WFH to Save the Earth: Remote Workers Reduce Carbon Footprint

Researchers from Cornell University and Microsoft have conducted a study which indicated that the carbon footprint of remote workers is significantly lower than that of onsite workers.

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remote workers

Illustration: Lenka T.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, when lockdowns were implemented, the majority of individuals, primarily office workers and even teachers, transitioned to remote work. Today, three years after the lockdown, the prospect of returning to physical offices may have been eagerly anticipated. Yet, many remote workers had grown accustomed to the comfort and flexibility of working from their own homes. 

Providing strong validation for WFH enthusiasts, researchers from Cornell University and Microsoft conducted a study which showed interesting results. It revealed that the carbon footprint of remote workers is significantly lower than that of onsite workers. 

Remote work could help save the planet 

The study results showed that full-time remote workers are making a significant environmental impact by reducing their carbon footprint by 54%. Furthermore, employees who adopt a hybrid work model, working from home two to four days a week, can still achieve substantial carbon footprint reductions ranging from 11% to 29%. Those who work from home only one day a week add a modest 2% decrease in their carbon footprint. 

The research identifies travel and office energy use as the primary contributors to the carbon footprint for both onsite and hybrid workers. To arrive at these conclusions, Cornell and Microsoft incorporated data from surveys and modeling that factored in elements such as residential energy usage based on several factors.  

Those included daily schedules, non-commute travel distances and transportation modes, device usage for communication, household size, and office configurations, including shared workspaces and building sizes. 

WHF model should be a priority 

Longqi Yang, research manager at Microsoft and co-author of the study, suggests that organizations and policymakers should prioritize lifestyle and workplace improvements to maximize the benefits of remote and hybrid work options.  

A report indicates that 87% of workers who were offered some degree of remote work embraced the opportunity, spending an average of three days a week working from home. Those with full-time flexible positions worked remotely even more, averaging 3.3 days a week.  

This indicates a clear preference for remote work, and as the study points out, as the number of remote workdays increases, non-commute travel, such as trips for social and recreational activities, becomes increasingly significant. 

Many companies now cover expenses such as power bills and internet costs for remote workers. The study also notes that the impact of remote and hybrid work on communication technologies, such as computers, phones, and internet usage, has negligible effects on the overall carbon footprint. 

The study was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 

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