Full-time remote workers produce less than half the greenhouse gas emissions of their office-based counterparts. In the United States, employees who exclusively work from home are estimated to decrease their emissions by 54%.
According to a recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, working remotely just one day a week led to only a 2% reduction in emissions. This minimal decrease was primarily attributed to increased non-commuting travel on remote workdays.
Conversely, individuals who worked remotely for two to four days a week experienced emissions reductions of up to 29% in comparison to their on-site counterparts.
This study examined multiple datasets, including Microsoft employee commuting patterns and telecommuting behaviours, and was carried out collaboratively by researchers from Cornell University and Microsoft.
The key drivers behind emissions reduction among remote workers were the reduced energy consumption in office spaces and a decrease in emissions resulting from daily commutes.
Although remote work holds the potential to mitigate carbon footprints, the study highlights the importance of a well-balanced approach. This approach should involve a thorough examination of commuting habits, energy usage, vehicle ownership, and non-commute-related travel to fully harness the environmental advantages of remote work.
"People say: 'I work from home, I'm net zero.' That's not true. The net benefit for working remotely is positive but a key question is how positive. When people work remotely, they tend to spend more emissions on social activities," Fengqi You of Cornell University, a report co-author, told The Guardian.