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Sustainability

Remote Work for a Green Future

We’ve found the time to slow down

The pandemic has definitely come with a lot of lows, uncertainties, and chaos. But the disruption of our pre-COVID ‘normal’ way of life has helped us so much more than we realize. The earth seems to heal the unsustainable practices with deforestation and using natural fuels. It time we think about a sustainable future.

For the majority of people, this has been a moment to pause, slow down, and reflect. Finally, a time to slow down the rat race, breathe, and bring ourselves to the present moment.

It’s been 8 months since we all globally got struck with this relentless virus. If there is a silver lining to all of the uncertainty around safety, social distancing, possible vaccines, and COVID numbers, it’s this – We’ve somehow finally found the time to slow down and ask “WHY?

These 8 months have given us a chance to stand stronger together to support race issues and environmental issues. We’ve finally paused to ask ‘WHY?’. The fact that we are talking about these issues to this day is disheartening, but it’s a great start! There is no more hiding from asking ‘WHY?’ And we’re asking the right questions. So what is the answer?

If it had to be put in one single word, it’s Imbalance. Put this word against all the issues mentioned above, and tell us it isn’t so. When something is in imbalance, there are consequences. It’s just the way of nature, the way of the universe. So, the only way for us to grow is with a sustainable future by being green.

If by now, all of us have realized that there is an imbalance in the way we approach what is important to us – like gender equality, race, or the way we treat our planet, we stand a winning chance to make things right! For ourselves, and our future generations.

In this blog article, we delve a little into the new normal of remote work and its impact on the environment.

Is working-from-home bringing a balance to our strained environment?

Halfway into Lockdown 1.0, in India and worldwide, we remember reading the news and watching videos shared on social media about the environment finally getting the time to heal. About people working from home, no regular work commutes, less air pollution, wildlife on quiet roads, and beautiful blue skies – even in major pollution dominant cities in India like Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru. Think of how we can achieve building a sustainable future for next-generation ensuring growth is achieved too.

For Earth Day, a global poll of 2,250 office workers discovered 77% believe working from home is one of the most effective ways to help the environment. And one of the reasons for this is their commute: Over 75% of respondents say their commute to work is something they feel guilty about when it comes to the daily impact it has on the environment. It is true that not having to commute to work has definitely helped most people to reduce their carbon footprints. But is it that simple of a solution?

Do zero commute and no office energy consumption equal to a sustainable solution in the future? Think about it.

“The question of work-from-home sustainability, is an onion: there are far more layers to the answer.”

Meredith Turits, BBC, Beyond the 9-to-5

Sustainability, after all, relies on a reduction in emissions, much of which come from petrol-powered engines in commuter cars and the massive amount of energy consumed by large buildings. Working remotely would seem to solve many of these problems: zero commute, and fewer seats to heat and cool in offices. This may not be the case exactly. 

The kind of energy used can also tip the scales. Different regions of the world derive energy from different sources, some more sustainable than others. For example: A country such as Iceland uses a significant amount of clean geothermal energy to power both commercial buildings and homes. This plays a huge part in what kind of energy we use to travel, power our homes, offices, and data centers.

Green Energy - sustainable future
Credit: Unsplash

Walking a sustainable path

Zapier, which has 320 employees working in 27 countries, is among the first fully remote companies to purchase carbon offsets to compensate for their footprint. CEO Wade Foster – who used to work in energy himself – says that last year Zapier offset 647 tonnes of carbon through reforestation. The estimate included the footprint from home offices, corporate infrastructure such as servers as well as travel, including bi-yearly team retreats.

Juliet Chen, a Buffer team employee calculated Buffer’s carbon footprint – a 100% remote company. Overall when they look at three major categories (office space, company travel and data centre energy), they could compare with some accuracy using data, and it appears that a remote company has a smaller carbon footprint than a co-located company, at 4.9 tons of CO2 (per person per year) versus 5.8 tons of CO2 (per person per year).

sustainable future - Eco foot print
Credit: Mic.com

We need bolder, more urgent actions

Companies with a heavy work-from-home infrastructure making substantial strides to reduce their impact. It is still possible that the calculations used to offset emissions may not be complete.

What makes it win-win for businesses is to allow their employees to work completely or partially remote. Create a work culture where employees take responsibility for their own carbon footprints. Remote work seems to provide more flexibility and opportunities to reduce our own carbon footprint further. 

Remote work allows people to have productivity as their main objective. There is no need for spending that time and money on the commute to the office far from their home. A great way is for companies to invest in a satellite office or distributed workforce model. So that their employees do not have to commute long distances, which will inadvertently decrease their carbon footprint.

Companies could also invest in giving remote work allowance to their employees. Employees and individual workers could then perhaps invest in their own lower-emission infrastructure. Pick a renewable energy power source, participate in reforestation drives, or bike to a nearby satellite workplace.

sustainable future - Reducing carbon footprint

The climate crisis is an unprecedented challenge for humanity, and its scale can feel overwhelming. But each small change we make is a statement that shows those around us that we care. One young person can inspire millions. Hundreds of collective shifts could incentivize businesses to adopt more sustainable practices. Thousands of voices can urge governments to commit to a carbon-neutral future.

“We cannot underestimate the ripple effect of the individual.”

Juliet Chen, Team Buffer

Have you measured your carbon footprint or that of your business? What have you done or are you in the process of doing, either as an individual or on an organizational level, to combat the climate crisis?

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