The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to change many of our habits. We now must wear masks, social distance, avoid crowded buildings and events, and curtail our long-distance travel—just to name a few. Countless lives and daily routines have been changed in a myriad of different ways, but at least one of those changes looks like it may be worth continuing post-pandemic. According to a recent getAbstract survey, 43% of workers said they would like to work remotely more of the time post-pandemic, as many people enjoy the flexible schedule, savings, and access to the kitchen that working from home offers.
Another big perk of telework seems to be a reduction of carbon emissions. 28% of all US greenhouse gas emissions come from the transportation sector, and commutes account for a big percentage of these emissions. The average American spends 52 minutes commuting to and from work every day and a sharp reduction in commute hours would take cars off the road, decrease the demand for public transportation, and reduce our overall carbon footprint.
Kate Lister, president of Global Workplace Analytics—a “research-based consulting firm dedicated to preparing employers for the future of work,” agrees. She writes that, “There is no easier, quicker, and cheaper way to reduce your carbon footprint than by reducing commuter travel. . .The annual environmental impact of half-time remote work (for those who both want to work remotely and have a compatible job) would be the greenhouse gas equivalent of taking the entire NY State workforce off the road.”
How Much Energy Do You Use at Home?
Getting cars off of the road is only part of the story though, as commuting is not the only part of the work day that requires energy use. Temperature control also uses a lot of energy, and cooling and heating big office buildings is actually more efficient than the same number of people cooling or heating their entire homes.
A Scientific American article from July 2020 agrees with this point. “The extent of the emissions reductions that can be gained from remote work in any particular city depends on a number of factors, from whether most commuters drive cars or take public transit to what electricity sources the city uses,” reports the article, while later noting that, “It could take months of digging through detailed data from this forced experiment in remote work to get a clearer picture of its potential to reduce transportation-generated greenhouse gas emissions.”
Considering this research, should we still consider spending more time working remotely post-pandemic for environmental reasons? It depends on the energy habits of each individual. If your home is powered by 100% renewable energy, and you drive a Hummer, working from home will reduce your carbon footprint. If you drive a Prius, but you keep your coal powered heat or A/C on in your entire home while you work, you will most likely be increasing your carbon footprint.
How to Make Your Home More Efficient
If you do plan on working from home for the foreseeable future and you think that you are closer to the “Prius and coal” side of this spectrum, you should do your best to use less energy at home. Luckily, there are many easy, affordable strategies for reducing your carbon footprint while working from home.
One of these strategies is to get a home energy assessment. At no cost to you (because a small percentage of your utility bill always goes towards energy efficiency measures), you can arrange for an energy specialist to come to your home and give you recommendations for how to make it more energy efficient. Not only have you already paid for the assessment in your past energy bills, but you’ve also paid for air sealing and insulation, LED light bulbs, and smart power strips and thermostats all of which help you reduce your carbon footprint at your home office.
Home energy assessments can make your home up to 30% more efficient, which will go a long way towards saving the carbon that you didn’t release when you didn’t drive to work.
Here is a link to the Mass Save website, where you can sign up for a home energy assessment if interested.