How to make working from home environmentally friendly

Having a remote working option has been shown to deliver many benefits for most people. A better work-life balance is not the least of these. But is working from home environmentally friendly too?

It certainly can be – and is often promoted as such. Unfortunately though, this isn’t always the case.

Letting your team work from home can be good for the planet as well as for them. But WFH policies need careful consideration if they’re going to be the Environmental, Social, and Governance “win” that we’re all looking for:

Is working from home good for the environment?

The usual environmental plus points that work from home enthusiasts point to are:

  1. Much less commuting – cutting out all those commutes can create huge reductions in carbon and greenhouse gas emissions.
  2. Lower workplace energy usage – if your office doesn’t need to open its doors (or you do away with the office altogether), that could be far less energy being used.
  3. Reduced single-use packaging waste – working from home reduces the mountains of disposable coffee cups and takeaway food container waste office workers pile up every year.

But are these automatic WFH “wins” for the planet?

Fewer commutes, less office energy usage, and minimised one-use plastic waste are all potential upsides of us all working from home. However, this is what we might think of as the best-case scenario. What about the worst?

For example, imagine a situation where you and your team all normally bike to work instead of driving. Now that you work remotely, some people have moved to the outskirts of the city. One long commute from them could be worse for the environment than all your previous bike rides put together.

Or, what if only part of your team works from home? This way, your office is still using energy for lighting, heating, and equipment use. But so are the homes of your remote working team members.

How to make working from home good for the environment

None of this is to say that working from home can’t be environmentally friendly if done correctly.

But businesses that want to tick the “saving the planet” box as well as give their team work-life balance improvements, should do things like:

1) Downsize with care

If most of your team now works from home, you might find that you can downsize your office premises. Or potentially go wholly remote. With the adoption of collaboration tools like Microsoft 365 and Google Workspace now commonplace, it’s easier than you might think.

Smaller or non-existent premises can reward you with major savings on your office energy bills and potentially your rent too (as you’ll need premises with lower square footage). Those are very good things.

The place where many businesses that are switching to remote or hybrid working fall down is that they neglect the importance of having a strategy for safely disposing of and recycling:

  • E-waste – computers and related equipment, air conditioning units, batteries – anything electrical that’s no longer needed in their new office space.
  • Office furniture and supplies – desks, chairs, stacks of paper or printer ink that are suddenly unnecessary and unwanted.

2) Put sensible energy usage front and centre

Lights, air conditioners, heating systems, and computers that are on when they don’t need to be are responsible for huge amounts of energy waste each year.

Historically, one of the biggest culprits is office lights being left on overnight with the vague intention of deterring thieves. Not only is this highly wasteful, but there’s also never been any proof that this actually works. In fact, some reports suggest the opposite is true.

If you want to save both your home and workplace energy bills:

  1. Make your team aware that, in or out of the office, leaving equipment on costs money.
  2. Have a “turn it off when not in use” baseline policy.
  3. Office managers need to decide how to sensibly light and heat partially-used workplaces.

3) Buy locally-sourced food

If we all purchased food that had been sourced locally it would save massive amounts of carbon and greenhouse gas emissions.

Educating your team about this can be an interesting experience for everyone. Buying local is also a big factor in helping working from home be a net positive for the environment.

Getting your team to think about the emissions they generate with their journey to their local store, high street, or supermarket is important too.

How else can you make working from home good for the planet?

That’s far from all that’s needed to make working from home environmentally friendly.

We’ve done a deeper dive on the issue! Check it out over on our free resources page.

If you’d like us to help set up your employees to work from home or you’d like to chat about how to make your IT greener – book a call with Gildas now!