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Is working from home better for the environment?

Image de présentation de l'article Is working from home better for the environment?

At first glance, you might think that working from home is synonymous with ecology since it allows you to avoid business trips. Knowing that 70% of Belgians use their car to get to work, the conclusion is quickly established: teleworking makes it possible to reduce CO2 emissions related to transport. However, the math is not that simple! Let's discover together the links between the environment and teleworking.

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The benefits of teleworking on the environment

When it comes to citing the environmental benefits of remote work, the environmental benefits of reducing car journeys are at the top of the list. According to a study carried out by ADEME in 2020, one day of teleworking per week would save 271 kg of CO2 emitted per year. On average, teleworking reduces the environmental impact of car transport by around 30%.

In addition to avoided business travel, telecommuting could reduce the ecological footprint of companies. If the number of workers is reduced, so are the energy resources and equipment! First of all, the amount of energy consumed in a company is limited. In offices, printers consume a lot of energy, not to mention light, air conditioning, heating, or even the coffee machine... Fewer employees in the office means fewer spaces to feed! Plus, fewer supplies are needed with remote work. Whether it's paper, ink cartridges, pens... In this sense, teleworking makes it possible to serve the environmental cause and offers a significant potential for reducing pollution.

However, we should not neglect the rebound effects that could materialize in the medium and long term. Even if they are still difficult to measure, it is important to be aware of them.

See also: The 8 pros and cons of remote work

The hidden pollution of teleworking

Digital pollution

Digital pollution is one of the aspects that blurs the positive effects of teleworking. Indeed, digital technology requires physical infrastructures that consume a lot of energy. With the rise of teleworking, the use of videoconferencing has drastically increased and is not without consequences for the planet. According to a 2020 study mentioned in the ADEME study, one minute of videoconferencing would emit 1g of CO2. On the other hand, the over-equipping of IT equipment necessary for remote work is the source of new waste.

Digital pollution currently accounts for 4% of global carbon dioxide emissions , according to ADEME. With remote working, this figure is expected to increase. However, there are simple ways to reduce your environmental impact when working from home and achieve digital sobriety: delete your emails, clean your cloud spaces, favor calls over videoconferences or turn off your camera during videoconferences...

Energy expenses at home

Even though our transport-related carbon footprint is decreasing thanks to teleworking, the International Energy Agency (IEA) notes that work-related pollution may well increase due to an increase in household energy consumption. In the United Kingdom, for example, the lockdowns of 2020 caused an increase in electricity consumption of around 15%.

In addition, energy consumption in companies is not necessarily lower with teleworking. In the office, it sometimes even remains stable since the premises remain open to accommodate certain employees wishing to work in person.

Commuting replaced

The number of business trips has been reduced, but we need to look at the impact of teleworking on other daily trips. When we work remotely, we don't necessarily stay at home. Working from home can lead to unforeseen non-business travel: shopping, taking children to school, going to personal activities, etc.

In addition, teleworking can have a relocation effect. With this new way of working, workers are encouraged to move further away. Indeed, they will agree to travel more if it is to go to work than once a week. As a result, commutes are longer and workers are much more likely to use the car. This can dampen the positive impact of reducing commuting.

See also: The 8 pros and cons of remote work

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