8 Positive Environmental Effects of Remote Work

environmental effects of remote work

Did you know that telecommuters reduce greenhouse gas emissions, fossil fuel consumption, air pollution, and paper and plastic waste? If you want to make a difference in the world, think about your daily work routine and how your actions impact the environment. Read on to learn how telecommuting can reduce your overall impact and create better work-life balance through these positive environmental effects of remote work. It’s a win-win!

8 Positive Environmental Effects of Remote Work

Though advancements in technology, tighter legislative restrictions, and more social awareness help progress environmental efforts, the following remain among the top global concerns:

  • Greenhouse gas emissions
  • Energy consumption
  • Fossil fuel reliance
  • Air pollution
  • Paper and plastic waste

Since daily transportation and business activities contribute a significant portion to each major issue, leaders and concerned citizens seek ways to reduce impacts associated with vehicles and office work. One solution is to remove cars from the road by offering employees a remote work option. The idea is that employees who telecommute drive less, consume less energy, and create less office-related waste.

All that sounds nice, but does telecommuting actually reduce negative environmental impacts?

Susan Millerick of Aetna, one of the top telecommuting companies for 2018, reported to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) that telecommuting reduced Aetna’s carbon dioxide emissions by 46,700 metric tons in 2014. Millerick also stated that telecommuting reduced driving by 127 million miles and gasoline consumption by 5.3 million gallons.

More businesses like Aetna continue to report on the positive environmental impacts and cost savings associated with flexible work options. In this article, we explain how the simple act of telecommuting helps alleviate enormous ecological burdens.

1. Telecommuters Use Less Gasoline

Americans use nearly 392 million gallons of gas per day on average. With about 325 million people, that means each American uses approximately 1.2 gallons of gas each day. Assuming that 24.7 million employees work at home, telecommuters can save the nation nearly 30 million gallons of gas per workday. When the average fuel economy for all vehicles is about 24.8 miles per gallon, that’s the equivalent of driving 744 million miles, which is almost the distance between Earth and Saturn.

2. Telecommuters Reduce Carbon Emissions

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), an average car emits approximately 4.7 metric tons of carbon dioxide each year (assuming each vehicle drives an average of 11,400 miles per year). Assuming that the average worker travels 30 miles or less each day for work (7,839 miles per year), each telecommuter can reduce transportation-related carbon emissions by about 69% or 3.2 metric tons of carbon dioxide each year.

That’s over 79 million metric tons of carbon emissions annually! The USEPA estimates that such savings are the equivalent of:

  • Providing energy to over 8.5 million homes per year
  • Providing electricity to over 11.8 million homes per year
  • Powering over 20,000 wind turbines per year
  • Planting over two billion trees per year
  • Recycling over 27.5 million tons of waste per year

The simple act of not driving to and from work every day can undoubtedly alleviate the nation’s contributions to overall carbon emissions.

3. Telecommuters Reduce Air Pollution

In addition to carbon, driving produces nitrous oxides (NOX), particulate matter (PM), and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Each pollutant has both environmental and human health effects. For example, exposure to nitrogen dioxide (NO2) can cause respiratory issues, such as asthma or infections. When other nitrogen oxides react with VOCs, ammonia, and other compounds, their products alter ozone concentration, soil and water acidity, and ecosystem diversity.

Highway vehicles contribute 34.8% of total NOX emissions, 10.9% of total particulate matter (PM10), and 13.1% of total VOC emissions. By reducing the number of cars on the road each day, the nation reduces overall air pollution and, therefore, reduces related environmental and human health impacts.

4. Telecommuters Use Less Energy

Employees consume energy whether they work at home or in an office. However, offices typically consume more energy, and employees tend to treat energy usage differently in the office than in their homes.

A past study by Sun Microsystems (acquired by Oracle), found that office energy use is nearly twice that of home energy use. Sun reported that each telecommuter reduces energy consumption by at least 5,400 kilowatt-hours (kWh) per year. Therefore, the 24.7 million employees who work from home save the nation over 133 billion kWh per year. Given that Americans used about 4,015 billion kWh in 2017, telecommuters reduced overall energy consumption by 3.3% that year.

5. Telecommuters Use Fewer Fossil Fuels

Fossil fuel combustion is the primary source of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. We burn fossil fuels mainly for electricity, heat, and transportation. In fact, about 63% of electricity generated in the U.S. comes from fossil fuels. If telecommuters decrease overall energy consumption by working from home, they subsequently decrease fossil fuel demand. Plus, 90% of transportation fuel is derived from petroleum products, so remote workers also reduce fossil fuel consumption by not driving to and from work every day.

6. Telecommuters Use Less Paper

The USEPA estimates that Americans use about 69 million tons of paper and paperboard each year. Though the U.S. recovers about 67% of paper products, that still leaves nearly 23 million tons of paper in our nation’s landfills per year.

Remote workers typically use email, software programs, and cloud-based applications to send messages, take notes, create documents, and submit files. This results in less printing, copying, faxing, label making, and paper filing each day. Since the average office worker consumes about 10,000 sheets of paper each year, digitally-based jobs eliminate the need to dispose of or recycle 247 trillion sheets or 2.47 trillion pounds of paper annually.

7. Telecommuters Use Less Plastic

The world has produced approximately nine billion tons of plastics to date. That’s not surprising considering how many people buy coffee, breakfast, and lunch every day during the work week. Coffee cups lids, beverage bottles, utensils, food packaging, and plastic bags all contribute to the total amount of plastic used.

