The answer to creating a more sustainable future of work is not quite that simple. It may seem intuitive to believe that working from home is universally better for the environment year-round. Sustainability, after all, relies on a reduction in emissions, much of which come from petrol-powered engines in commuter cars and the massive amount of energy consumed by large buildings. Working remotely would seem to solve many of these problems: zero commute, and fewer seats to heat and cool in offices.
That may not be case, however – or not exactly.
Research from WSP UK, a London-based consulting firm specialising in engineering, shows that remote work in the UK may only be more environmentally friendly in the summer. Examining the carbon output of 200 UK-based workers across different locations, researchers found that the environmental impact of remote work was higher in the winter due to the need to heat individual workers’ buildings versus one office building.
“Energy management in buildings is generally more sophisticated than at individual homes,” says David Symons, Future Ready Lead and Director of Sustainability at WSP UK. Because each individual remote worker keeps the heating on and tends to heat the entire house, working in a single office building ends up having a lower impact – even with the commute added in.
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