These days when we read about the benefits of remote and hybrid work, we focus on lowering our commuting costs, spending more time with family and having a flexible schedule. We hear less about how remote and hybrid work reduces our ecological footprint.
A Quick Refresher on Greenhouse Gasses (GHG)
Greenhouse gases are emissions produced by human activities, mainly carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane. In North America, the largest sources of GHG are fossil fuel combustion for electricity, heat, and transportation. In its simplest terms, when GHGs are trapped in the atmosphere, they make the planet warmer and are the leading cause of climate change.
Reducing Greenhouse Gasses
According to a study conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2019, the main culprits of the United States' greenhouse gas emissions (CO2) were transportation, electric power and heat, in that order. In 2020, when a large part of the population was forced to stay home during pandemic lockdowns, GHGs related to transportation and travel decreased by 13 percent, while electric power use decreased by 10 percent. Overall, the U.S. saw an 11 percent decrease in CO2 emissions from 2019 to 2020 as people eliminated their commute and worked from home.
Improved Air Quality
Air quality also greatly improved, with reduced nitrogen oxide (NO2) recorded worldwide in cities. A study released in 2021, led by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, showed a decrease of 15 percent of NO2 globally, with some areas seeing reductions as high as 50 percent. Nitrogen oxides are responsible for many health concerns, namely heart disease, lung cancer, chronic and acute respiratory conditions and asthma. By reducing emissions of these harmful chemicals, overall air quality improves and reduces stress on health care systems.
The Role of Flexible Workspace
There's no mistaking the impact remote work has had on reducing GHG emissions over the last three years. When employees are permitted to work from home or at a flexible workspace close to home, they reduce their transportation needs, reducing fossil fuel consumption and, in turn, lightening the CO2 load on the environment. A flexible workspace provides an alternative to the destination office that's convenient and closer to home, saving employees and entrepreneurs time and money and inadvertently reducing their environmental footprint.
Will Remote Work Save the Planet?
Many factors contribute to the global climate crisis, and a remote or hybrid work model is just one part of the equation. According to NOAA's Global Monitoring Laboratory, the global CO2 average has grown by 12 percent since 2000 and was estimated to see the highest increase in 2020. The economic slowdown brought on by the pandemic showed a decline instead. The abrupt elimination of the daily commute and associated costs (heat, air conditioning, lighting) of working in a large office building led to decreased GHG emissions.
Companies, employees and entrepreneurs of all kinds are seeing the benefits of remote and hybrid work on family life, quality of life and overall mental health - with a side benefit of helping the planet.