Eco-friendly remote work has become much more common over the last few years. Millions of people started working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic and don’t intend on returning to the office.
While remote work was originally a safety precaution, it has been shown to have some impressive environmental benefits.
Environmental Benefits of Remote Work
Remote work is still relatively new, but it could be the catalyst that sparks a green business revolution. Let’s see how working from home benefits the environment and makes the world a greener place.
1. Reduces Emissions
Remote work has played a crucial role in reducing emissions. People who work from home don’t have a daily commute, which significantly reduces their individual carbon footprints.
Fewer personal vehicles and less public transportation activity have caused a noticeable reduction in urban emissions, including these harmful pollutants:
- Nitrogen dioxide (NO2)
- Greenhouse gasses
- Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons
- Particulate matter such as smoke and dust
When remote-by-force started, data from Breathe London showed that emissions fell by 25% during morning commutes and 34% during evening commutes. Remote work made an immediate impact, and it has the potential to get much greater.
2. Improves Air Quality
Reducing emissions can create great improvements in air quality. Poor air quality is a lethal force that can cause severe health problems. Remote work can fight against this problem and make urban environments breathable again.
Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and particulate matter are the main emissions that negatively affect air quality. Eco-friendly remote work reduces both.
A 2020 study from the National Environmental Satellite Data and Information Service (NESDIS) found that COVID-19 lockdowns led to a nationwide decrease in NO2 emissions from transportation.
The effects were not temporary. In fact, the same study showed that NO2 pollution from transportation remained 20% lower than pre-COVID averages after cities lifted their restrictions.
As long as remote work continues to grow, urban air quality will also continue to improve.
Particulate matter is also dangerous. Exhaust fumes from cars, buses, and trains contain a variety of poisonous chemicals.
Carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, formaldehyde, benzene, and smog are among the most harmful pollutants.
Eco-friendly remote work plays a key role in eliminating these pollutants and improving our urban environments.
3. Reduces Paper and Plastic Waste
Since remote work is online, it can eliminate a huge chunk of paper and plastic waste. Instead of printing all company documents on paper, employees can edit and save them on their computers.
You get the idea — remote work equals less waste in the workplace.
Believe it or not, the average office worker uses about 10,000 sheets of paper in one year. Almost half of it ends up in the trash by the end of the day.
Eco-friendly remote work helps employees ditch this wasteful habit and stop sending endless amounts of paper to landfills. Plus, the emissions from paper manufacturing will decrease in the long run as remote work takes over.
Although plastic is recyclable, landfills still receive millions of tons of plastic every year. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, plastic makes up 18.5% of all landfill waste in the U.S.
This waste either gets incinerated — which releases toxic chemicals into the atmosphere — or leaks into the environment.
Remote work is a huge game changer in the fight against plastic pollution.
Plastic office supplies, packaging materials, storage bins, straws, water bottles, and other disposable items can largely disappear thanks to the remote work renaissance.
4. Helps Urban Infrastructures
Eco-friendly remote work will become more important as urbanization increases. Cities are already struggling to handle the endless traffic from daily commutes.
You can now see a layer of smog from vehicle emissions in almost every major city. With a majority of people working from home, congestion will significantly decrease and put less pressure on urban infrastructures.
Reducing traffic has several other positive effects on the environment. Fewer cars on the road allow citizens to safely transition to eco-friendly commuting methods such as walking or riding a bicycle.
Meanwhile, city officials can make improvements to public transportation. Over time, cities will become more clean, efficient, and hospitable thanks in part to remote work.
This video by Bloomberg Originals delves deeper into how the increase in remote work is changing our cities:
Green Business Opportunities: Helping the Environment From Home
The direct environmental benefits of remote work only tell half the story. It has also indirectly helped with sustainability initiatives in a variety of industries.
The expansion of remote work has opened up new job opportunities that enable people to help the environment from home.
