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Is working from home environmentally sustainable?

Hybrid working really took off during the COVID pandemic – and looks as if it is here to stay. But while it’s become the go-to approach of blending remote and in-person work, the burning question is: Is remote home working genuinely more sustainable?

It appears that often employees working from home tend to increase their energy consumption by using heating, cooling, and lighting systems throughout the day, which can offset the emissions saved from reduced commuting. Additionally, the reliance on electronic devices for communication and productivity can contribute to increased electricity consumption and electronic waste generation.  

Equally, a half-empty office needs just as much heating and air conditioning as a full one to keep employees comfortable. With the shift to hybrid work, many companies can start the process of reduced energy usage by downsizing their office space to accommodate fewer workers. One frequently overlooked environmental cost of downsizing is furniture waste. To avoid furniture ending up in a landfill, companies should consider recycling or reselling old furniture, and donating the rest to local non-profits.  

To get the full environmental benefit of hybrid working businesses need to consider three key strategies: providing better employee support, embedding a sustainable culture, and prioritising sustainable practices:

Providing better employee support  

To promote sustainability within a hybrid work model, companies should offer support and resources to employees. This includes providing guidance on setting up eco-friendly home offices with energy-efficient lighting, waste management strategies, and sustainable purchasing options.   

Companies should encourage employees to switch to a renewable energy provider. Or, when it comes to commuting, encourage public transport or active travel (cycling, walking) as the best route forward, especially in major cities. To encourage cycling, put incentives in place to reward those who do cycle, and importantly introduce a Cycle to work scheme to keep your employees safe. For companies in areas that have poor public transport, find ways to incentivise electric cars and bikes  or potentially even look at carpooling.  

Companies can also encourage the use of energy-efficient devices, responsible e-waste disposal, and recycling. 

Embedding a sustainable culture 

Creating a sustainable culture within the organisation is crucial for integrating sustainability into everyday practices. Company leaders should lead by example, incorporating sustainable practices into their own routines and actively promoting sustainable behaviours.   

Clear and comprehensive sustainability policies should be developed, outlining expectations and practices related to energy consumption, waste management, and sustainable transportation. Encouraging employee engagement through idea sharing, recognition of sustainable initiatives, and seeking input on sustainable practices can further embed a sustainable culture.  

Prioritising sustainable practices 

While meeting up with colleagues, face to face, is without doubt very useful for building relationships, virtual meetings should be part of that mix as they help to reduce unnecessary travel and associated carbon emissions.  Encouraging digital documentation and minimising the use of paper can contribute to a paperless operation.   

Advocating for energy-efficient practices, such as powering down devices when not in use and optimizing computer power settings, can further enhance sustainability efforts.  

Encourage participation 

There is one crucial, if often overlooked fourth sustainability principle: Employee participation. Seeking input from employees is crucial in making an environmentally sustainable hybrid work environment actually work. While the first three principles mentioned here are important starting points, it is essential for employers to actively engage their workforce in the process.   

With staff feedback, employers can gain valuable insights and ideas from employees, allowing them to contribute to the development of additional desired policies and structures. This collaborative approach ensures that the sustainability initiatives align with the needs and aspirations of the employees, fostering a sense of ownership and commitment towards creating a more inclusive, and low-carbon work environment. By actively involving employees, employers can tap into the collective wisdom and creativity of their workforce, leading to innovative and impactful sustainability practices.  

The verdict? 

The adoption of hybrid working alone does not guarantee that your business will be reducing its environmental impact. To create a truly sustainable hybrid work model, companies must proactively design and implement strategies. By providing support through best practices, embedding a sustainable culture, prioritising robust policies and practices – and listening to their staff, as well as suppliers and customers – companies can make a significant positive impact on the environment, as well as enhance employee satisfaction.   

If you need advice

ESOx can help you understand how to reduce your office energy consumption when operating at lower occupancy levels or downsizing to new premises and help you avoid heating and lighting empty areas. Do get in touch if this is something you think we can help with.