With covid restrictions easing we’re starting to see companies shift away from fully remote teams to a hybrid of home working and the office. On the whole, full-time home working has been shown to be a lot more environmentally friendly than daily trips to the office. But the question is, how would hybrid working impact a company’s emissions? Is it, if at all, more environmentally friendly than full-time office working? Let’s have a look.
The truth is, a half-empty office needs just as much heating and air conditioning as a full one to keep employees comfortable. At the same time, we have to keep in mind that people working from home are also going to be using heating, air conditioning and lighting. Giving up the commute twice a week may not be enough to cancel out the extra heating and lighting needed at home.
According to a study by the International Energy Agency (IEA), electricity consumption in people’s homes jumped by 15% in the days after lockdown began. This suggests that workers who usually use public transportation or drive less than 6km each way could actually be increasing their total emissions when they are working from home.
The pull of suburb living, lower house prices and more space complicates the shift to hybrid working. A recent study by Centre for Cities showed that the average emissions of a flat in a building is one tonne of carbon a year, compared to two for the average house. Couple that with longer commutes and fewer public transport options and hybrid working may well be increasing your company’s emissions.
In the US, transportation is the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, with more than half coming from personal vehicles. Almost 90% of the American workforce drive to work daily and their commutes make up around 30% of the total miles driven in a year.
The return to hybrid working is a problem our customers are facing across the world. Stink Studios have distributed teams across the US and with more of their clients now wanting to meet in person, they’re seeing their emissions from flights increase.
James Britton, MD at Stink Studios says “distributed working has become integral to our process following the pandemic. But flying key members of staff to major cities once a month presents a challenge. Any emissions saved from working from home risk being written off by increased air travel.”
There are a few ways that companies can keep emissions low.
Firstly, companies can encourage employees to switch to renewable energy providers such as Octopus Energy. Secondly, when it comes to commuting, public transport or active travel (cycling, walking) is the best route forward, especially in major cities. To encourage cycling, try putting incentives in place to reward those who do cycle and importantly provide free bike services to keep your employees safe. For companies that are not in great areas for public transport, find ways to incentivise electric vehicles or potentially even look at carpooling.
As a result of the shift to hybrid work, many companies are also seizing the opportunity to downsize their office space to accommodate fewer workers. However, it is important to think about the climate cost of downsizing. For example, to avoid furniture ending up in a landfill, companies can consider recycling or reselling old furniture, and donating the rest to local non-profits.
It’s tricky. While yes emissions may rise, there are ways to reduce the impact of a shift to hybrid working. The most important ways? Promote public transport and encourage renewable energy tariffs. For the companies that require their staff to fly more often, often with distributed teams, the challenge is larger and requires more help. If you're interested in understanding your environmental impact, get in touch and we can help!