How is working from home a downside to climate change?

One good side effect of the pandemic was reduced carbon foot print, primarily related to commute. A few research firms are now suggesting that, working from home (WFH) or home offices have actually not had as much as an impact as previously anticipated.

Steve Sorrell, professor of energy policy at University of Sussex has suggest that, "Remote working has not delivered the environmental benefits that some people expected". 
Eleftheria Kontou, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has suggested that, "If we are serious about meeting our targets, then the corporate world needs to take the lead and think about homes as areas of improvement".

According to Reuters, half of the companies surveyed are not counting home office emissions, including tech and finance leaders Apple Inc, Inc and Wells Fargo & Co. Additionally, Salesforce and Alphabet Inc's Google excluded home-office electricity from their 100% goals as they weigh different initiatives for home use.

Challenges with calculating emission from home office work:

The biggest challenge in calculating impact of emission, whilst WFH, is that a metric of how to measure, simply does not exist.

  • The Greenhouse Gas Protocol, the most common accounting tool, has offered guidance on counting telework since 2011, but it does not specify how to calculate those emissions.
  • The nonprofit clearinghouse CDP said that fewer than 200 of the 13,000 companies reporting environmental data to it last year mentioned remote work and included relevant emissions.

Well, then how do we know WFH is an issue?

Reuters survey results showed that, half of 20 big companies Reuters spoke to, have estimated emissions from home offices. The results from 6 out of these 10 firms show that:

Half a million workers collectively emitted the equivalent of 134,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide in about the first year of the pandemic. That is equivalent to consuming 15 million gallons of gasoline or burning 67,000 tonnes of coal.

U.K. based consultancy Carbon Trust wrote in a 2021 report on remote work, "In a worst-case scenario a hybrid working future could...create a world where buildings and homes are used inefficiently with a transport system that is unable to respond to changing demand and potentially more cars on roads,"

What should be done then?

As the new norm of hybrid work model kicks off, it's also time to pivot and understand how WFH needs to be become part of the emissions calculations. If it cannot be quantified, then most companies and individuals will simply let it slip under the rug. 

To this point, some companies, have already kicked off this initiative, though in its infancy stage for now. 

Microsoft Corp, trying to solve the problem itself, concluded that remote staff work eight hours a day using a laptop, two monitors and three lightbulbs.

Salesforce have surveyed workers about their homes and energy bills and found remote work has cut emissions 29% per employee. 

"We anticipated these emissions are small relative to our carbon footprint and we are still evolving our methodology," Apple said in explaining its decision.

Collectively, we are all responsible; there is no planet B, even if we think MARS is just a hop and skip away.