At the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, when people were hunkered down at home to avoid the virus, something started happening outside. The waters of the Venetian canals have cleared up; animals around the world roamed more freely without the threat of human presence. The lockdown, it seemed, would give ecosystems a chance to heal.
And for a while, it did. Daily global carbon emissions fell 17% in April 2020 compared to the same period a year earlier, according to a study in the journal Nature Climate Change.
But that hopeful narrative has since been shattered — or at least, proved temporary. Carbon emissions have traced back to their pre-pandemic levels. It turns out that working from home isn’t the climate fix environmentalists dream of.
“The reality of what I see is people on the road for meetings, so they travel a lot. They say, ‘Well, if I don’t have to be in the office, why can’t I go to Florida? in February? and work from there? says Keefe Harrison, CEO and founder of The Recycling Partnership, an environmental advocacy group.
Now more workers power more workspaces – in the office, at home, and anywhere you can open a laptop. This translates to more air conditioning and heating systems running, more coffee machines brewing, and more lights on.
Additionally, the desire to bring workers back to the office has led many employers to build their office buildings with more amenities. This means more environmental construction costs and more electricity for new facilities and technologies.
Harrison says workers can take a few steps to make their hybrid work lives more sustainable:
Before you can make adjustments to reduce your environmental footprint, Harrison suggests tracking your own behavior and the corresponding energy impact.
For true accuracy, she says you can use a “phantom power meter,” a device that detects how much electricity your devices are using even when they’re not in use. But workers can also check their electricity bills and how quickly their bins are filling up to assess their own environmental impact.
This is especially vital when dealing with hybrid workers who can now use twice as much energy because their home office is a replica of their corporate office, says Harrison: “Do you now have two air conditioners? Two computers? Two coffee pots?
Build an eco-friendly home office
The embrace of hybrid working has led to workers doubling up on many of the company’s office staples for their home. Harrison says it created more waste.
To limit this waste, she suggests choosing supplies made from recycled materials, using energy-efficient light bulbs (and if possible, natural light instead of light bulbs), and unplugging all electrical appliances when not in use. are not used.
Overall, Harrison also recommends limiting your home office supplies to the essentials: “People often want to know, ‘What’s the greenest thing to buy?’ The greenest thing to buy is not to buy anything.”
Use your voice and your vote
Ultimately, Harrison knows that “the whole world wants more convenience” and that the green choice and the practical choice rarely overlap.
DoorDash-ing a sandwich might end up being what you want even if you already have leftovers in the fridge. Harrison wants to ensure that individual choices aren’t the only bearers of what she thinks should be systemic change.
“It’s not that you don’t deserve the DoorDash sandwich. But you shouldn’t have to bear the burden of this waste,” Harrison says.
That’s why she encourages people to “use your voice” when calling businesses and policymakers to enforce more environmental regulations, for example, on packaging materials and other environmental excesses that might go into something like food delivery. She says bureaucracies, governments and businesses must shoulder the majority of the burden of environmental change.
“I think we get into these trade-off conversations of ‘What’s better: paper or plastic? Working from home or in the office?’ Really, we need to get back to that infrastructure and system conversation,” Harrison says.
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