working from home
WFH may not be environmentally-friendly. Image – Canva.
  • The research applied the algorithm to a large corporate company with over 30,000 employees
  • A rise in work-from-home emissions of over 4,000t Co2 was calculated
  • Economies of scale in office settings a major factor, the research suggests

While lower office occupancy has reduced the carbon footprint of many commercial office buildings, higher Co2 emissions from hybrid working significantly outstrip these benefits, according to an analysis by the sustainability team at Cushman & Wakefield.

The findings come as a surprise, especially given working from home sees a significant reduction in commute-related pollution.

Using an algorithm that measures work from home energy consumption across a workforce, the report quantified the combined energy-related emissions produced by remote employees and commercial office buildings.

The algorithm was applied to find how a 30-50% decline in office energy consumption during the first lot of lockdowns in 2020 were redistributed to home workplaces.

By applying the algorithm, Cushman & Wakefield calculated the emissions for a large corporate with over 30,000 employees nationally in the first quarter of 2021.

Office and WFH Energy Consumption

WFH Emissions
Source: Cushman and Wakefield

The data showed that while there was a reduction of 2,500t Co2 in electricity emissions among commercial office buildings, there was a rise in work from home emissions of over 4,000t Co2.

This contributed to an overall uplift in emissions of 21% compared to the same quarter in 2019.

Rebecca Jinks, Cushman & Wakefield Head of Sustainability Australia, said keeping the lights, heating or cooling on at home is far less efficient compared to the economies of scale of an office environment.

“This is something major companies and organisations have committed to reducing as part of their Science Based Targets, so [this] can’t be offshored,” she adds.

“Just because your workers are consuming energy outside of the traditional boundaries of the office building, they’re still required to do that work to keep business going, so the burden has simply shifted elsewhere. Under ESG principles, we needed to measure that burden as it’s now material.”

“The early work completed by Cushman & Wakefield to scientifically model the impact of remote working on company emissions is some of the first of its kind.

“While remote working is unavoidable amid the latest lockdowns, more organisations now want to accurately account for, and report on, its contribution to emissions.”

Rebecca Jinks, Cushman & Wakefield Head of Sustainability Australia

Jon McCormick, Cushman & Wakefield Head of Integrated Facilities Management, added that as more organisations work towards net-zero targets, the impact of the emissions that stemmed from hybrid working cannot be ignored.

“Accurately tracking those emissions is the first step in developing appropriate mitigation strategies,” he said.

“While hybrid settings can increase workplace-related emissions, we also recognise that emissions from business travel are down significantly.

“However, as restrictions ease, travel related emissions will start rising while hybrid working will remain, contributing further to organisations’ overall carbon footprints.”

“The reality is that hybrid working has become the norm in most corporate office settings, led by employees’ desire for flexibility and employers’ focus on staff safety and wellbeing.

“That said, alongside collaboration and morale, the data suggests there will also be an environmental benefit of a broader return to offices around the country,” Mr McCormick concluded.

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