productivity as employee health will influence employees’ ability to do well and succeed at their jobs.

Reduced Paper Usage

Digitization and telecommunication have already done a great job of cutting down on paper usage in many companies. However, many still needlessly consume paper due to unnecessary red-tape processes at on-site workplaces. 

Remote work helps to eliminate all of that. Employers can drastically cut down on the appalling volume of paper their business activities consume per year with a work-from-home policy. All the information team members can be shared online when working remotely. In addition, team meetings and calls will be digital, using business phone number apps to streamline things and make paper even less necessary.

Employers can then focus on improving their digital organizational processes. For example, instead of printing an image on paper for inspection, they can easily use a deep learning convolutional neural network to analyze and process images effortlessly.

The main environmental impact of reduced paper consumption is that paper manufacturers will cut down fewer trees for their production process. One saved tree can clean up around 15 pounds of carbon dioxide from the environment. Imagine the hundreds or thousands of trees that eliminating the need for papers can save, not to mention the volume of greenhouse gasses they can absorb in a year.

Reduced Plastic Waste

Think about your routine every morning on your way to your workplace. First, you step out, and on your way to work, you stop at Starbucks to pick up your early morning dose of caffeine, usually in a plastic cup. Then, during your lunch break, you quickly step into the mart and pick up a pre-packed lunch, usually in plastic containers. 

Or, maybe you felt like a quick bite from your favorite fast food joint, so you picked up some takeout – burgers, smoothies, and all at a local eatery. Oh, and don’t forget the plastic straws. That’s a lot of plastic waste from one person.

Plastic waste is some of the most significant contributors to environmental degradation. There’s so much plastic waste dumped in the oceans and landfills worldwide that it’s already become a major concern.

Sure, you’ll most probably use some disposable plastic material at home, but chances are you won’t do it as much as when you have to step out. For instance, if you’re at home, you’d be more inclined to make your coffee instead of buying it in plastic cups. Of course, you may want to order take-out, but being at home comes with the motivation to make your meals.

Reduced Energy Consumption 

Employees will often be more energy conscious when they’re working from their homes. Offices and organized workplaces all consume a substantial amount of electricity to keep them going. Picture a typical corporate office with hundreds of employees, simultaneously operating their computers and other devices connected to electricity. That’s a lot of daily energy consumption. 

Additionally, the average individual is often less environmentally conscious in shared spaces like offices. This looks like more lights left on, the printer left idling, and general carelessness with electronic devices. Some employees may even open the windows for fresh air without turning off the air conditioning or heater given that they’re not responsible for the electricity bills, after all. 

Opportunity to Positively Impact the Environment

The most significant advantage of remote work is personal, in the flexibility it gives the employees with their responsibilities. Working from home offers creatives much more freedom to conveniently divide their tasks. Essentially, it helps the workers achieve a better work-life balance. 

Much like the principle behind exploratory testing in agile, it’s important to find different ways to achieve a given objective. The objective here is looking after the environment, and subtly encouraging your employees to get on board can advance that cause. 

With a better work-life balance, individuals with interests in environmental sustainability can spare time to pursue this crucial cause. With more time flexibility, employees can create a garden, volunteer for ecological restoration projects, and do their part in improving the environment with greater ease. 

The benefits of remote work for environmental sustainability aren’t all about reducing undesirables. It affects the environment in other, indirect ways. With more time to explore and appreciate the environment around them, your employees may start to understand the need for environmental sustainability practices better. Indirectly and through a roundabout route, remote work can give workers the incentive they need to work towards creating a better environment.

Stimulates Small Town Development

Many people currently live in cities and urban centers because that’s where they work, and they can’t afford to live miles away from their workplace. People are more willing to go back into smaller town settlements if they can work from anywhere. For some, living in a small town is preferable to an often more expensive city lifestyle. Many city-dwellers can barely afford the neck-breaking expenses they face daily in the urban centers. 

In the same vein, some people don’t even like city life that much in the first place. This section of the workforce will prefer to move to more affordable suburban or countryside areas. These areas are not only often cheaper, but they also can offer lower pollution levels and relatively safer environments for kids to grow up.

Mass migration to the smaller town settlements will, in turn, foster the growth of these locations. Larger cities will also benefit from decongestion. The urban mega cities will become less populated, there’ll be fewer emissions, and the general quality of life will increase for everyone. 

Reduced Impact on Infrastructure

Existing transport infrastructures are not sufficient to cater to the transport demands in most major cities. Before the pandemic, the need for transport facilities was steadily rising. Several major cities were running out of solutions to the increasing demand in transportation solutions. 

The lockdown gave these infrastructures a much-needed break. However, we’re slowly returning to the previous conditions. Roads are jammed again during peak commute hours, infrastructure is deteriorating, users are consuming more fuel, and emission rates are at all-time highs. 

With more people working remotely, there’ll be fewer road users, which will, in turn, reduce the adverse effects on the infrastructure and environment.

Larger Pool of Candidates and a More Diverse Workforce

Shifting to remote work can also help improve your workplace’s social environment.  Allowing remote work enables a company to tap into a larger pool of potential candidates from different places worldwide.

A larger candidate pool means companies get to create a more diverse and inclusive workforce. So, you can own a company in the US and have employees working for you from New Zealand, which would in turn make it easier to expand your operations in that location. For instance, you can have your remote working employees in New Zealand register a domain name NZ and maintain it for your company with their local knowledge.

Again, the benefits of working from home aren’t limited to the employees alone. Some of the best ideas have come from remote workers. So, you may just get a breakthrough on the ecommerce growth strategy you’ve been working on if you provide your employees with better work flexibility. 

Working From Home Can Benefit Clients too

Working from home is not only advantageous to the employees and environment, but it also offers benefits for clients. It can indirectly improve your customer service, which any client retention definition will tell you is critical for boosting key performance indicators.

Overall, work from home arrangements offer many benefits for employers, employees, and the environment. Of course, it may have a few downsides, too, but it’s an effective system that furthers the cause of environmental sustainability.  If you care about the world, you should consider giving your employees more flexible work schedules.

Jeshua Cardenas

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