With the current news cycle seemingly all doom and gloom, sometimes it may seem as if there isn’t a single positive outcome from the current COVID pandemic. Well, we’re here to shine a light on a silver (or green!) lining coming from the pandemic and resulting stay-at-home orders.
Since the COVID pandemic forced the country into lockdown, many former office employees have found themselves as telecommuters. With a significant percent of the population now working from home, let’s take a look at some of the positive environmental impacts.
Working from home means you’re driving less and using less gasoline
As we all know, gas = greenhouse gas emissions = bad. But how bad is bad? And how much of a difference does telecommuting actually make?
To give you a little perspective: The average car emits about 4.7 metric tons of carbon dioxide each year (based on an average of 11,400 miles driven annually). Let’s assume you travel 30 miles or less for work each day. If you switch to telecommuting, you can reduce your transportation-related carbon emissions by about 69% or 3.2 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year. Not bad, huh?
Telecommuters use less energy
This one is a little less straightforward, but it comes down to the psychology of energy usage at the office vs at home. At the office, lights are left on, the AC is set to below zero, and the coffee maker is running all day. When working at home, workers tend to be more conscientious about their energy consumption (probably partially because they’re footing the electric bill). Transitioning to working at home can make a significant impact on energy consumption. In fact, working from home can reduce energy consumption by 5,400 kilowatt-hours (kWh) per year per worker. In the end, this comes back to greenhouse gas emissions. Less energy consumption = less energy production needed = less fossil fuel burned.
Working from home = eating at home = less disposable plastic waste
Preparing and packing a lunch every day can be a hassle, so it’s no wonder that so many office workers prefer to run out and grab a meal to-go from the local cafe or eatery. But with that to-go meal comes a ton of plastic waste. Disposable containers, utensils, cups, and straws are all single-use plastic products that often get tossed straight in the trash. In fact, only about 9% of plastic waste is recycled, the rest ends up in landfills. When you work from home, you’ll eat more leftovers straight out of the bowl, wash your own dishes, and (hopefully!) cut down on your plastic waste.
Less office waste
During a workday, employees can use a huge amount of physical resources. Meeting agendas, memos, handouts, and paper coffee cups are just a small sample of the office waste created during a typical workday. As remote workers often use email and digital tools for messaging, taking notes, and sending files, it makes sense that working from home would mean creating less waste.
So, we should all be working in our PJs, right? Both for comfort and for environmental reasons? Ideally, sure. But we also have to recognize that working from home is not an option that is available to everyone.
For many food service, retail, shipping, and other essential workers, telecommuting isn’t an option. So while it is important to spotlight the positive environmental impacts of WFH life, it’s also important to recognize that telecommuting is a privilege that not everyone is entitled to.
Keeping that in mind, if the option is available for you to work from home and reduce your carbon footprint, take advantage of it. At least part of the time. And while you’re at it, thank the essential workers, health care providers, and others on the front-line that are working hard to allow you to drink your coffee out of your non-disposable mug and Zoom in your boxer briefs. Help the planet while recognizing that it’s a privilege to do so.