Is Remote Work Really More Sustainable? 

Across the world, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact daily life, the work-from-home model is no longer a fringe element of the workplace. Indeed, data collected from 50,000 U.S. and Canadian employers indicate that remote work is likely here to stay. The number of companies hiring remotely skyrocketed throughout 2021, and numbers continue to rise. As of Q1 2022, in fact, 24% of professional jobs were performed by remote workers. 


Among workers and business managers alike, remote work has numerous benefits, such as greater scheduling flexibility. Environmental advocates have also touted remote work as a better option in terms of reducing carbon emissions from lengthy workplace commutes. Yet that’s only part of the story, and the relationship between sustainability and remote work is complicated.


According to the Harvard Business Review, in fact, working from home is “not a clear win for the environment.” It’s important to remember that sustainability comes in many forms, and lifestyle choices such as recycling and investing in renewable electricity are only the beginning. For remote workers, net sustainability is determined by factors ranging from energy usage and waste management to local infrastructure availability.


Yet that doesn’t mean that remote workers can’t learn how to cultivate sustainability over the long term. Whether you’re an independent contractor or part of a remote working team, here’s what you need to know about moving to a more sustainable business model.


What’s at Stake? The Importance of Workplace Sustainability

In terms of your business model and bottom line, prioritizing sustainability makes plenty of sense. Sustainability in the workplace has been found to reduce overhead costs, attract customers looking to do business with ethical companies, and even improve employee health and morale. Interestingly, the simple act of prioritizing sustainability can also give company leaders a greater understanding of workplace issues, to ensure that the entire company continues to thrive.


Thus, for many remote workers, cultivating a sustainable workplace is just part of the job. Further, remote workers should remember that job-related sustainability choices are going to cross over into your personal time, to encompass numerous elements of your life. Whether you conduct business completely online or in a hybrid form with minimal personal interaction, the good news for remote workers is that reducing your carbon footprint is easier than you might think. 

Cultivating More Sustainable Habits

When looking for ways to become more sustainable in every aspect of your life, it’s a good idea to start small. Rather than making a large number of changes at once, consider the lifestyle choices that will provide the greatest environmental benefit. You may decide to alter your eating habits to favor local, fresh options over unhealthy snacks, for example, or install a compost bin in your home office kitchen. 


Your transportation choices can also dramatically impact your carbon footprint, reports the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES). Within the U.S., transportation is the largest source of harmful carbon emissions, and you can do your part to reduce the environmental impact of driving by making smarter choices about your commute. Even though remote work has effectively eliminated the need for lengthy, time-consuming commutes, you still need to get around. As such, a growing number of remote workers are making the switch from gas-guzzlers and/or unreliable public transportation to electric vehicles (EVs). 


Before buying an electric car, however, you should make sure that it’s an attainable goal. Ask yourself questions about where the EV will be charged, the length of your commute, and whether your budget can handle the hefty down payment. Some EV drivers will qualify for tax credits, which can make buying an EV an even more enticing option for the independent remote worker looking to reduce their carbon footprint. 

The Connection Between Location and Sustainability

Sustainable transportation options notwithstanding, the reality is that remote work doesn’t eliminate one’s carbon footprint and output; it simply shifts it elsewhere, primarily to your home office. As such, where you live as a remote worker also plays a major role when it comes to net sustainability numbers. Your lifestyle is a big part of the picture as well. If you spend a lot of your free time outside of the home and/or have to drive long distances to access basic necessities like food and healthcare, you’re still producing emissions.


As you look to balance remote work with a sustainable lifestyle in a new city, there are numerous considerations to think about. For starters, research your options for local restaurants and supermarkets, and avoid settling in a food desert, where you have to travel a long distance just to buy groceries. Healthcare access is also an important consideration, especially for remote workers who have to pay out of pocket for medical expenses. 

Key Takeaways

For all of its downsides, the pandemic also helped bring about a renewed focus on sustainability at work, no matter if your office is located in a downtown office building or in your suburban home. While remote work isn’t necessarily more sustainable than a job away from home, your individual choices can still have a positive impact on your carbon footprint.


About the Author:

Adrian Johansen lives and thrives in the Pacific Northwest. She enjoys learning new things and sharing her business and tech knowledge, especially when related to sustainability and wellness, through her writing. You can find more of her work on Twitter @AdrianJohanse18.

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