One of the unintended consequences of the recent pandemic is the proliferation of the hybrid work model. An Envoy survey showed that the attitudes towards the workplace have changed drastically–the number one takeaway being that nearly half of all surveyed don’t want to return to the daily grind. Most workers are happy with a hybrid arrangement, with 41% willing to take a lower-paying job if it means working remotely at least half of the time.
This hybrid life, which most were forced into, helped many people discover what a work-life balance actually looks like, as it delivers the best of both worlds. The connections and experiences of in-person interactions with the flexibility and freedom of remote work.
But there’s another larger and very positive outcome stemming from this change. As it turns out, remote work is beneficial for the environment. Let’s dive into the reasons why.
Fewer emissions & earning back time
As the global population grows and people get more concentrated in big cities, commuting has become a nightmare. According to research conducted by The Washington Post, in 2018 the average American spent 27 minutes on their one-way commute to work. This is the equivalent to 9 full days (!) every year. Relative to 1980, the difference is even more jarring, when Americans “only” lost 5 days to commuting. Also, more time spent on the road means an increase in greenhouse gas emissions at a time when the future of the planet is at stake.
Remote working translates into a drastic reduction of pollution, even when employers switch to a hybrid model in which they only go to the office half of the time. There’s also a significant bump in terms of “time gained back” from not commuting, especially in big cities like New York (15.2%), Chicago (13.1%), and Los Angeles (12.4%). That time can be used to spend with loved ones, honing a hobby, recharging, or cultivating new experiences.
Furthermore, Global Worker Analytics reported that companies can save up to $11,000 every year for each worker that commutes half the time. It’s an extremely rare “win-win” scenario in the business world.
Physical distance has led to more digitization of documents and less paper usage. When working remotely, employees tend to share files online, through email, Google Drive, or other similar platforms, which is an important first step in creating a sustainable work environment.
According to the University of Southern Indiana, Americans use 85 million tons of paper each year (around 247 trillion sheets of paper). That roughly translates into 680 pounds, or seven trees, of paper consumption per person. At a time when people are struggling to breathe fresh air, causing and aggravating respiratory diseases, the shift to paperless is very encouraging. Even one saved tree can remove up to 14.7 pounds of carbon dioxide from the air, cutting emissions substantially over the course of a year. When such measures save both money and the environment, it feels like a no-brainer.
Cutting back on plastics
The extremely negative impact of plastic production and consumption has been well-documented. It’s an issue that we can’t ignore anymore, so much so that it has led to several bans around the world. Remote working makes the contribution to sustainability even easier, as it allows businesses to cut single-use plastics that would normally be commonplace in office settings. This includes brewing coffee at home (reduces the use of plastic lids), cooking meals instead of ordering them or going out to eat (cuts down on single-use cutlery, plastic bags, and packaging), and drinking tap water or through a filter (prevents the continuous consumption of single-use water bottles). Spending more time at home may also instigate the creation of new habits that’ll hopefully translate into more mindful practices at the office.
Reduced impact on infrastructure
In crowded areas, transportation can often fall short of the increasing demand for commuting. Aside from the aforementioned consequences of traffic jams and resulting greenhouse gas emissions, heavy traffic also damages highways and streets, generating more demand for repairs and expansions. This in turn leads to even greater congestion (if you live in a big city, you’re very familiar with this struggle). Fewer vehicles on roads also implies less upkeep of infrastructure. Similarly, large offices consume a massive amount of energy, which will be reduced by remote working, with fewer rooms to cool and light. Plus, while in office people tend to be less environmentally conscious about switching off lights, air conditioning, and computers.
Shift to rural areas
Often, the main reason for someone to live and/or move to a big metropolitan area is the existence of more lucrative career opportunities. But this usually comes at a price, meaning higher rents and heftier living costs. Remote working allows people to shift from densely populated cities to suburban towns that also have creative workforces, young minds, and more chances for development. This is good news for the 27% of Americans that say they wish they could live in a rural area, but have to stay in the big city due to work. Furthermore, smaller towns with a booming workforce will have more opportunities to become greener, less polluted, and consume less waste.
Making a positive impact on the environment
Having flexibility and a semblance of work-life balance are incredible benefits of remote work. With extra time, people may even find themselves with a desire to make a deeper impact on the environment by taking small steps that help their community. These include, among others: building a compost bin, cleaning trash in a park or body of water, planting trees, starting a community garden, and volunteering with an environmental organization.