A study from 2014 entitled: “Homeworking: helping businesses cut costs and reduce their carbon footprint” by Carbon Trust analysed the success of companies implementing teleworking for their employees, in direct relation to decreasing individual and business carbon footprints in the UK. Between 2007 and 2012 the number of UK employees who usually work from home increased by 13%.
Evidently, home working or teleworking reduces employee commuting, resulting in carbon, money and time savings. Thus, if office spaces are properly taking this into account, teleworking can significantly reduce energy consumption and rental costs at the office itself. However, it is very important to look at the bigger picture. How are we approaching this “solution” and what are the drawbacks to it? Change always leads to more questions and tends to often overlook crucial steps, that would be necessary in order to efficiently reduce the carbon footprint of a business.
The Teleworking solution must be implemented after much consideration. Risk assessments, financial and environmental are necessary, as there can be rebound effects that result in the actual overall carbon footprint. It comes down to this image:
Employee Carbon Footprint:
An employee working from home can decrease his/her carbon footprint, but that only works if the individual is an average employee, whom uses an average amount of gas, electricity and water the study finds. It must be an employee who is aware of the importance of recycling, reducing water and electricity usage. Furthermore, what energy label does his/her home have compared to the office? What about the electric equipment like the fridge or the dishwasher (are they sustainable eco-friendly machines?)
It also depends on what kind of job the individual carries out. Supporting roles in the service industry are great for teleworking, as all you require is the direct access to the internet and hardware such as a computer and a phone. The use of a teleworker’s car is minimal, as to just run quick heavy errands and the use of public transport or the bike is heavily supported.
What about commuting? What kind of car does the employee have? Is he/she using a heavy truck or smaller eco-friendly car? Are the lease cars hybrid and/or electric?
It is crucial for the employees to be environmentally minded if they are to become teleworkers themselves thus: recycle, improve isolation of their homes, save water, reducing animal product consumption, use the bike instead of the car, invest in efficient machines etc. Basically waste as little energy as possible.
Business Carbon Footprint
The business carbon footprint can be reduced by having its employees commute less and use less electricity to power computers, printers, rooms etc. It is also crucial for a business to settle at an office space that is well isolated and that does not use too much power to heat in the winter or to cool in the summer.
If an office is rented out for 50 employees, but only 15 show up to make use of it, the business is obviously misusing its space and directly increasing its carbon footprint. Evidently, an different office space must be selected. The study also concludes that too much teleworking also results in indirect efficiency decrease in terms of work, as social interactions between employees are less frequent and the emotional attachment to a business, a job or an idea disappears.
The food the office space also serves to it occupants can play a big role. Is the canteen highly promoting animal based food? In that case the carbon footprint is increased by 3 times the amount in comparison to more vegetarian diet (no meat). Furthermore, does the business recycle, and does the office space offer a recycling service? If not, then the business should take immediate action to set up such a system in order to reduce its carbon footprint. Are most electronics on par with positive energy labels (fridges, washing machines, lightbulbs, automatic standby options, computer screens, docking stations etc.)?
Their conclusion is simple, weight out what is best for your industry. If done properly the UK could be saving 3 billion pounds a year in energy usage, reducing its carbon footprint indirectly. They do stress the importance of businesses actively seeking to measure which solution would fit their own business best. All potential impacts need to be accounted for.
In contrast, these are the findings of another study carried for the US & Canada that can directly be accessed on this website: http://teleworkresearchnetwork.com , the numbers are quite obvious, and they heavily promote going toward teleworking.
- The nation would save 453 million barrels of oil (57% of Gulf oil imports)—a national savings of $31 billion per year (at $70/barrel);
- The environment would be saved from 84 million tons or greenhouse gases a year–that’s over 40% of President Obama’s goal for GHG reduction by 2020;
- The energy potential from the gas savings alone would total than twice what the U.S. produces from all renewable energy source combined;
- Communities would save over $3 billion in highway maintenance because 180 billion fewer miles would be driven each year;
- 150,000 people/year would be saved from traffic-related injury or death;
$18 billion a year would be saved in accident-related costs;
- Corporate productivity would increase by 6.2 million man-years or $200 billion worth of work each year;
- Businesses would save $194 billion annually in real estate, electricity, absenteeism, and turnover;
- Employees would individually save between $2,500 and $11,000 in transportation and work-related costs (not including daycare and eldercare costs);
- Employees would gain back an extra 2.5 weeks worth of time per year—time they’d have otherwise spent commuting.
I personally think it is the way forward, especially with the development of Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality. The feeling of not being part of a team will be made possible through these technologies in the future.
Let me know what you think?