Here are a few of the most impactful positions in the green business revolution:
1. Sustainability Consultant
Sustainability consultant is the fastest growing eco-friendly remote work position. Most of them are self-employed and partner with different organizations to help with sustainability initiatives.
Thanks to remote work, they can find more contract opportunities and maximize their income.
Consultants are independent contractors, so they don’t have a hidden corporate agenda. They have a true commitment to the environment and thrive by forging close relationships with other professionals. They will be instrumental in helping businesses stay connected and reach their sustainability goals while transitioning to a remote environment.
2. Project Manager
Project managers play indispensable roles in any organization, including handling several tasks that ensure a commitment to sustainability.
One day they might be analyzing the company’s emissions, and the next day they’re in a board meeting about upcoming green initiatives and social responsibility. Every day they do something unique to help the environment.
This role stands out from the others because project managers are constantly negotiating and brainstorming with vendors, clients, shareholders, and co-workers. This workload requires strong interpersonal skills and a genuine passion for environmental justice. It certainly helps to have an educational background in engineering or environmental science.
3. Research Associate
While project managers are on the front lines, research associates are behind the scenes. They work for non-profits and Fortune 500 companies alike.
Every organization must do meticulous research to estimate its emissions, energy consumption, and other important sustainability metrics. Research associates do the dirty work to uncover those estimations.
Researchers who work for the government often deal with the most pressing matters, such as urban water quality or waste management. These people might work from home, but they play huge roles in many serious real-world environmental issues.
4. Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO)
CSOs traditionally worked in person, but now there are remote opportunities for managers and executives who want to work from home.
They’re responsible for maintaining the organization’s compliance with industry standards. This task requires careful financial planning, resource allocation, emissions control, project management, and more. CSOs do it all, which is why they make the big bucks.
5. Software Developer
Software developers will become more important as companies leverage new tools to reach their sustainability goals. They need people who have experience with artificial intelligence (AI) and Internet of Things (IoT).
These automated technologies can eliminate much of the human error that leads to wastefulness. Software developers will help us wield AI and IoT to their full potential and maximize their efficiency.
WFH and the Environment: Challenges to Overcome
Although eco-friendly remote work has many direct and indirect environmental benefits, its impact isn’t 100% positive.
For example, household energy consumption increased by 20% on weekdays during the lockdowns when people were working from home by necessity. Remote work often leads to higher utility bills.
Computers, laptops, tablets, and smartphones constantly drain power during the remote workday. Although this type of energy consumption does less damage than vehicle exhaust fumes, it’s still a wasteful habit we can’t ignore.
Some companies have adopted hybrid work models to strike a balance, but hybrid work has its own issues.
Office buildings are designed for an entire business, not half. The buildings are using the same amount of energy to support half of the workforce.
Hybrid could reduce emissions from certain job positions, but it’s not a permanent solution for the whole company.
Eco-Friendly Remote Work is Here to Stay
Remote work became a widespread practice by necessity during the height of the pandemic, and it’s still playing a role in making businesses more eco-friendly.
While it’s not a perfect arrangement, it’s certainly better than billions of people making the same daily commute and causing avoidable pollution. Remote work is here to stay!
Frequently Asked Questions
How many emissions do I produce during my daily commute?
The standard commute is 15-16 miles one way. According to the EPA, the average passenger vehicle emits 404 grams of CO2 emissions per mile, or about 4.6 metric tons, every year. Read the full guide to learn more about the impact of commuting to work on emissions.
How many people have started working remotely since COVID-19 started?
The total number is unknown but the number of Americans working from home tripled from 9 million people to more than 27 million between 2019 to 2021. Remote and hybrid workers are expected to account for 71% of the entire American workforce by the end of 2023. Read the full guide to learn more about the growth of remote work since the Covid-19 pandemic.
How can I help the environment from a remote job position?
There are many remote environmental positions that require no education or experience. You can start as a climate equity intern, environmental justice intern, environmental science intern, or social media intern, just to name a few. Read the full guide to learn more about how eco-friendly remote work can be.
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