It’s World Environment Day on June 5th and this year’s theme, ‘Only One Earth,’ focuses on how we can live and work more sustainably. This article focusses on how you can be more sustainable whilst working from home.
Working from home – either hybrid or full time – is a new reality for millions of people around the world. It marks a shift in the way businesses and services operate and puts more responsibility on individuals to make sustainable choices in their own working environments.
Global lockdowns during the coronavirus pandemic have only accelerated this trend. According to latest figures from the Office for National Statistics, around 1 in 7 employed adults in the UK are now working fully from home, and nearly a quarter have adopted hybrid working patterns.
And now that we’re mostly on the other side of the pandemic, workers are not trudging back to offices any time soon. A recent global survey into what employees want for their future by multinational accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) found that 59% of workers now want to work fully or mostly from home.
The jury is still out on the full impact working from home is having on the fight against climate change, but there are some clear benefits.
The most obvious positive is that fewer of us are travelling by car and we’re using less energy to power large office blocks. Indeed, recent research found that working from home four days a week cuts traffic emissions by 10%.
However, we still have to heat, cool and light our own homes while working and many houses may not be as energy-efficient as newer offices are. But there are ways we can make our home working environment and habits more sustainable. And with the current cost of living crisis, with nearly half of UK adults struggling to pay sky-rocketing energy bills, eco-friendly working practises at home have the added benefit of saving you money.
Six ways to be more sustainable working from home
While not everyone can afford to invest in an environmentally-friendly garden office pod or have solar panels installed, there are small things work from homers can do to be more sustainable.
Your home environment is now your workplace and one of the easiest ways to streamline your energy use is to simply flick a few switches.
Most of us leave our computers, TVs and other tech in standby mode, not realising that this still uses a trickle of energy, which all adds up.
According to The Energy Saving Trust you could reduce your carbon footprint and save money by switching all electrical appliances off at the mains (apart from the ones you’re using for work, of course).
Using energy saving lightbulbs and switching off all lights apart from in the room you’re working in also saves energy. If you can, position your workstation in an area with lots of natural light and ventilation, so you don’t need to have the lights on at all (also great for your mental health and wellbeing).
Reduce your Digital Carbon Footprint
You might not think that sending a quick email comes at a cost to the environment. After all, it’s greener than printing off reams of paper.
Around two-thirds of the world’s population now have access to the internet. Every single email, online search and video stream contributes to the demand for energy, increasing CO₂ emissions. There are lots of ways you can reduce your digital carbon footprint:
- Send shorter emails without using ‘reply all’
- Delete all the emails you don’t need from your inbox
- Avoiding unnecessary web searches
- Download instead of stream videos and other content.
- Close multiple browser windows
- Power down your computer (instead of leaving it on standby) at the end of the day
When you need to replace computers and tech, look for energy-efficient devices which have an eco-mode.
Working from home means using energy to heat our houses during the day, where previously we’d all have been out of the house.
If you’re shivering at the kitchen table while writing your quarterly reports, it’s tempting to whack up the thermostat. However, this means heating your whole house or flat, which means higher energy usage and bills.
Turn off the heating and keep warm by layering up with thermal clothes, focus heat on you with a hot water bottle or eco-friendly heating pad and keep the door of the room you’re in closed to keep in the warmth.
Keep your extremities warm while you’re working by wearing thick socks and even fingerless gloves.
As the world gets hotter, the demand for air conditioning has rocketed. Ironically, aircon usage is a major contributor to global heating. It also requires enormous amounts of energy to operate: one small aircon unit used to cool one room uses the same amount of energy as four fridges.
Working in extreme heat can be tough. Keep cool by closing blinds and curtains to shut out the sun and using an energy-efficient desk fan (you can place a bowl of ice in front of it to create an aircon effect).
Now that most paper-based documents are digitised there’s much less of a need for printing and paper use. If you still need to use a printer, make sure cartridges, toner and paper are recyclable.
You can also invest in greener office supplies by purchasing stationery items made from recycled and recyclable materials.
Green up your lunch (and your cuppa)
One of the best benefits of working from home is being able to make your own lunch. It doesn’t come wrapped in plastic and it’s cost-effective: a shop-bought sandwich costs an average three times that of a homemade sandwich (depending on how lavish your sandwich is…).
For an even greener lunch, shop locally with your own bags or boxes and eat cold lunches such as sandwiches or salads.
Another work from home environmental benefit is a reduction in single-use, disposable coffee cups now that we’re all using our own mugs and kettles. However, did you know a full kettle costs around 20p to boil? Save energy and money on your coffee or tea by boiling only enough water for one cup. Better still, boil a full kettle once in the morning, fill a large thermos with hot water and top up your cup throughout the day.
These changes may be small but, done by millions, could add up to make a huge difference.
Find out more about how you can get involved in World Environment Day here.