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Study finds major upside to remote work: 'Organizations should prioritize lifestyle and workplace improvements'

The results were clear.

The results were clear.

Photo Credit: iStock

The practice of remote work ballooned during the COVID-19 pandemic, and though many workers have since been mandated to return to their offices, there are also many who have been able to continue working from home all or part of the time. 

And according to a recent study, that has had a big net positive effect on our planet.

Is remote work really better for the environment?

The study, from Cornell University and Microsoft, used survey data and modeling to attempt to quantify the difference in environmental impact between working at home and commuting to an office.

The results were clear: The study found that remote workers have a 54% lower carbon footprint than onsite workers. The study also found that hybrid workers could reduce their carbon footprint by 11% to 29% by working from home two to four days per week.

Why is remote work better for the environment?

The reasons that remote workers are responsible for less planet-overheating pollution are not particularly surprising. For one, by not commuting to an office, workers significantly cut down on their emissions from transportation. The transportation sector was responsible for 28% of planet-overheating pollution in 2021, according to the Environmental Protection Agency — so simply by not going anywhere during the workday, employees produce far fewer emissions.

In addition, remote workers do not contribute to office energy use.

"Remote and hybrid work shows great potential for reducing carbon footprint, but what behaviors should these companies and other policy makers be encouraging to maximize the benefits?" said Longqi Yang, one of the authors of the study. "The findings suggest organizations should prioritize lifestyle and workplace improvements."

Should I be working remotely?

If your employer allows it and your work can be effectively done from home, remote work is a great way to reduce your personal contributions to the overheating of our planet.

In addition, the study's senior author, professor Fengqi You, recommended that companies and policymakers focus on incentivizing workers who do come into the office to use public transit instead of driving as well as improving the energy efficiency of office buildings.

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