Sustainability ‘should be factored into remote working decisions’

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Employers must factor environmental impact into their decisions around hybrid working and should be aware that working from home may not be as sustainable as it seems, a report says.

Although widespread, regular working from home reduces the need for high-carbon activities such as air travel and commuting to work by car, the report from behavioural science specialist More Than Now and the London School of Economics, suggests this environmental benefit may be offset by other behaviours at home including increased use of consumer electronics, heating consumption and increased non-work travel.

It says that employers should understand and seek to influence the behaviours employees display while working in a hybrid environment. These range from one-off choices like switching to a more sustainable energy provider at home, to habits including temperature-setting at home and driving to work.

James Elfer, founder of MoreThanNow, said: “It’s easy to forget that the shift to hybrid working is happening in the middle of a climate crisis, but the trend will influence how we travel, the technology we use, the waste we generate, and the energy, food and water we consume in our homes.

“Organisations cannot claim a commitment to the environment without designing sustainability into their vision for the future of work.”

Sara Thompson, group HR director at retirement savings company Phoenix Group, which commissioned the report alongside BT, said: “Many companies are thinking about their own sustainability goals currently, and this research highlights the importance of factoring in the impact of employees working from home as part of that.

“Organisations and employees adapted to home working incredibly quickly last year, so there is nothing to stop a move to more sustainable home working practices happening quickly too, and this will be vitally important for our future.”

Recommendations for employers given in the report include:

  • Pre-programming organisation-issued devices to enter “eco-mode” or “standby” after a specified time
  • Reducing cloud usage by encouraging staff to send fewer emails and sticking to a single email trail
  • Encouraging staff to reduce their screen time by setting reminders
  • Encouraging more sustainable food consumption by setting goals and hosting activities including cook-alongs
  • Influencing behaviours by sharing and celebrating progress towards environmental goals
  • Holding virtual meetings rather than asking staff to travel abroad for business meetings.

Separate research from utility switching service Utility Bidder has exposed the impact video meetings have on the environment. An hour-long group Zoom meeting in “gallery view” uses energy that generates CO2 equivalent to driving a tenth of a mile in a petrol car.

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