Is working remotely environmentally friendly? Maybe not.

Author: Safetech Environmental Ltd | | Categories: Climate Change , Covid , Environmentally friendly , Lockdowns , Toronto , Working


In the wake of the COVID pandemic, many companies had to reinvent the way they operated in a matter of months. The reason for this was simple: if the company wanted to survive the recessive economy, it had to take dramatic action to obey governmental restrictions regarding the virus. 

Post-covid lockdowns, companies are given a rare opportunity to change or reset working models for their employees; it will be a vital question they’ll need to answer as the world starts to pick back up from the pandemic. Will they allow their employees to continue working from home? Will they require employees to return to the office? Will they opt to choose a hybrid model where employees can decide whether to stay at home or come into the office? Currently, many companies (ex. Microsoft, Spotify, Salesforce, Google, Facebook, Nationwide insurance, Capital One and Citigroup) have decided to opt for the hybrid model post-pandemic. Here, workers will be required to come into the office only a couple days of the week, rather than coming for all five days. 

Given the global climate crisis we’re actively heading towards, it seems relatively intuitive to assume that working remotely is clearly better for the environment. It’s a fair assumption to make given that most of our greenhouse gas emissions come from transportation. If more people are working from home, less people are on the road and commuting. Indeed, CO2 emissions from transportation dropped 15% in 2020 with employees working from home. As such, working from home seems like an easy climate win. However, one must look at the entire picture.

When employees are working from home, what’s happening inside must be factored into the picture. For instance, how much energy is being consumed to run the air conditioner or heater? Is this energy coming from non-renewable or renewable sources? In some areas during the lockdown, it was noticed that the average consumption of electricity increased by >20% on the weekdays. Given this statistic, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA), total emissions can increase for workers that use public transport or drive less than six kilometers to and from office. 

But wait, things can get even more confusing from here.

In May 2020, Shopify announced that they will permanently adopt the work-from-home model. However, many Shopify employees live near work which allows them to walk or bike to the office. With the new model in place, will it cause employees to relocate from city apartments to suburban homes? If this is the case, the suburban home will use three times more energy than a city apartment! Needless to mention, determining if carbon emissions are truly reduced becomes a lot more complicated. 

But the picture doesn’t end there. 

As mentioned before, many companies are starting to choose the hybrid model. According to a study from the Carbon Trust and Vodafone Institute for Society and Communications, this model may be the “worst-case scenario” because the “split could result in consuming more energy and emitting more emissions as both homes and offices are fully operating to enable teleworkers and office workers to do their jobs.” 

At this point, you must be asking: which model is better then? 

We’d have to provide you with an unsatisfactory answer: only time will tell. Unfortunately for us, we don’t have much time left anymore.