Is working from home ecological? Our response on the links between telework and pollution
Are teleworking and the environment compatible? At first glance, the link is clear: working from home is ecological, because it avoids using the car to get to the office. Greenhouse gas and fine particle emissions are therefore reduced. However, the calculation is not so simple. Above all: there are other even more advantageous ecological gains, but largely unknown. Discover our analysis on the environmental benefits of work from home and the complex links between teleworking and pollution.
The benefits of telework on the environment
In 2015, ADEME published a study on the beneficial effects of teleworking for the planet. In 2020, the agency is completing its first report with an assessment of the rebound effects of remote working. Indeed, work from home induces a change in behavior, some of which reduce the environmental gains of telework.
If the evaluation of the ecological advantages of working from home is complex, it remains conclusive: hybrid operation (teleworking + on site) is less polluting than a daily trip to the company.
The decrease in greenhouse gas emissions and other consumption of resources has several origins.
The reduction in car transport, the most well-known environmental benefit of teleworking
When we list the benefits of remote work on the environment, the reduction in transport often comes first. And for good reason: according to INSEE, 7 out of 10 French people go to the workplace by car (or other vehicle).
Taking into account the teleworker’s other trips (shopping, dropping off the children at school, etc.), the Agency estimates a saving of around 200 kg CO2eq per year, for one day of work from home per week. For reference, the annual emissions of a French person are estimated at 12.2 t CO2eq.
The adoption of flex office, an unrecognized opportunity to increase the benefits of telework on the environment
The flex office to reduce the surface area of company buildings
When teleworking is taken into account in the overall strategy of the company, more environmental gains are expected.
This is the case when the company offers flex office. Workspaces are no longer assigned. Employees come on site for team meetings, informal time with colleagues or positions specific to their profession. They stay at home for tasks requiring concentration.
In order to facilitate companies in their organization of Flex Office and thus improve the quality of life at work while saving money, Ubigreen has developed the MyWorkspace solution, a web and mobile application facilitating the functions of booking workspaces and of internal communication. Discover all the features of MyWorkspace
The ecological footprint of professional buildings
The company can then reduce the surface area of its buildings, leading to an optimization of its ecological footprint.
Indeed, the energy consumption of offices in France amounts to 168 kWhEF/m² per year –greenhouse gas emissions of almost 16 kg CO2eq per m² and per year.
Annual water consumption is estimated at 0.37 m3/m².
Over the entire life cycle (construction, maintenance, operation, upkeep, etc.), the carbon footprint of an office space would be around 78 kg CO2eq/m² per year (according to the Observatoire de l ‘Sustainable Real Estate, 2019). There is an average of 15 m² per employee.
The environmental gains of well-organized telework
At the heart of a well-conducted flex office strategy, remote working can therefore considerably reduce a company’s environmental bill.
Associated with a reduction in the surface area of company offices, each day of weekly teleworking would save up to 234 kg CO2eq per year per employee.
Without a decrease in real estate occupancy, this saving drops to… 6.7 kg CO2eq per year! This corresponds to the simple reduction in the energy consumption of the professional building. Indeed, at home, individuals are responsible for their water and energy consumption – since the bill is theirs at the end of the month!
Rebound effect and hidden pollution: the complexity of the ecological assessment of working from home
The benefits of telework on the environment remain hypothetical. It is, in fact, very complex to assess these gains.
Home-to-work journeys are transformed into short trips
For transport, for example, it is not enough to eliminate the home-work journey. The behavior of the individual is modified. Thus, the latter will be able to do small errands during the day, or will have to bring these children to school – trips usually on his way to the warehouse.
If car trips are not zero in telework, they remain fortunately lower. In addition, some take advantage of this less stressful day to travel on foot, by bike or by scooter.
The environmental impact of digital
Increasingly, there are also concerns about the environmental impact of digital tools. Working from home is generally accompanied by an increase in video meetings and other remote communication tools.
According to a study dating from 2020 (Leboucq, mentioned in the ADEME study), one minute of videoconference would emit 1 g of CO2. Counting one hour of video per day of teleworking, the carbon footprint rises to 2.8 kg CO2eq per year, for one day of work from home per week. Emissions ultimately much lower than the gains expected by the reduction in car journeys or business surfaces.
Telecommuting and pollution: in summary
Finally, the advantages of telework on the environment are undeniable.
The reductions in greenhouse gas emissions are largely due to the avoidance of car trips and the reduction of the real estate footprint of companies.
Although the assessment is complex, the ecological balance of working from home is encouraging.
However, we observe that certain rebound effects can reduce, or even cancel out, the carbon savings of telework. Intelligent support and overall adaptation of the company are therefore necessary.
In order to adapt to the changing world of work, Ubigreen has developed SMART OFFICE, a Saas platform coupled with wireless sensors to reduce its real estate footprint by measuring and optimizing the occupation of workspaces in real time. Discover all the features of our SMART OFFICE solution.
https://www.ubigreen.com//www.ademe.fr/sites/default/files/assets/documents/caracterisation-effets-rebond-induits-teletravail-rapport.pdf (ADEME, 2020)
https://www.ubigreen.com//librairie.ademe.fr/mobilite-et-transport/3783-evaluation-de-l-impact-du-teletravail-et-des-tiers-lieux-sur-la-reduction -of-energy-consumption-and-greenhouse-gas-emissions-and-on-company-organisation.html (ADEME, 2015)