After a two-year COVID-19-induced interruption, many companies are now turning their attention back to a major pre-pandemic priority.
After a two-year COVID-19-induced interruption, many companies are now turning their attention back to a major pre-pandemic priority: making their operations greener, less carbon-reliant and more sustainable.
And it’s not at all too soon. A recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change shows that “current plans to address climate change are not ambitious enough to limit warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels,” which is what many scientists believe needs to happen to contain ecological damage, the need for all of us to clean up and reduce our energy use is urgent.
Even if small in the grand scheme of things, our work does make a difference. And the way our workplaces have evolved since the pandemic began will make our efforts a lot easier.
Since March 2020, our attitude toward office work has changed. We’re working remotely and coming into the office less frequently, if at all. The percentage of U.S. workers working remotely during the pandemic rose from 5% to 37%, according to NEBR.
It’s not that we hate the office now—it’s just that its purpose has changed. Instead of a place we go to every day out of habit or because we must, it’s a place we go to collaborate, meet clients and get to know our colleagues. (In many places, the office is changing to something more resembling a European cafe.)
For those of us fortunate enough to work remotely, we’ve often found—despite having its own challenges—that it has plenty of rewards: Less time commuting, more time for ourselves and our families, and more flexibility in general. We’ve proven that we can be every bit as productive this way, and a recent Condeco study shows that the vast majority of us like this arrangement and want it to continue.
But either because of post-COVID backlash or a residual desire for corporate control of employee time and productivity, more companies—including some that should know better—have been demanding that employees return to the office full-time.
We think this is foolish and short-sighted. No doubt many of these companies also have sustainability goals, in many cases agreed to and heavily promoted by the c-suite. Forcing all your workers back into the office full-time not only makes everyone’s life harder and damages company morale, but it will also make it harder for you to do the right thing for the environment.
Hybrid Is Green
By making hybrid permanent, in whatever specific configuration suits your business, you can make a real difference in reducing our collective carbon footprint. One statistic shows that if employees split their time 50/50 between the office and the home, it would be the greenhouse gas equivalent of taking the entire New York State workforce off the road.
Here are four ways we can become greener by reducing in-office work:
- Fewer operational hours. We use less electricity and reduce the need for climate-controlled spaces, particularly during peak-electricity-use hours.
- A smaller office footprint. We have less space to heat and cool overall.
- Less fossil fuel is burned in the commute. Any effort that takes cars off the road will result in substantial energy savings. (Incidentally, fewer cars on the road means fewer traffic jams, which further conserves gasoline.)
- Reduced need for on-premises computing. Less on-premises computing also means less energy spent maintaining it.
But Is Remote Work Really A Net Positive For The Environment?
It’s been argued that the push to remote work just shifts the burden of energy use from the office to the home, but you can make a stronger case that the opposite is truer.
Given the fact that the average US driving commute time was 27 minutes and around 15 miles right before the pandemic hit, and that the average vehicle emits about 404 grams of CO2 a mile, even a small or partial reduction in everyday commuting will make a substantial dent in carbon emissions.
And even if remote work simply transfers energy expenditure from the office to the home—surely true to an extent—there are other offsets that companies can encourage employees to adopt in order to reduce their impact, like using green energy producers. (The climate management company Watershed has a useful tool for calculating how to specifically understand how your commuting practices can impact your greenhouse gas emissions.) For when employees do need to come into the office, employers should encourage taking public transit where it is an option and consider even subsidizing it.
Microsoft Teams and other enterprise communication software also reduce the need for one of the biggest drivers of greenhouse gas emissions: Business travel. McKinsey last year calculated that business travel fell by 52% in 2020, and while some of that has surely recovered since then, the notion that anyone needs to fly across the country for a short meeting is now widely understood to be ludicrous.
There are, of course, other adjustments required to become a truly effective hybrid workplace. It requires changes in employer and employee thinking, and often growing new business culture. But over the last two years, many of us have made those adjustments already, even if the process is not yet complete.
Hybrid work is one of those rare scenarios that turns out to be in everyone’s interest, very much including the wider planet. Don’t miss the opportunity to make it work.
Read the article here