The USEPA estimates that 75.5% of generated plastic waste is sent to landfill, contributing 18.5% to overall landfill waste. The U.S. recycles only about 9.5% of plastic waste and combusts the rest.

Though telecommuters can certainly hit the coffee shop and local eateries, most Virtual Vocations workers stay at home or work elsewhere only one to two times per month. Telecommuters have the convenience of refilling the coffee pot, eating leftovers right out the bowl, and reusing dishware. Only about 3% of members confess to ordering out, and 13.8% members snack on packaged foods throughout the day. By eliminating disposable cups, utensils, and plates, work-at-home professionals avoid significant contributions to the world’s plastic problem.

8. Telecommuters Have More Time for the Environment

Working from home can create more life balance, leaving more free time for activities that matter. Though Virtual Vocations members admit that they check email outside of work hours, need to improve work-life boundaries, and often work while on vacation, their motivation is still to make time for things that matter most.

Some of these things that matter most include volunteering for an environmental organization, gardening in the backyard, hiking and spending time in nature, or participating in community cleanups. There are dozens of ways to support a cause, care for animals, rehabilitate ecosystems, and spread the word to help encourage others to live more environmentally conscious lifestyles.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. Does Telecommuting Shift Energy Costs to Employees?

A. Office buildings consume much more energy than the average home. One study by Sun Microsystems found that home energy use is roughly half that of office energy use. Though employees may keep computers and other equipment turned on more during the day, the cost savings for not commuting to work are more than $1,700 per year. Thus, remote workers save excess commuting and office costs on gas, car maintenance, parking fees, coffee cups, lunches, and other expenses, while employers reap savings in employee overhead.

Q. Does Telecommuting Contribute to Environmental Issues?

A. Studies show that workers contribute less to negative environmental impacts at home than in the office. However, they still create some effects by living daily life, working from home, consuming energy, and creating waste. Telecommuters can reduce their impact at home by purchasing energy-efficient devices, reducing overall packaging waste, and relying more on cloud-computing applications.

Q. Does Telecommuting Really Make an Environmental Difference?

A. As stated previously, telecommuting reduces the number of cars on the road, thereby reducing overall greenhouse gas emissions, fossil fuel consumption, and energy usage. It also helps reduce environmental and human health impacts as a result of decreased air pollution.

Aside from not driving, employees tend to act less environmentally conscious at the office than they do at home. For example, one study shows that employees are less motivated to conserve energy at work because they have no financial incentive to do so. At home, however, conserving energy saves money, which motivates households to turn lights off and power down computers at the end of the day.

Q. Do Telecommuters Know They Make a Difference?

A. Remote workers are generally aware of the positive impacts they make regarding environmental issues. In a 2017 survey, Virtual Vocations members said their favorite environmental benefits of working from home include:

  • Decreasing emissions (39.5%)
  • Less paper waste (32.2%)
  • Less space and energy consumption (20.5%)

Only 7.9% of respondents said they aren’t concerned about the environmental impacts of working from home. However, even the minority who claim not to value the environmental effects of remote work still positively affect the globe by working from home.

Q. What Types of Environmental Telecommuting Jobs Can I Get?

A. Telecommuting environmental jobs expand efforts across the globe and get more people involved in the effort. You don’t need the word “environmental” in your title, however. You can be a teacher, computer programmer, business analyst, or writer who works for an environmental corporation or nonprofit. Here are some jobs that environmental organizations frequently need:

  • Translator: Help increase awareness among populations who speak various languages.
  • Big Data Analyst: Collect, analyze, and report on environmental data so that organizations and lawmakers can make decisions.
  • Engineer: Solve environmental and societal problems using science, math, and technology.
  • Conservationist: Promote resource conservation and help organizations and individuals reduce consumption.
  • Community Organizer: Serve as a liaison between a community of individuals, families, and organizations to create change and push socioenvironmental causes forward.
  • Journalist: Report on environmental issues and increase awareness.
  • Social Media Marketer: Influence public awareness and thinking through social media messages, ads, and campaigns.
  • Educator: Teach adults and children about environmental issues, technologies, and systems.

Q. Do Environmental Companies Hire Telecommuters?

A. Virtual Vocations has profiled over 11,000 employers in our Telecommute Companies Database. Visit the database and search for environmentally-friendly telecommute companies using keywords like “environmental,” “sustainability,” and “conservation.” Are you already familiar with eco companies by name? You can search for specific companies as well and learn if they’re telecommute-friendly.

Ready to Be Part of the Solution?

If you want to make a significant impact on the environment and your life, consider the benefits of telecommuting:

  • Kick the daily commute to the curb and earn your time back.
  • Achieve better work-life balance and spend more time with family.
  • Enjoy more overall freedom and independence.
  • Reduce environmental impacts associated with transportation.
  • Decrease typical office waste, such as paper and plastic waste.
  • Reduce global energy and resource consumption.

You don’t have to work in an environmental field to make a difference. By not driving to and from work every day, you dramatically shift the scales of consumption, waste, and pollution. Why not do what you love and reduce your impacts at the same time?

Take action by signing up as a Virtual Vocations member, enrolling in our e-courses, crafting a telecommute resumé, and applying for remote (a.k.a. environmentally friendly) jobs.

Are the positive environmental effects of remote work important to youConnect with Virtual Vocations on FacebookTwitter, and LinkedIn to tell us about your dream remote job and how it relates to the environment. We’d love to hear from you! 

Photo Credit: 1. iStock.com/weerapatkiatdumrong; 2. iStock.com/Squaredpixels


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