Lifestyle affects the green benefits of remote work

Remote workers can have a 54% lower carbon footprint than on-site workers, according to a new study by Cornell University and Microsoft, with lifestyle choices and work arrangements playing a key role in determining the environmental benefits of remote and hybrid work.

The study, published September 18 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that hybrid workers who work from home two to four days a week can reduce their carbon footprint by 11% to 29%, but working from home one day a week This is minimal, reducing your carbon footprint by just 2%. Workers who are home-based once a week tend to travel relatively less commuting distances, use household energy and travel outside the commuting zone.

“Remote work does not equal zero carbon, and the benefits of hybrid work are not completely linear,” said study senior author Fengqi You, the Roxanne E. and Michael J. Zak Professor of Energy Systems Engineering. “Everyone knows that without mobility you can save on transportation energy, but there are always impacts on lifestyle and many other factors.”

The main contributors to the carbon footprint of on-site and hybrid workers, according to the study, are travel and office energy use. This is not surprising to researchers measuring the impact of remote work on the environment, but Cornell and Microsoft used survey data and modeling to incorporate factors that are sometimes overlooked when calculating a carbon footprint, including residential energy use based on time-use allocation, non-commuting distance and mode. Transportation, use of communications devices, number of family members and office configuration, such as seat sharing and building size.

Notable findings and observations include:

  • Non-commuting travel, such as trips to social and leisure activities, becomes more important as the number of remote working days increases.
  • Sharing seating among hybrid workers in the full presence of the building can reduce the carbon footprint by 28%.
  • Hybrid workers tend to commute further than on-site workers due to differences in housing options.
  • The effects of remote and hybrid working on communications technologies such as computer, telephone and internet use have minimal impacts on the overall carbon footprint.

Remote and hybrid working shows great potential to reduce your carbon footprint, but what behaviors should these companies and other policy makers encourage to maximize the benefits? said Longqi Yang, Ph.D. ’19, principal director of applied research at Microsoft and corresponding author of the study.The findings suggest that organizations should prioritize improving lifestyle and workplace settings.

The study also provides insights into how companies can more accurately calculate their support for environmental sustainability, I added.

“All of these companies are tracking carbon neutrality, so when someone isn’t working in the office, their company shouldn’t claim, ‘I’m not contributing to that carbon footprint,’ because that’s not true,” said Yu, who is a senior faculty fellow at the Cornell Center. Atkinson Sustainability.

I said the study found that companies and policymakers should also focus on incentivizing public transportation driving, clearing out office space for remote workers, and improving the energy efficiency of office buildings.

“Globally, every person, every country and every sector has these kinds of opportunities through remote work. How can the combined benefits change the whole world? This is something we really want to advance our understanding of,” said Yanqiu Tao, a doctoral student and first author of the study. .

The study was based on work supported by the National Science Foundation, It utilized survey data from Microsoft, the American Time Use Survey, the National Household Travel Survey, and the Residential Energy Consumption Survey.

Sil Kakabir is associate director of marketing and communications at Cornell Engineering.

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