Do remote collaboration tools benefit the environment?

The switch to more remote working – especially the attendant reduced carbon emissions from commuting and business travel – has been hailed as part of the start of a green revolution. But how much do remote collaboration tools benefit the environment?

It’s estimated that around half of the hefty reduction in carbon emissions measured during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic was because most people were travelling to work a whole lot less.

That’s pretty encouraging news. But is it all good? Are remote collaboration tools like Microsoft 365 and Google Workspace a total positive for the planet? Let’s take a look:

How remote collaboration tools benefit the environment

1) Reduced carbon emission and pollution

Studies on the scale of carbon emissions saved by more remote and hybrid working are ongoing. However, the weight of the current evidence seems to say that reductions in commuting and office emissions are much greater than any balancing increase in home emissions.

Even office workers who still commute occasionally but more flexibly will be an environmental benefit. This is because they travel at different times. This spreads traffic flow out across the day rather than peak times, reducing congestion and overall pollution.

On the energy front, it is frequently argued that we’re also all much more likely to be a bit more parsimonious with our energy usage at home where we’re paying for it.

2) Improved sustainability

Tools like Google Workspace and Microsoft 365 allow teams to work together no matter where they happen to be. This can allow companies to downsize their office space – reducing rent and other operating costs – or even go fully office-free.

They also allow companies to have meetings with external partners or attend conferences and workshops without the usually massive attendant costs. Everyone knows business trips can be a big expenditure item. Plane tickets. Expensive hotels. Spending money. Even a single trip soon adds up.

The right tools – videoconferencing software like Google Meets or Zoom – mean that face-to-face business meetings are no longer a requirement for any but the most important purposes.

Conferences and organisation training sessions – where one person addresses a room – are particularly suited to the online format.

3) Minimised usage of office supplies

These days, coming across a company that still prints things out can be a bit of an eye-opener. Remember the days when you’d get a physical handout for each meeting?

This change alone is responsible for the huge reduction in the volume of office supplies used – and staff time required to print everything out – that workplace collaboration tools can create. This is especially important when these are the kind of one-use items that then get thrown away.

If you still have executives in your organisation who insist on getting their schedule printed, it might be time to introduce them to how much time, paper, and expensive printer ink can be saved digitally. If only to save your accounts on the staffing hours and office supplies lines.

Do remote collaboration tools have any downsides?

So far, it’s all looking rosy for the impact collaboration tools have on the environment. But there is certainly a white elephant in the room. That elephant is called “data centres”.

These huge centralised collections of servers and data storage systems are increasingly in the news because of the sheer quantity of resources they take to build and the carbon emissions and other pollution their operation requires. Unfortunately, collaboration tools rely on them.

The overwhelming majority of the many, many thousands of data centres that exist worldwide are operated by just a few familiar Big Tech players. Every one of these is claiming they’re making big changes to improve the energy efficiency of their facilities. Hopefully, this trend will continue.

There is also the issue of increased energy usage at home offsetting reduced office energy use. Overall though, the evidence seems to suggest that this is still a net win for the environment.

However, additional measures like implementing basic energy-saving measures at home (turning devices off when not in use, switching to LED lights, walking or biking whenever possible) will further boost the way wider adoption of remote collaboration tools will benefit the environment.

Looking to explore how else properly implemented collaboration tools can benefit your organisation?

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