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When the COVID-19 pandemic ends, not all workers will return to brick-and-mortar offices. According to research from McKinsey, the number of executives who believe that at least a tenth of their workforce could successfully work from home two or more days per week has doubled since the pandemic. Workers are on board: Slack’s Future Forum reports that only 12% of knowledge workers want to return to work in an office full-time. Plenty of executives, futurists, psychologists, and economists are weighing in right now on the long-term consequences of a drastic shift toward home-based work, but one outcome is clear: more people working from home will be great for the environment…right?
Clearing the air about the impact of working from home
Energy consumption data encompassing the past year’s lockdowns certainly seems to indicate that increased home-based work reduces carbon emissions. Global energy demands are projected to be down 6% in 2020. That’s 2.6 billion metric tons less energy-related CO2 emitted into the atmosphere than in 2019!
Is reversing climate change really as simple as doing what people want to do anyway: working from home more frequently? Support.com’s experts have been entirely home-based for our 20+ year history. We treasure our environment, and we’re doing our part. Not all home-based work is equally green though. Both company policies and individual workers’ choices contribute to the sustainability impact of working from home.
Hybrid models don’t necessarily improve sustainability
Attitudes have shifted so that significantly more executives and workers are ready for a hybrid model: working from home some days and in the office on others. Fewer commutes per week means fewer cars on the road, which would mean lower carbon emissions if transportation were the only carbon source to be concerned about. Only about a quarter of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions come from transportation sources, however. The carbon emissions saved by commuting two days a week can easily be outweighed by the waste produced by maintaining both brick-and-mortar offices and a remote workforce.
What kind of waste? First, there are substantial carbon emissions associated with building and furnishing an office in the first place. Then, there’s HVAC, a huge energy consumer. When a company has both remote and in-person workers, it must heat or cool its central facility (often including the empty desks of hybrid workers) while remote workers do the same in their homes. Hybrid workers also often have double the gear: a dock, monitor, keyboard, phone, and/or printer in each location. This duplication contributes to a growing e-waste crisis. Electronic devices have a short lifespan, are rarely recycled, and contain toxic materials. Over 70 percent of heavy metals in U.S. landfills comes from e-waste.
Homesourcing: a brighter shade of green
Support.com is not a hybrid organization. Our model is homesourcing – where an organization’s entire culture, toolset, and business processes are organized around a fully home-based workforce. From that starting point, we’re able to avoid many of the sustainability pitfalls of hybrid organizations. We also have a robust BYOD policy, which cuts down on duplicated devices and e-waste.
Support.com hires experts who live their best lives and do their best work from home in a self-directed manner. That’s important, because once commuting, the physical office, and extraneous electronic devices have all been eliminated, further improving the sustainability of home-based work hinges on individual choices. Support.com’s home-based experts maintain dedicated, suitable environments for their work. That environment can be made greener through the use of energy-conserving light sources like LED or CFL bulbs or ideally, sunlight. Experts may have the option of heating and cooling their workplace separately from the rest of the home, rather than controlling the temperature of the entire building. Home-based workers also have easier access to sustainable food choices such as making their own meals rather than eating prepared foods from non-recyclable plastic containers, or eating snacks from bulk containers instead of single-serving packets.
Certainly, many drivers of carbon emissions are beyond the control of individuals or companies. But Support.com is passionate about doing our part. This much is clear: working from home, full-time, is green. Through responsible policies and individual choices, we can make that green even brighter.