As the world grapples with climate change and rising greenhouse gas emissions, researchers believe there is one potential way to reduce our carbon footprint: remote work.
Cornell University and Microsoft researchers published their findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, which indicate employees who work from home could have a 54% lower carbon footprint than employees who work in an office.
Hybrid work also can help lower someone’s carbon footprint. Working two to four days a week helps someone reduce carbon footprint by 11% to 29% compared to onsite workers.
Working one day a week from home was considered to have a negligible impact on someone’s carbon footprint.
The researchers said that in addition to travel, remote workers also don’t require office energy use.
However, remote and hybrid work can have some drawbacks for reducing someone’s carbon footprint. The researchers found that hybrid workers tend to live further from the office than onsite workers. Researchers also said social and recreational activity trips become more significant as the number of remote work days increases.
Researchers also noted that remote workers tend to increase their residential energy usage compared to those who work in person.
“Remote work is not zero carbon, and the benefits of hybrid work are not perfectly linear,” study senior author Fengqi You said in a press release. “Everybody knows without commuting you save on transportation energy, but there’s always lifestyle effects and many other factors.”
Despite potentially higher residential energy use at home, researchers said the benefits of remote work outweigh the drawbacks when it comes to carbon footprint.
“Remote and hybrid work shows great potential for reducing carbon footprint, but what behaviors should these companies and other policy makers be encouraging to maximize the benefits?” said Longqi Yang, principal applied research manager at Microsoft and corresponding author of the study. “The findings suggest organizations should prioritize lifestyle and workplace improvements.”
The U.S. Census Bureau reports that as of 2022, about 15.2% of the workforce is remote, which is down from 17.9% in 2021, but up from 5.7% in 2019.