In the last 10 years, working from home—also referred to as telecommuting—has gained massive popularity, especially as people become more conscious about the state of the environment. According to authors of the The Green Book, on average, employees commute about 10,000 miles every year and consume over 60 billion gallons of gas in the process. The authors estimate that telecommuting can save nearly 2 billion gallons of gas every year and reduce the amount of miles traveled by over 35 billion.
Large corporations such as Dell and Aetna have worked extremely hard to incorporate telecommuting into their operations. Dell in particular set lofty goals for environmental sustainability, and the company hopes to incorporate more virtual workplaces in an effort to reduce its carbon footprint. In keeping with this same theme, Aetna has offered its employees the option to work from home for the past two decades, and about 40 percent of its current workforce has at least a partial telecommuting agreement. The company believes that it has reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 46,700 metric tons just in 2014 alone, and has reduced its employees’ commutes by 127 million miles.
Advocates of telecommuting say that it helps companies decrease their carbon emissions, heating and cooling costs, and need for expensive office space. Here, we’ll take a look at some of the environmental benefits of telecommuting and how employers and workers can make it work to their advantage.
Saves Gas and Reduces Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Quite possibly the biggest draw for telecommuting is the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, since workers don’t have to drive to the office. A 2015 study by Fraunhofer USA estimated that telecommuting can reduce carbon dioxide emissions anywhere from 6 to 8 million metric tons per year.
Even when carbon emissions from energy use at home are taken into account, telecommuting still wins out over traditional commuting. According to the US Consumer Electronics Association, a survey that the organization conducted discovered that home-based offices do have a carbon footprint, but it is smaller than the total environmental impact of driving to and from work every weekday.
Since about 3.7 million US employees work from home at least half the time, this saves millions of gallons of gas and prevents millions of tons of greenhouse gases from entering the atmosphere every year.
Saves Electricity, Money, and Other Resources
Another big upside to telecommuting is the conservation of electricity and other scarce natural resources. With fewer people in the office every day, companies may use less electricity than they would if all workers came in. In addition, if a substantial portion of a company’s workforce is home-based, the company may not need to occupy as large an office—which in turn means it will likely use less energy for heating and cooling.
Working from home can also save other resources besides energy. A home office or workspace is set up in a space that already exists, so workers typically do not have to do anything special to their home to start working remotely. Typically, all that’s needed is a computer with an Internet connection—something that 67% of US adults already have in their homes, according to 2015 figures from the Pew Research Center.
Teleworkers usually don’t need to replicate the IT resources in the office, either; they don’t need to build their own local network with their own server, for example. They can access the same information and applications as in-office workers do via the Internet and cloud technology. Videoconferencing also allows for in-person meetings from afar.
Companies who allow telecommuting can also save money by avoiding lost productivity from sick days. It is estimated that nearly 80 percent of employees who call in sick usually do so because of personal issues or job-related stress. Employees who work from home may continue to work even if they are not feeling well, as they don’t have to physically leave their homes and can take more breaks. In addition, when they have personal appointments during the workday, telecommuters are able to return immediately to work, instead of having to take off the entire day or a significant chunk of it.
Although telecommuting is great for the environment and allows people to save time and money by avoiding a commute, it’s not ideal for everyone or every business. However, it is worthwhile for companies to at least experiment with telecommuting to see if it offers any benefits.
If your company does not allow you to work from home, you can still figure out ways to make your commute more environmentally friendly. Whether you choose to use public transportation a few days per week, carpool with co-workers, or bike to work, there are lots of ways to reduce the environmental impact of getting in to the office.