The impact of hybrid working on a company’s carbon footprint
Multiple lockdowns in 2020-2021 have led to drastic changes in workplace organization and employee mobility. Indeed, the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed 44% of the European workforce to work from home, dramatically reducing the number of people commuting to and from the office.
This shift in mobility patterns combined with those related to production and consumption led to a 17% decrease in CO2 emissions in April 2020 from peak 2019 levels.
With nine out of ten businesses continuing to pursue hybrid work after the pandemic, many had hoped that our collective carbon footprint would continue to decrease.
However, today, greenhouse gas emissions have already returned to pre-pandemic levels.
With big corporations finally putting the environment at the core of their businesses, the impact of hybrid working on their carbon footprint has become more and more appealing.
Fewer CO2 emissions from private vehicles as a result of hybrid work
For those choosing the comfort of their private cars, hybrid working means less time wasted in the traffic, less stress, and fewer cigarettes smoked later in the day, whining about a long commute time.
In fact, working from home regularly can decrease the length of everyday commute by up to 39% and its frequency by 69%.
With 7 out of 10 employees taking cars to get to work, the journey to and from the office account for more than half of the local mobility emissions from Monday to Friday in France. Moreover, they are also the leading source of greenhouse gas emissions from office activities.
Hybrid work makes it possible to reduce the total environmental impact associated with office commuting by approximately 30%. Furthermore, one day of remote work per week can decrease the CO2 emissions by 271 kg a year.
Three carbon downsides of hybrid work
There are three factors that reduce the positive effect that hybrid work has on a company’s carbon footprint.
1. Firstly, the journey to and from the office often includes other stops. For example, employees may drop their kids off at school on their way to the office or stop by the supermarket to do some grocery shopping on their way home.
Most of these trips still happen even when working from home. Therefore, removing a commute to the office doesn’t necessarily mean cutting back on car usage. It can even lead to less carbon-efficient trips when stops are dispersed in separate trips over time and in different locations.
On top of that, hybrid work may encourage some workers to move further away from the office. For instance, metropolitan dwellers may decide to move to cheaper, quieter, and greener suburbs, increasing the length of their journeys to the office. This, in turn, raises greenhouse gas emissions, even though the frequency of work-related commutes is brought down.
2. Secondly, hybrid work has led to a surge in video calls and cloud services.
As colleagues are no longer in the office at the same time, most of the teamwork is done in a digital space.
Keeping in mind that one minute of videoconference emits 1g of greenhouse gas, a day of remote work per week results in a carbon footprint of about 2.9 kg.
In the case of cloud services, saving and storing 100 gigabytes of data in a cloud per year would represent 200 kg of carbon emissions.
3. Last but not least, the individual energy consumption per employee increases while working from home.
Remote employees need to use heating, air conditioning, internet, lighting, and cooking appliances to ensure the appropriate working conditions at home. If previously, one coffee machine was used to wake up a team of 20, today, each remote employee requires an individual coffeemaker.
In the meantime, offices, even if occupied partially, continue to be heated and lighted to the same extent as before.
Such a shift in energy consumption leads to a rise in CO2 emissions by roughly 21 kg a year per one work-from-home day a week.
Hot desking and digital hybrid work solutions to reduce workplace carbon footprint
There are a few solutions though that can mitigate the negative effects of hybrid working on a company’s carbon footprint.
Regular remote work can allow companies to reduce their workspaces and, therefore, office energy consumption by up to 40%.
Considering that offices in France consume about 168 kWh of energy per square meter annually, which is equal to 16 kg of CO2 per square meter yearly, hot desking can decrease sizeably total workplace emissions.
The adoption of digital tools that facilitate the organization of hybrid work can also help to reduce the carbon footprint of an enterprise.
By making it easy to set up in-person meetings on the days when all the participants are present in the office, companies can reduce the number of video calls and their negative impact on greenhouse gas emissions.
Moreover, digital hybrid work solutions may help encourage car-sharing to and from the office as employees collaborate to come on-site on the same day.
The challenge of calculating the impact of hybrid working on a company’s carbon footprint
The impact of hybrid working on a company’s carbon footprint is not as straightforward as it seems to be at the first glance.
Even though regular WFH reduces the number of office commutes, it does not necessarily decrease the total amount of greenhouse gas emitted from employees’ private vehicles. Furthermore, remote work led to a rapid increase in video calls and cloud storage. Both of these digital services emit a significant amount of CO2. Total energy consumption has risen, too, as employees use individual lighting, heating, and internet connection during their work-from-home days.
Luckily enough, hybrid work allows companies to optimize their office spaces and, hence, reduce sharply workplace carbon emissions. Moreover, modern digital tools specialized in hybrid teams management provide employees with an opportunity to have fewer virtual meetings and encourage car sharing.
Although hybrid work can significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, companies have to take into account a set of different factors that will influence their final carbon output. These factors may vary greatly from one employee to another as not everyone has the same access to remote work or similar work-from-home conditions.
Creating profiles of employees based on the number of remote days allowed, geographical location of their home, and transport used may help organizations to provide more realistic data on their global carbon output.
In any case, simply stating that hybrid work is beneficial for the environment is a stretch.