Data Reveals Remote Workers Produce 54% Less Emissions Than Office Workers

Data Reveals Remote Workers Produce 54% Less Emissions Than Office Workers

The study revealed that U.S. employees who consistently work from home reduce their emissions by 54% compared to their office-bound counterparts. However, the study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows that hybrid workers do not achieve such a significant reduction in their emissions.

Because the energy savings from leaving the office were offset by factors such as the increase in commuting when working from home, one day of remote work per week resulted in only a 2% reduction in emissions. Compared to employees working on-site, working remotely two or four days per week reduced emissions by up to 29%.

Microsoft employees’ internal data on their commuting and teleworking habits was one of the datasets used by a research team from Cornell University and Microsoft. They used this data to develop models that predict greenhouse gas emissions from office, remote and hybrid workers in the United States. Their study included five different emissions categories, including workplace and household energy use.

They found that the use of communication and information technologies has a minimal impact on people’s work-related carbon footprint.

Less office energy use and a shorter drive each day were the key factors in remote workers’ lower emissions.

“People say: ‘I work from home, I’m net zero.’ That’s not true,” said the co-author Fengqi You of Cornell University. “The net benefit for working remotely is positive but a key question is how positive. When people work remotely, they tend to spend more emissions on social activities.”

According to the report, non-work travel by remote workers has increased, with more flying and driving. There were some economies of scale in energy use, and homes were not necessarily optimized for decarbonization in terms of renewable energy use and appliance efficiency. For example, a small home printer is probably not as energy efficient as a printer in an office.

“While remote work shows potential in reducing carbon footprint, careful consideration of commuting patterns, building energy consumption, vehicle ownership, and non-commute-related travel is essential to fully realize its environmental benefits,” said the authors. 

Although the results were specific to the U.S., the modeling and patterns are likely applicable to Europe and Japan. Companies are encouraged to adopt energy conservation measures, downsize, and share office space.