In order to avoid the virus these days, many employees are working from home. Under the current situation, it is time to think whether remote work can become the mainstream working model in the future and reduce energy consumption than in the office. There is no need to drive to and from work. It seems more environmentally friendly. But the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) article pointed out that the carbon emissions from working from home are unconsciously higher than in the office. Let’s find out the reason behind.
Working from home actually transfer the centralized energy consumption in the office to each employee’s home. A study by WSP UK, a London-based professional engineering consultancy company, pointed out that in the UK, only remote work may be more environmentally friendly in the summer because the average family has no air-conditioning and energy consumption is much lower than in the winter. Researchers check the carbon emissions of 200 British employees in different locations and find that when each employee turn on the heating in their home in the winter compared to work in the office, carbon emissions are higher.
In other parts of the world, air conditioning is an important consideration. Many places rely on air conditioning far more than in the UK, and air-conditioning usually consumes more energy than heating. Kenneth Gillingham, associate professor of environmental and energy economics at Yale University, pointed out that in the summer, countries that rely on air conditioning may be similar to the winter in the UK. Regardless of whether employees work from home in the summer or winter, as long as the home use a temperature regulation system to create a comfortable workplace, it may still harm the environment.
However, Gillingham added that measuring the environmental impact of working from home is not limited to the temperature regulation system. It also depends on where the electricity comes from. Countries like Iceland use a lot of clean geothermal energy while houses in some parts of the US use hydropower. If in areas where the non-clean energy source is used, it is more environmentally friendly to continue to stay in the office. Low-emission vehicles, such as electric vehicles, have become increasingly cheap and popular, whether they are driving to work or taking as transportation, the carbon emissions of commuting will be less in the future.
Although employees do not work in the office, which can save energy for the company, they inadvertently put the burden of carbon emissions onto their employees. Employees can find solutions to acquire low carbon emissions when working from home, such as installing solar panels or smart thermostats. But the high cost and small living environment such as Hong Kong can be a big problem. If the pandemic does not disappear by the summer, I am afraid that office employees will be working at home with air conditioning, and carbon emissions will definitely be higher than in the office.
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