Full-time remote workers cut carbon footprint by 54 percent

Those who work from home two to four days per week can reduce their carbon footprint by 11% to 29%.
Sejal Sharma
Representational image
Representational image

SDI Productions/iStock 

As lockdowns were implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic, almost everyone, with the exception of essential workers like doctors, nurses, and army personnel, found themselves working from home for months, if not years. While many may have rejoiced at the idea of returning to their offices to establish some form of ‘normalcy,’ most of us working from within the comforts of our bed got too cozy.

In an extensive validation for all lovers of WFH, a new study says that the carbon footprint of remote workers is significantly less than that of onsite workers.

The new study, led by researchers from Cornell University and Microsoft, says that remote work employees have 54 percent less carbon footprint. Their research also found that hybrid workers - who fluctuate between working from home and going to their office in a week- who work from home two to four days per week can reduce their carbon footprint by 11 percent to 29 percent.

But hybrid workers who work from home one day a week cut their carbon footprint by only 2 percent.

Reducing carbon footprint

“Remote work is not zero carbon, and the benefits of hybrid work are not perfectly linear,” said study senior author Fengqi You. “Everybody knows you save on transportation energy without commuting, but there’s always lifestyle effects and many other factors.”

The study found that the key contributors to the carbon footprint for onsite and hybrid workers are travel and office energy use. Cornell and Microsoft used survey data and modeling to incorporate factors like residential energy use based on time-use allocation, non-commute distance and mode of transportation, communications device usage, number of household members, and office configuration, such as seat sharing and building size, explained Cornell’s press release.

“Remote and hybrid work shows great potential for reducing carbon footprint, but what behaviors should these companies and other policy makers be encouraging to maximize the benefits?” said Longqi Yang, research manager at Microsoft and co-author of the study. “The findings suggest organizations should prioritize lifestyle and workplace improvements.”

Environmental benefits of remote work

A McKinsey report said that 87 percent of workers offered at least some remote work embrace the opportunity and spend an average of three days a week working from home. People offered full-time, flexible positions spent a bit more time working remotely, on average, at 3.3 days a week.

This means people like working from home, and as per the study, as the number of remote working days increases, mon-commute travel, like trips to social and recreational activities, becomes more significant.

Companies are now known to pay for WFH employees’ power bills, internet costs, etc.. Still, the study notes that the effects of remote and hybrid work on communications technologies such as computer, phone, and internet usage have negligible impacts on overall carbon footprint.

“WFH can help relieve congestion during peak hours in high-density commuting zones, which may improve fuel economy and mitigate climate change,” said the researchers in the study.

The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Study abstract:

The growth in remote and hybrid work catalyzed by the COVID-19 pandemic could have significant environmental implications. We assess the greenhouse gas emissions of this transition, considering factors including information and communication technology, commuting, non-commute travel, and office and residential energy use. We find that, in the United States, switching from working onsite to working from home can reduce up to 58% of work’s carbon footprint, and the impacts of IT usage are negligible, while office energy use and noncommute travel impacts are important. Our study also suggests that achieving the environmental benefits of remote work requires proper setup of people’s lifestyle, including their vehicle choice, travel behavior, and home and work environment configuration.

Add Interesting Engineering to your Google News feed.
Add Interesting Engineering to your Google News feed.
message circleSHOW COMMENT (1)chevron
Job Board