At first glance, it may seem a no-brainer that working from home is good for the environment. Less driving around is an environmental win, right?

Well, yes. But truthfully, the environmental impact of the shift from in-person to remote work is more nuanced than it may appear.

Employers and employees are increasingly concerned about how their business model affects the world around them. In addition, climate change, waste production, and resource depletion are worldwide issues that affect us all.

But, is working from home part of the solution?

In fact, the answer depends on what that looks like in each unique situation. It’s possible for remote work to decrease our carbon footprint and protect the environment. But, the reverse is also true.

So, here’s what you need to know to evaluate if your work-from-home setup is working for the environment.

How Remote Work Can Help

Working From Home

Fewer Cars on the Road

The most obvious way of working from home is environmentally friendly comes down to transportation. Nationwide, most people drive to work, predominantly alone in their own vehicle. (1) As a result, transportation is the most significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in the US. (2)

If the shift from in-person to remote work got you off the road, then it’s a win for the environment.

Less Resource Use By Office Buildings

It takes a lot of energy and resources to keep businesses running. From the electricity required to power office buildings to the furniture and food waste common at large campuses, the environmental cost of business can be high.

As people work from home, many employers are downsizing or closing offices. As a matter of fact, this pairing down can be a positive.

Improved Wellness

Working From Home

While this may not seem like an environmental impact of remote work, in reality, an individual’s physical and mental wellness influence how they care for the world around them.

Working from home can allow you to:

  • Spend more time exercising and preparing healthy food
  • Spend more time with family and friends
  • Connect with nature or even work outdoors
  • Read more or invest in hobbies
  • Save money on gas and eating out

When you thrive, everything around you will benefit.

The Environmental Downside of Remote Work

Working From Home

Urban Exodus

Many people move from urban areas to the suburbs when they no longer have to deal with commuting. Consequently, this can lead to an increase in suburban sprawl, which has negative environmental impacts including (3):

  • Higher infrastructure use
  • Increased water and air pollution
  • Habitat destruction and fragmentation
  • More reliance on cars to get around
  • Increased land use

Increased Individual Carbon Footprint

While working remotely will decrease a company’s carbon footprint, it can increase each employee’s carbon footprint. As a result, the net impact on the environment may be unchanged or even worse. 

Office buildings in many cities have better energy efficiency and more access to renewable energy than private homes. The actual impact on the corporate vs. individual carbon footprint can vary widely.

A Hybrid Worse-case Scenario

Many companies are embracing a move to flexible or hybrid schedules where employees split their time between home and office. While this may seem like the best of both worlds, it could actually be the worst environmentally speaking. 

Also, a hybrid workplace may result in a large corporate as well as individual carbon footprint. Office space will continue to be resource-intensive. In addition, employees will have higher home energy usage as well as weekly transportation costs.

Creating an Environmentally Friendly Work-life

Working From Home

Caring for the environment isn’t always as simple as it might seem. Finding strategies that promote the health of both people and the planet takes creativity and flexible thinking.

The right solution to an environmentally friendly workplace will depend on many unique factors, including:

  • Geographical area
  • Corporate culture and environmental commitment
  • City and nationwide regulations
  • Environmentally friendly initiatives and opportunities in the local community

However, there is no one right answer to whether working from home is a net positive for the environment. It comes down to the steps each company and employee takes to evaluate and mitigate their impact.

It requires a commitment from both businesses and individuals to structure their work-life with the world in mind.