Over the course of the next year many of us will be talking to our employers about whether or not to continue working from home. The medical considerations are fraught and multifaceted, but from an ecological perspective things are more clear-cut. Curtailing, or even ceasing, our daily workplace commute would be likely to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But to what degree?
A Wicklow-based green solutions consultancy, Vyra, is conducting a research project to quantify the time, money and carbon emissions saved by Irish employees who have worked from home during Covid-19. Previously, such calculations could only have been estimated using computer modelling, but the pandemic has provided an ideal opportunity to gather hard evidence about a major societal shift over a short span of time.
These figures offer a tantalising view of the potential savings if we were to continue to work from home
The ongoing study doesn’t take into account the added emissions in terms of increased energy, water and heat usage from people working from home. It focuses solely on the carbon impact of transport emissions connected to commuting, which represents by far the bulk of employee energy use. The survey was limited to 100 participants, from 10 different Irish counties, working in a range of different organisations.
Respondents ranged from someone who emitted the equivalent of 964kg of carbon emissions per month by travelling 230km per day in a large diesel vehicle, to people emitting zero energy by walking or cycling. The average emissions of car commuters were 179kg carbon dioxide per month (equivalent to 2.8 flights from London to Dublin) according to Vyra, while those who predominantly took public transport emitted an average of 52kg carbon dioxide per month.
These figures offer a tantalising view of the potential savings if we were to continue to work from home; not to mention the reduction in air pollution, traffic delays, road accidents and road renewal.
If the average business implemented five work-from-home days per week employees would mitigate 49 per cent of their total annual carbon footprint from transport emissions. Even if they had to be in the office two days a week, and worked from home on three days a carbon reduction of 29 per cent from transport emissions could be achieved, according to Vyra. The survey also calculated that workers would save about 27 hours and €257 per month.
In truth, many of us won’t be given a choice over whether we can work from home, but if the opportunity arises it’s good to have the figures at hand. Even if your employer has no interest in climate change, the fact that you could save 324 hours per year (the equivalent of eight working weeks) should sway any rational employer.
This column has already explored the benefits of working from home or from local work hubs, but to make this reality we must all be proactive. The Vyra survey gives us useful tools to help lead the charge.
Vyra is now working on identifying what are the hurdles that companies face in becoming more sustainable. You can help them at vyra.ie.