While the flexibility and convenience of telecommuting has many benefits, working from home also presents new challenges for those hoping to reduce their environmental impact. Without conscious effort, remote workers may actually increase their carbon footprints in certain ways as energy use shifts to residential spaces and out of centralized offices.

The good news is that environmentally-minded remote employees have many options for decreasing their carbon footprints through smart everyday choices.

With more deliberate decision making around energy, travel, purchasing, and services, individuals can drastically reduce the greenhouse gas emissions associated with their work. This can, in some cases,  even lower their overall climate impact below what it would be when commuting to a physical office space. 

The challenges of carbon footprint measurement

Tracking and measuring your total carbon footprint as a remote worker presents unique challenges. At home, it can be difficult to separate out which energy use, waste, water, and other impacts stem directly from remote work rather than general residential activity. Without clear divisions, calculating your exact work-related sustainability metrics becomes convoluted.

Additionally, remote workers’ environmental footprints vary drastically depending on their location. Those relying on renewable energy have an advantage over workers in fossil fuel-powered regions. Access to public transit and green technologies also differ by area.

These issues make accurately tracking the carbon footprint of an entire remote workforce complicated across disparate locations. Metrics may be imprecise but, there are still impactful steps individual workers can take to reduce footprints. Small changes add up, especially when an organization’s culture supports sustainability.

Leaders can provide education and resources to empower people. Coworking spaces allow remote workers access to centralized green amenities. Through communication and accountability, remote teams make significant sustainability progress together, even when physically separated. Precise measurement is difficult but positive change remains possible through collective commitment.

A view of a remote worker.

Purchase eco-friendly products

The goods and gadgets remote workers buy also impact sustainability. So, seek out earth-friendly products and services to green your home office space. When purchasing new computers, phones, monitors, routers, and other electronics, consider buying secondhand equipment instead of brand new models. Refurbished tech cuts down on waste and energy used in manufacturing, as well as reducing the need to mine for more materials. The typical cost savings achieved here too results in reducing your business overheads as well.  

In addition to secondhand devices, prioritize cloud storage and software over physical drives. Cloud computing reduces reliance on physical servers and cooling systems to store data, and in turn, lowers greenhouse gas emissions and waste from data storage activities. Services like file sharing and video conferencing also promote a paperless workflow, which saves on paper resources, keeping documents both secure and easily accessible for remote work. 

Reduce energy use

One of the easiest ways for remote workers to reduce their carbon footprints is by being mindful of their home energy use and adopting habits that conserve power. Take simple steps like turning off computers, monitors, and other equipment when not in use, instead of leaving them in sleep mode, and make sure to enable power-saving settings on all devices.

Unplugging unused electronics can also help avoid “phantom” energy loss from idle devices that are still plugged in. Consider getting a smart power strip that can cut off power to specific outlets, or simply unplug devices manually. At the end of the day, make sure workspace electronics are powered off completely.

Be strategic about heating and cooling as well. When working from vacant rooms in your home, adjust the thermostat to conserve energy in those unused spaces. Simple conservation steps like these reduce the environmental impact of a home office. With some attention and care, remote workers can curb energy waste and use resources responsibly.

Buy sustainable services

In addition to the products they buy, the services remote workers choose also impact sustainability. By choosing providers who prioritize green operations, you indirectly reduce your own emissions and foster greater environmental responsibility

Switching to a renewable energy provider dramatically lessens the carbon footprint of your remote business. Look for utility companies offering wind, solar or hydroelectric plans — vet companies thoroughly when selecting business service providers. Partner with businesses holding themselves accountable through sustainability reporting and eco-conscious policies. Being a conscious consumer extends to the services that remote workers pay for. Seek out and support businesses walking the talk on sustainability.

Environmentally-friendly travel habits

With hybrid remote work arrangements becoming more common, business travel for conferences, events, and meetings may persist and even increase in some cases. Employees may take more long-haul flights for work obligations if they have greater schedule flexibility from home offices or coworking spaces. 

A view of a remote worker.

To counteract these trends, remote workers should be mindful of sustainable travel habits. Limit recreational trips and vehicle use for non-essential purposes and consolidate errands into fewer outings. Where possible, take public transit, walk, or bike for local transportation needs. If using a personal vehicle is necessary, try eco-driving techniques to maximize fuel efficiency.

For work trips, be selective about conferences and events that require flights and explore virtual or hybrid options when available. If flying is essential, purchase carbon offsets to neutralize emissions. With intention and planning, remote workers can still minimize travel footprints despite potential rebound effects from flexible working. 

The shift toward increased remote work offers office workers a significant opportunity to reduce their carbon footprints. In fact, doing so could potentially cut a worker’s carbon emissions by 54%. But while telecommuting has environmental benefits like reducing daily commutes, remote employees must be proactive about minimizing energy use, travel, and unsustainable purchasing decisions, whether working at home or from coworking spaces.

With conscious effort, the small choices remote workers make daily, such as turning off devices, buying reused electronics, and reducing flights, can accumulate to a meaningful impact.