The phrase “new normal” has captured the zeitgeist of the Covid-19 pandemic, with the virus forcing people to stay indoors and adapt to the restrictions put in place to contain the disease. With this in mind, the new normal for the majority of the workforce (at least in office-based jobs) has been remote working. This has allowed for work to continue without the risk of transmission, but it has also had some interesting bi-products as a result. One of the most positive bi-products would have to be the impact that remote working is having on the environment in many different facets such as reducing greenhouse emissions, reducing office wastage and cutting down on mass energy use. With the recent conclusion of COP26 it is more important than ever that the spotlight should remain on what everyday people can do to help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and prevent the worst-case scenarios of climate change.
Cutting down commute times is a shared dream amongst office workers, spending less time driving or travelling by bus or rail can be big consideration when choosing a job. Remote working allows for one better, no commute at all. In fact, by the end of 2020, emissions from cars and aeroplanes had dropped 10% and 40% respectively below their 2019 levels. This may not seem like much but according to Rob Jackson from the Department of Earth System Science at Stanford university (1) this is equated to taking 500 million cars off the roads for a year. This has had an unquestionable impact on the health of the planet, and while it won’t be nearly enough to (on its own) stop the rising temperatures of the Earth, with persistence it can contribute to a healthier world.
Another way in which remote and flexible working has been benefiting the environment is by reducing office waste. Large scale offices can cut down dramatically on the number of physical resources, such as paper and single use plastics that they use in day to day, by allowing their workers to operate remotely. This will allow workers to use only what they need, and as the world is becoming increasingly paperless, that is less than you would expect. Additionally with large scale offices being shut there will be far less energy consumed by lighting, computers and appliances all being switched off while employees are working from home (once again) only powering what they need, when they need it.
In a post COP26 world, we all need to remember that the Earth has a finite number of consumable resources and we can’t protect the planet and the people on it unless we are more conscious about how we live and work.