What happens to your carbon footprint when you work remotely?

What happens to your carbon footprint when you work remotely_

Businesses far and wide will be facing a similar decision this spring, as the country makes moves out of lockdown. Do we keep the office? Do we continue to offer remote working? What’s the social and environmental implications of either choice?

We’ve offered remote working since we were tiny little Joyful seeds, and have been thinking about our personal and professional environmental impact ever since.

We’re on a continuing mission to review and improve our impact, and we know many of our community are too. So, what actually happens to your carbon footprint when you work remotely? I’ve done the (actually pretty laborious and not at all straightforward) research, so you don’t have to.

Overview

I came into this journey with the assumption that remote working was better for the planet. Did I read it somewhere? Did I hear someone shouting it on a bus? Was it all a dream? Am I the bus? Who knows, but I had a preconceived idea that working in a digital environment, from home, would essentially mean that as a business we would have next to zero impact.

Turns out, once you start to dig a little deeper through the support of businesses like Small99 and Wholegrain Digital, there are many potential environmental pros and also a fair few cons to working remotely.

If, like many other businesses you are aiming for net zero, it’s worth considering the following:

The average impact of a non-remote business

Let’s start by calculating the impact our business would have if we all worked from an office.

Picture it, a gorgeous London-based 5000 square foot new build office. We use green energy, we have air purifying plants, and we use recycled products whenever possible.

Since we have team members in York, London and Brighton, if we all got a train to London and back each working day for a year, we would emit roughly 25 tons of carbon.

If we then consider the running of said office, even if we were to use completely green energy, we’d be looking at around 281 tons of carbon per year based on real estate calculations.

That’s well over 300 tons of carbon, not even adding travelling for meetings, eating out, kitchen use or recycling.

I don’t know what 300 tons looks like, and I only really know weight in rabbits, so 300 tons is more than the weight of 100,000 rabbits!

The average impact of a remote business

So, if we don’t have to run an office, or commute, what would we be using our energy on?

Good question… you’re so good at questions.

Over the year, a remote working company of our size (7 employees) could be using 49 tons in total energy. This is an incredibly rough calculation. And it’s also about 17,000 rabbits.

But that’s not all.

In addition, digital businesses should consider things like:

  • Website hosting
  • Email
  • Zoom
  • Digital marketing (i.e. social media)

And that doesn’t include things like digital documentation, google searching, opening tabs, etc, which also all release carbon. IT’S A MINEFIELD!

However, we can estimate that as a business we release 553kg of carbon each year in digital emissions alone. Roughly the same as 1380 rabbits.

Remote working in this instance, uses much less carbon than it would if we were all to commute and maintain a fictional office space in London, however there is still an awful lot of carbon that can be emitted through lack of good digital hygiene.

How to improve

We may not be able to reduce this overnight, however there are many steps we can all take to improve our digital carbon footprint.

The things to consider are:

  • Checking your suppliers are local. In addition to saving transportation costs, you are helping local businesses.
  • Are your suppliers using green energy, and do they have a sustainability policy? Knowing that your supplier is aligned to your values means you can be assured they are minimising and offsetting their own carbon footprint.
  • Reduce and reuse. Reusing supplies, and reducing the amount you use them is the best way to reduce your carbon footprint.
  • Be purposeful. In addition to being a better experience for your audiences, posting, emailing and having online meetings only when you really need to will ensure unnecessary carbon use is minimised.
  • Offset. This is in no way a replacement for any of the above steps, however we know that short of living completely off grid, we will continue to cause some form of emission. For that there are tools like Ecologi that can help
  • Be vocal. Share your experiences, the pitfalls, the successes, anything you think can help others. You may just convince others to follow your lead.

The biggest lesson we learnt during this process is that in every decision we make, we must think local, purposeful and conscious.

We’re continuing to make improvements to our suppliers and the way we work as a business, and it isn’t always easy. Some vital systems don’t yet have environmental policies, some suppliers don’t have a local alternative, and sometimes there is just no way to avoid purchasing new supplies.

It can feel exhausting, but it’s all part of the process and if each of us make local, purposeful and conscious choices wherever possible, we will all see a big impact. We’re in this together.

 

Kelsey Swarbrick

Kelsey Swarbrick

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