Work From Home and the Environment

I should start by making this much clear: we are not in a post-COVID world. Far from it. For all of the talk of reopening things right now, COVID is still very much a factor. We are losing hundreds of Americans per day.

However, at some point we are going to be looking at the other side of this virus, and at that point, we are going to need to think about what different workplaces look like after the virus. Granted, many workplaces are already thinking about this.

Some workplaces cannot function virtually and therefore may end up looking the same as they were before the virus. There are many professions, such as many service industries, manufacturing, construction, and much more, that must be done on site and cannot be done virtually. There are other workplaces that have tried to function virtually, but with significant problems since the pandemic began—teaching comes to mind as one such profession.

However, some workplaces have discovered that they can function virtually quite well, and in some cases as well as they did before the virus. In such cases, it would be best from an environmental standpoint if work from home became a long-term condition.

In many countries, including the United States, transport is the number one cause of greenhouse gas emissions.[1] Furthermore, the overwhelming majority of said transport comes from the car,[2] which is the vehicle of choice for many to head to work. What this means is that if fewer people needed to go to a workplace, fewer people would need to drive. And if fewer people need to drive, there’s less pollution coming into the air, contributing to the problems of dirty air and global warming.

Basically, work from home is environmentally friendly.

Now, the question of whether continuing to work from home after COVID (in industries that have been able to work from home during COVID) is going to be, in many cases, an office-by-office decision, depending on how well different offices felt they were able to function during the pandemic. Some offices may decide that they didn’t function well when they worked virtually, and therefore will head back to their offices after COVID. Other offices may feel on the fence about this question. Other offices yet may feel that they have functioned quite well from home during the pandemic and will be more than happy to work from home after the pandemic. Other offices yet may feel that they have functioned relatively well during the pandemic but would find it useful to have a combination of a combination of in-person work and working at home. However, especially for offices that are on the fence—particularly offices that are in areas where the only way to get to the location (or by far the easiest/most convenient way to get to the office) is by car, perhaps environmental considerations could also play into the thought process in such a decision.

For as much as some of us may like to think of key decisions on the environment as some far-away thing for people in some distant land to deal with, the reality is that all of us as individuals, as well as our bosses as individuals, have a role to play in taking care of the environment. And, perhaps in cases where offices functioned well while working virtually during the pandemic, the decision to continue working from home after the pandemic can be more than an office functionality decision, but an environmental one, too.


[1] https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/sources-greenhouse-gas-emissions

[2] https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20200317-climate-change-cut-carbon-emissions-from-your-commute

4 Replies to “Work From Home and the Environment”

  1. Although you are not using a car to go to work, your home environment may be using more electricity for instance. Quite a few offices are equipped with heating and cooling systems that are more efficient than the normal home. Unfortunately it is not as cut and dried as we may believe at first glance. You also need to take into account the service industries around the offices that are up and running may not have the same amount of business because people are not at work, thus not getting lunch, coffee etc. So many things will continue to be affected as we re-imagine the working world and the environment is just one part of the puzzle.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for commenting as well as for bringing up some relevant points.

      The #1 source of greenhouse gas emissions is transportation: https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/sources-greenhouse-gas-emissions. So, while I think you brought up some valid considerations, I think that it’s outweighed environmentally by transportation considerations (especially since a lot of homes, even when vacant, still have their heating and cooling systems on).

      The question of how service industries will be affected is a big and important piece of the work puzzle. It’s not something I talked about in my post, but it’s definitely a question that’ll need to be worked through.

      Liked by 1 person

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