A study reported the drastic 8.8% decrease in Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions during the COVID-19 pandemic (Covid) lockdown compared to previous years, which sparked interest in how habit and lifestyle changes may impact the environment. People have consistently been encouraged to reduce living expenses and change their behaviour for effective climate action. The Covid lockdown inadvertently provided a “beta test” for how these changes could effectively reduce CO2 emissions, raising questions as to whether working from home is beneficial for the environment in the long run and inspiring multiple studies to explore this phenomenon.
ERA cofounders Sarah Sajedi and Gary Vegh published an academic journal article with the Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute(MDPI) that explored the long-term effects of COVID-19 on businesses, employees, and CO2 emissions with data collected using ArcGIS Survey 123, a data gathering tool. This blog outlines how Covid-induced lifestyle affected the environment and how you could leverage these changes to support your company's sustainability goals.
A Snapshot of the Covid Lockdown Effects
Before we jump into the details and statistics of the study, here is an overview of the findings. Prior to the pandemic, the average employee lost a significant amount of time commuting. As they began to work remotely, the CO2 emissions associated with their travel time decreased substantially. Post-Covid, 25% of companies kept the work-from-home model (ERA included). Not all industries are able to adopt a full work-from-home model, as on-site work is required.
How has Remote Work Affected Job Satisfaction?
Many companies established that employees could effectively complete their work remotely. A hybrid work model improves work-life balance for employees, including those who need to attend their children’s school events during the workday. This model could improve employee retention due to the identified flexibility. In Sajedi’s and Vegh’s study, 73% of survey participants would choose to work from home, while approximately 71% of employees prefer a hybrid working environment. Job satisfaction was impacted by 78% of the surveyed population.
Remote work is sustainable for most non-manufacturing companies and can be a significant addition to your company's environmental, social, and governance (ESG) standards and goals. Having employees who work from home supports many United Nations’ Sustainability Development Goals (SDGs), such as UN-SDG number 11: “Make cities & human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable.”
For those working from home, the office is a few steps away from the bedroom. Therefore, the commute time is virtually zero. This gives city-dwelling employees more options on where to live, as the need to be close to the office is eliminated, and out-of-pocket expenditures on gas diminish. The decrease in traffic congestion due to the decreased amount of people commuting also contributes to safer cities. Including remote work in your sustainability reports can help quantify your impacts.
Does Working from Home Reduce CO2 Emissions?
Working from home reduces personal and overall CO2 emissions significantly. Most survey participants (64.4%) used personal vehicles to get to work, and when they transitioned to working from home during the COVID-19 lockdown, there was a significant observed decrease in emissions. While factory workers and manufacturers cannot work from home in the post-Covid era, the administrative staff in many industries can. Companies can therefore leverage the work-from-home model to show they support the UN-SDG number 13: “Take urgent action to combat climate change & its impacts.”
When working from home, the average employee saved 87.48 miles of commuting per month, amounting to an average of 77.92 lbs per month of carbon dioxide savings. If working-aged people in the United States continued to work from home, the annual emission savings would be equivalent to a hundred million gas-powered vehicles driven for one year(or four billion miles driven by an average gasoline-powered vehicle). We acknowledge that fully remote work may not be realistic for some industries, but leaders must consider adopting hybrid models to contribute to a sustainable future.
Get More Details by Reading the Study from ERA’s Cofounders Sarah Sajedi and Gary Vegh
Their study evaluated emissions from March to May and compared Carbon dioxide emissions data from 2019 to 2022 using ArcGIS Survey 123. The quantitative data collection was conducted as a collaboration between two non-profit environmental groups, Suppliers Partnership for the Environment (SP), the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC), and ERA Environmental Software Solutions (ERA). It provides valuable statistics on employee satisfaction and the effects of the lockdown on carbon dioxide emissions. It can be essential in determining whether your organization should adopt a hybrid work-from-home model.