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Remote work dramatically reduces carbon footprint

Fully remote workers have less than half the carbon footprint as in-person workers, according to a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The researchers came to this conclusion after analyzing information and communication technology, commuting and non-commute travel and office and residential energy use. They assessed data using the United States Energy Information Administration’s Residential Energy Consumption Survey and Microsoft’s employee data on commuting and teleworking behaviors. It should be noted that the Microsoft employee data was used because many of the researchers themselves were Microsoft employees.

A complete switch from in-person work to remote work showed a 58% decrease in carbon footprint, with the most important factors being non-commute travel and office energy use. This should come as no surprise as office buildings are known to use exorbitant amounts of energy.

Offices use an average of 20 kilowatt hours of electricity and 24 cubic feet of natural gas per square foot annually, according to Remote Fill Systems. This accounts for about a fifth of all operating costs.

If the switch to fully remote working is too drastic, a hybrid schedule of two to four days a week in-person can cut emissions down by 11% to 29%. While not as beneficial as the 58% decrease, the hybrid schedule is still better than the current system.

“The remote work has to be significant in order to realize these kind of benefits,” Longqi Yang, an applied research manager at Microsoft and a co-author of the study, told the Washington Post. “This study provides a very important data point for a dimension that people care a lot about when deciding remote work policy.”

Researchers were concerned about the accuracy of the data, for they were only assessing the decline in office energy use without taking into account the increase in home energy use. The effect of this is still expected to be less than the effect of increased office energy use.

Additionally, the study focused on the impact of United States urban areas.

Thus, while the study is still applicable for the most part, nuances must be taken into consideration and the expected environmental reduction may not reach the 58% number initially noted.

Yang mentions that both fully remote and hybrid options may reduce environmental impact, but work policy is not the sole aspect of the study that people should focus on. The study shines a spotlight on key areas that workplaces can improve upon.

A workplace that powers its offices with renewable energy and provides its workers with greener commute options, such as electric shuttles, could greatly improve its carbon footprint without reducing in-person work hours as much. With the potential future of more environmentally friendly methods of transportation, there may also be a narrowing of the gap between emissions of remote work and emissions of in-person work.

“We’re not trying to predict the future, but I think the future is all up to us,” Yang said. “This study tells people, if we want to be more carbon neutral in the future, what can we do now?”

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  • Q

    QwikOct 12, 2023 at 7:29 pm

    And strangely enough productivity.