How “green” is working from home?

April 22, 2022

How “green” is working from home?

An interview with Björn Bröskamp, Business Development at ClimatePartner

Due to the effects of the Corona pandemic since the spring of 2020, many companies are offering their employees the option to work from home. As flexibility increases, so does the attractiveness of an organization. Positive experiences on both sides lead to the fact that the home office is now also an integral part of so-called "New Work", the concept describing a new way of working in the current digital and global day and age, beyond pandemic-related measures.

This is also confirmed by the latest Glassdoor Workplace Trends Report 2022, which sees the home office as part of the new normal in the corporate world - with an upward trend. According to Glassdoor data, 20.4 per cent of employers who advertised workplace-bound jobs in October 2021 are competing with those defined as remote or home office positions - an increase of almost double compared to 10.3 per cent in October 2019.

One expectation in the development of more flexible working is that it may have a positive effect on the CO2 balances of the company offering it. More work from home means fewer emissions in the office and is therefore better for the climate. But is that really true? Can working from home be an asset in companies' climate action strategy and contribute to a net zero goal?

Björn Bröskamp gives an insight into ClimatePartner's work in collecting and calculating corporate emissions and clears up some myths about office work and home offices in the process.

 

Flexible working from home can also contribute to a better work-life balance. But is it also a climate action measure? Can companies reduce emissions simply by letting their staff work from home?

The concept of the home office or teleworking existed long before the Coronavirus pandemic. At ClimatePartner, we have always had a concrete set of criteria and emission factors with which we map working from home in the CO2 balancing of companies and which we regularly adjust. Over the past year, the proportion of home offices has changed significantly compared to the traditional office presence in many companies, which can also be seen in the CO2 balances. It is quite possible that a company's emissions can be reduced using home office work. However, for this to be true and for the positive effects to be greater than the negative ones, several factors must be considered. The issue is very complex.

What exactly is the complexity of reducing emissions?

With more home offices, the share of some emission drivers in the company balance sheets naturally decreases. However, such emissions, like those from employee travel, business trips, energy consumption for heating or cooling buildings or internet use, do not disappear completely, they are just distributed differently and are now in a different balance sheet framework.

In part, the emissions are now influenced by factors that lie outside the direct sphere of influence and thus also outside the system boundaries of the company. For example, in the case of employees, this includes the energy and internet supply in their respective households, the way they handle resources and waste, etc.

If companies want to keep track of their outsourced emissions, they therefore need a meaningful carbon footprint that covers them.

What factors does ClimatePartner consider when drawing up CO2 balances in connection to home offices?

Firstly, even though home offices are outside Scopes 1 and 2, we welcome and recommend that companies look at their home office emissions and calculate them. On the one hand, this enables them to analyze the reduction compared to previous years and, on the other hand, to actively take responsibility for the emissions caused by home offices.

Our calculation methodology is based on the current state of the industry and knowledge. It includes the electricity consumption of the workplace, a computer, an external monitor, a printer and a mobile phone. In addition, we balance the lighting of the workplace and the heating for an additional room. Based on these influences, we arrive at an average emission factor with the reference unit: per employee per day.

As a rule, a company's survey of its employees on the above-mentioned points provides much more precise data. Based on this, a very precise and individual calculation can be made for the company.

At what point does working in a home office have a positive impact on a company's carbon footprint?

In principle, it can be assumed that home offices can reduce a company's emissions. This is especially the case when the large item of employee commuting is eliminated. In companies where many employees travel to work by car, this lever is enormous.

However, if most employees come to work on foot or by bicycle, the situation is different. In this case, it can lead to emissions only being shifted from the company's accounting framework to the employees' private accounting framework. Climate action already implemented by companies, such as green electricity and sustainable heat generation, could thus lose their effect if no climate action measures take place at the private level and this cannot be controlled so easily.

To ensure the positive impact of home offices on the climate, precise policies and guidelines for working and the workplace are needed. It must be aligned with the company's climate protection strategy and its emission reduction goals and needs the understanding and willingness of all employees.

What influence does the strong increase in video conferencing and internet use in the home office have on greenhouse gas emissions?

In connection to home offices and due to the often-omitted business trips, video conferencing and the internet are used much more. High-resolution conference systems can cause more than 600 g of CO2 per hour, which is equivalent to three kilometres of driving in a medium-sized car. According to a study by the French think tank The Shift Project, online videos generate a total of 300 million tonnes of CO2 per year. That is about one per cent of global emissions. The experts estimate that the share of digital technologies in global greenhouse gas emissions could rise to eight percent by 2025. However, this trend does not only have to do with home offices. A strong increase in video conferencing is also seen in regular offices.

Most of the points mentioned so far, such as employee travel, business trips or energy consumption, have an immediate, direct impact on a company's carbon footprint. Are there also some that do not have such an immediate effect?

There certainly are. For one thing, when offices are used less, this always means that resources are saved as well. Less water and heat are needed, the provision of office materials and the disposal of waste is reduced. Nevertheless, a company cannot reduce its space from one day to the next; office organisation must continue at a certain level. These points can therefore only be addressed in the medium or long term.

Another aspect is that the budgets freed up by fewer business trips and smaller office space can be very well invested in climate protection measures.

A final question and a look into the future: many see the home office as a forerunner of a new working world in which work, and life will merge even further than has been the case up to now. Would that be good for the climate?

As mentioned, the home office as a stand-alone concept needs certain preconditions to contribute to the reduction of corporate emissions. It will be important to bring about changes in the company fto drive climate action. This includes, for example, alternatives to meat in the canteen, offers for e-mobility, training and further education and also making work more flexible. Personally, I am convinced that the new working world must be oriented towards the needs of all its employees. A specific best working environment will bring the happiest and most productive teams and thus the highest added value for the company and for climate action.