Is remote work as sustainable as we think it is?

The positives of remote work do tend to outweigh the negatives in regard to environmental sustainability.

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Remote work has become increasingly common today not only as a result of the pandemic but also due to sustainability trends. Newer generations are more mindful of their actions and how they can impact the environment. As such, we are seeing these young professionals seek out careers that enable them to help the environment and reduce their carbon footprint, such as jobs that allow remote work. 

However, some have questions and concerns about how eco-friendly remote work actually is. Furthermore, not only are there questions of the environmental sustainability of remote work but some wonder if remote work can truly last due to the challenges that remote employees face and struggle with. 

The positive impacts of remote work has on the environment

It is likely that the remote work trend is here to stay, but is it truly better for the environment than working from an office? Technological advancements have made remote work easier to accomplish and might make it seem more sustainable, but many people question whether working from home can genuinely reduce carbon emissions more than the alternative. 

If true sustainability is the goal, it’s important for workers to understand the pros and cons of working from home. Having a more thorough understanding of the impact remote work has on the environment can help people make better decisions as well any changes necessary to achieve true sustainability. 

Some of the positive environmental impacts of remote work include:

  • Reducing the use of commercial resources. Businesses and corporations are the largest contributors to the consumption of resources. They also contribute to high amounts of waste. However, when working from home, workers tend to use fewer resources and produce much less waste.  
  • Reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Cars and other forms of transportation are a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions. With remote work, however, carbon emissions can be reduced as there is no need to commute. 
  • Reducing consumption of fossil fuels. Energy requires the use of fossil fuels. Businesses and large companies tend to have high energy bills to keep everything powered and running, which, unfortunately, burns a large number of fossil fuels. But remote workers generally use less energy than office buildings. 
  • Reducing the impact on infrastructure. Heavy traffic from people commuting to and from work can also have a negative impact on infrastructure. Cars and other forms of transportation put stress on the roads and infrastructure required to maintain them, which in turn can negatively impact the environment. Traffic can also contribute to things like noise pollution, dust, disruptions to habitats, and waste.  

The negative environmental impacts of remote work 

The positives of remote work do tend to outweigh the negatives in regard to environmental sustainability. Still, it’s essential to look at both the good and the bad so remote workers better understand the impact they are having. 

The negative environmental impacts of working from home can include:

  • Higher home energy bills. Though office buildings do use up more energy than the average home, it’s important for remote workers to understand that their energy bills will go up. Naturally, the more time you spend at home, the more energy and electricity you use, which means your energy bill will cost more, and you will be contributing more to the burning of fossil fuels. 

Though you will use less energy than an office building, businesses and larger corporations often have more money and resources to put into reducing their carbon footprint if necessary. It’s much easier for a company to overhaul its systems and processes to be more sustainable than a homeowner simply because companies generally have more money to do so. 

  • Increased consumption of goods and resources. Not only will you use more energy, but other bills and costs will likely increase as well when you work from home. You will consume more goods and resources and thus contribute more to waste when you spend more of your time at home. Your spending costs may also increase because you may need to buy more things for your home office and invest in a better internet service. All of which contribute to the use of resources, which can negatively impact the environment. 

How to make remote work more sustainable

Generally, home offices do use less energy and fewer resources than corporate office buildings. Still, there are steps that employees and their employers can take to make the remote work environment more sustainable. Again, this means not only looking at ways to reduce environmental impact, but ways to make remote work more successful and convenient so it can last long-term. 

Employees can better improve the sustainability of remote work by:

  1. Improving their home’s energy efficiency by staying on top of maintenance and investing in energy-efficient devices, systems, and appliances.  
  2. Finding ways to reduce the use of resources such as paper and plastics. 
  3. Keeping devices off and unplugged when not in use and turning off lights when you leave the room. 
  4. Avoiding the use of the A/C or the heat when possible by opening windows, or dressing in layers. 

Employers can better improve the sustainability of remote work by:

  1. Going paperless and using all automated and digital processes.
  2. Keeping the lines of communication open by utilizing available tools, applications, and systems such as Zoom and Slack. 
  3. Ensuring employee data remains secure by improving cybersecurity or offering remote workers tips for how they can secure their home network.
  4. Offer incentives to employees to help them stay productive as well as incentives for their sustainable home office practices.   

Conclusion

To ensure remote work is a success and can last, it needs to involve eco-friendly changes and be structured in a way that allows it to work long-term for both the company and the employee. If remote employees are not happy, it can negatively impact production levels, which in turn can affect profit. Automating and optimizing processes and providing data security is essential, but it is also necessary to prioritize environmental sustainability as well to truly allow for a positive and satisfactory remote work environment. 

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