The Covid-19 pandemic has sparked the biggest telecommuting “experiment” in history, accelerating the long-term trend toward flexible telecommuting and digitalization. During the peak of the pandemic, the number of people working from home in the US alone rose from 5% to 37%. Now that we get rid of the crisis, the company is trying different long working methods.
Recent studies show that 91% of long employees want to continue their hybrid or long work, while 76 % of employees say their employers will allow them to work outwardly. With daily trips effectively canceled during successive Covid-19 lockdowns, many believe WFH will deliver environmental sustainability benefits. Indeed, such dramatic changes in mobility, production, and consumption patterns compared to the 2019 peak temporarily reduced global CO2 emissions by 17% in April 2020. But what appeared to be a promising trend quickly faded: emissions are now almost back to pre-pandemic levels, though workers are not.
In fact, Some research also shows that WFH does not have a clear environmental benefit. The net impact of sustainability depends on a variety of employee behaviors, from travel to energy use to digital devices and waste management. It also depends on a number of contextual factors such as housing construction and local infrastructure. For example, this shift to telecommuting creates new challenges for companies competing to publish ESG metrics such as their carbon footprint. How should remote work be viewed in relation to the company’s sustainability goals? What behaviors of WFH employees should companies be aware of?
To understand the impact of WFH on sustainability, companies need to consider a range of
employee behaviors related to the environment. Let’s highlight four areas of behavior that are
particularly important: energy, travel, technology, and waste. When aggregated across
individuals, teams, companies, and industries, behavioral changes across these domains can
have a significant impact on the environment.
The effect of WFH on energy consumption is mixed together, and some studies have found a positive effect, while others show that it has a neutral or even negative effect on energy consumption. After all, this effect may be related to the personal characteristics of employees (eg understanding, attitude, family size, wealth), family infrastructure (such as energy level construction, suppliers), and even the factors of the situation (eg geographical location and seasons). Difference. When companies formulate telecommuting policies, such as subsidizing home energy bills, they must also consider the sustainability impact of residential energy emissions.
While WFH is undoubtedly an environmental benefit, commuting has decreased, but evidence
of rebound effects is emerging, including increased absenteeism and short-distance commuting.
For example, in a sample of California workers who moved to WFH during the Covid-19
pandemic, a decrease in vehicle miles traveled was accompanied by a 26% increase in the
average number of trips. In addition to changes in commuting, changes in potential emissions from business-related travel in mixed environments such as events and conferences are also
significant. technological footprint
From a personal footprint perspective, our digital behavior is interconnected. A study has shown
that a “typical business user” – albeit in the pre-Covid-19 period – generates 135 kilograms (298
pounds) of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2 equivalent) per year when sending emails, the
equivalent of 200 km. by car. Family car, close to Brussels to London. But today, the technical
needs of the average business person have changed; less contact in the office can mean more
time spent communicating online. Equally problematic, a key short-term WFH policy adopted by
several companies is to provide workers with laptops, even at the risk of the device being
In the UK, recycling increased during the first closure; this is consistent with previous research
showing that employees use more sustainable waste disposal practices at home than at the
office. WFH can therefore have a net positive effect on the environment of waste management
practices, bearing in mind that the provision of local services such as waste sorting and
recycling bins is an important enabler. However, there is also a risk that the volume of electronic
and electrical waste (e-waste) will increase – approximately 50 million tons worldwide each year,
of which only 20% is officially recycled.
How can companies make WFH more environmentally sustainable?
Remote work creates new challenges for how best to observe and influence behaviors that are
important for sustainability. An employee’s home is their private domain and organizations must
exercise caution not to overstep. At the same time, many workers would like help from their
employers to ensure that their WFH system is both convenient and sustainable. Develop a
sustainability policy that creates additional benefits (such as environmental and financial) and
ensures that the organization can simultaneously promote employee well-being and
performance in order to achieve its sustainability goals.
Organizational leaders concerned with reducing the environmental impact of their employees—and we believe all leaders should—can begin by developing WFH programs and policies with the following three considerations in mind. Embedding a culture of sustainability.
To create an environmentally sustainable and climate-friendly culture, organizations must
ensure that sustainability considerations are included in every business decision in all
industries, not just corporate social responsibility. This means first considering existing societal
norms and perceptions around remote (and internal) employee travel, technology, waste, and
energy emissions, and then developing ways to reduce these emissions by addressing how
people interact with each of them. Practice.
For example, What initiatives, tools, and techniques are in place to help (or stop) employees’
green behavior at home? Is there a meeting policy that defaults to remote (rather than in-
person) meetings? How do leaders and managers work with their teams, including remote
workers, on existing sustainability practices and commitments? Managers can further help build
a culture of sustainability by following existing environmental policies. Consider Ingvar Kamprad, founder of IKEA, who is often credited with bringing sustainability to the masses through his
pushy business practices like not flying business class. As managers have to give speeches,
they also have to allow employees to choose how they implement politics. This will allow you to support employees instead of monitoring and improving, instead of extending the trust and goodwill of the employees.
Provide supportive policies.
Reviewing existing policies is an important first step, but often not enough. To embed an
environmentally sustainable culture, organizational leaders must provide adequate support for remote workers in each of the areas described. This may include other policy areas such as encouraging and supporting workers to switch to renewable energy in their homes by offering automatic energy switching services. Employers can also offer incentives for active commuting sessions, such as cycling programs; they can also arrange for the recycling and safe disposal of duplicate or used electronic equipment and e-waste through in-house recycling centers or in cooperation with recycling companies that process recyclable materials. This is not an exhaustive list and employers should seek employee input on other necessary policies and structures.
Think globally, act locally.
Some policies, such as automatically switching to the cheapest green energy tariffs and
household emissions reduction tricks, can benefit all workers. However, environmental
footprints will vary significantly across people, teams, businesses, and industries. For example, a
company’s workforce may rely heavily on technology, so helping to reduce e-waste and energy
emissions is particularly important. Employees of another company may commute long distances or travel frequently; this company should prioritize reducing emissions from travel through options such as reducing non-essential travel, using low-carbon transport, economy flight for essential travel, and carbon offsets.
Depending on where your employees are located, it may be more appropriate to focus on reducing emissions from cooling rather than heating, or both. The point is that a one-size-fits-all
the approach will not work. Instead, when developing and promoting environmentally sustainable
WFH policies, companies must consider the unique circumstances of their employees as well as
the specifics of their business to determine the most appropriate course of action. As telecommuting models become more common, employee sustainability impacts may occur less and less under the employer’s physical umbrella, but will still occur under their watch. In order to better understand all aspects of environmental impact, it is necessary to focus not only on the specific situation and the experience of the employees, but also it is important to embed a culture of sustainability by providing employees with support, policies, and management. In this way, organizations can ensure that WFH adopts a comprehensive set of sustainability measures and achieves its sustainability goals.