Remote jobs, modern and eco-friendly

Jan 15, 2022

Are remote jobs more eco-friendly than office work? If the question was raised in theory before the health crisis, this is no longer the case. Teleworking has become a part of everyday business life and there is no going back. But it has not only changed the internal organization of companies. Telework has also had a significant environmental impact. This was particularly noticeable during the first containment, which was the most hermetic.

According to the European Environment Agency , which measures air quality in Europe, NO2 (nitrogen dioxide) emissions fell by 30-60% in many cities across the old continent in March 2020. And the phenomenon is global. Over the same period, pollution levels in New York have fallen by 50% in New York, and by 25% in China.

In France, according to a study by Santé Publique France, the reduction in the population's exposure to fine particles (PM10 and PM2.5) during the first containment period prevented 2 300 deaths. In all cases, the slowdown in road traffic had a major effect. It is true that Covid-19 locked people in their homes. But by removing commuting from our daily lives, it will also have contributed to better air quality.

Remote jobs eliminate commuting

Commuting is clearly hurting the planet and one of the great virtues of remote jobs is that they help to eliminate much of it. Its harmful effects are clearly documented. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), commuting is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the US, accounting for 28.2% of the country's total greenhouse gas emissions.

But the ecological virtue of remote jobs does not lie in this figure alone. Take lunch, for example. Eaten at the office, it uses plastic cutlery and cups (ah, the coffee machine) which are rarely, if ever, used when lunch is eaten at home. Even today, despite progress in this area, 90% of these utensils are neither recycled nor reused. That's how much good they do for the Earth when they are not used.

Is video conferencing consuming too much energy?

But are remote jobs as eco-friendly as they are made out to be? The question is particularly acute when it comes to the energy consumption of electronic and computer equipment. In fact, online meetings also consume a lot of energy.

According to Gerry McGovern, an author and lecturer specializing in digital experience design, one hour of ultra HD video calls generates 2.8 kg of CO2 per participant. Let's assume an employee makes 3 hours of video calls per day. Multiply this by 260 working days per year: on this basis, video calls weigh in at 2,184 kg of CO2 per person per year.

Now compare that with the amount of CO2 spent by, say, a London employee who uses his or her car to get to work every day.  

If we compile the statistical sources, they travel an average of 23.2 km (14.5 miles) round trip every day and spend 0.2354 kg of CO2 for every 1.6 km (1 mile) travelled. A simple calculation then shows that the annual expenditure based on, again, 260 working days, is equivalent to 3413 kg of CO2 per year. This is more than the amount emitted on a 3-hour basis by video calls, which, as we have seen, is 2,184 kg CO2/year.

Nevertheless, this last figure is far from negligible and the companies that are most advanced in this area have taken numerous initiatives to offset the carbon emissions caused by the use of equipment.

A green initiative: reforesting

Zapier, a full distributed company (320 employees) which specializes in task automation, has offset 647 tons of carbon through reforestation, i.e. 2022 kg of CO2 emitted per employee per year.

Although there is no definitive study on the subject, all the figures today point to remote jobs that are indeed more eco-friendly than office work.

This is excellent news for generations Y and beyond who make protecting the planet a cardinal value and can find in remote jobs (and especially in full remote), a mode of organization that certainly contributes to this ends.

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