Remote working as a powerful force for change: going remote can help your company meet climate targets

We have just 8 years to meet our 2030 climate goals – and we’re already off-track here in Ireland.

The situation is only getting more urgent – and we all, as individuals and organisations, have a growing responsibility to take our carbon footprint seriously. 

Remote working and sustainability

Remote work is a powerful tool for social change. Remote working pioneer and Doist’s Head of Remote, Chase Warrington, explained in his recent Fast Company article, “This is how remote work can be a force for good” that it hits off many of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, including:

  • Decent Work and Economic Growth, 
  • Reduced Inequality, 
  • Sustainable Cities and Communities, and 
  • Climate Action. 

There’s no doubt that remote working alone isn’t going to meet our climate change goals, but as he points out: 

“…there is no silver bullet. We’re more likely to achieve these goals via a series of 1% improvements than a few sweeping changes. With the migration to remote, we have the opportunity to contribute our 1%.” 

The business case for implementing remote to meet SDGs 

This blog is the start of a series where we begin to outline how implementing remote working could help you achieve the goals your company may have around climate change. 

First, let’s take a look at the data. 

Research published last week by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, evaluating the overall impact of remote working to the Irish economy, finds that emissions savings from reduced transport usage are likely to exceed any extra household emissions – leading to net environmental gains from remote working. 

Specifically, the researchers estimate that remote working has the potential to save almost 165,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year. 

However, they note that these potential benefits depend on a variety of factors – and, importantly, the analysis is based on an assumption that no “secondary environmental effects” would arise, such as remote workers taking more frequent, shorter trips during the day.  

The IPCC’s heavyweight report, Climate Change 2022 – Mitigation of Climate Change, includes “teleworking” as one of the systemic changes that could lead to reduced transport-related emissions. 

Global Workplace Analytics, headed by remote working expert and workplace strategist Kate Lister,  estimates that, in North America, remote working or “telecommuting” could have a major impact on the environment. GWA’s proprietary Telework Savings Calculator has determined that: 

  • If all employees who could work remotely (50% of the workforce) did so, and chose to work from their homes at least half the time, greenhouse gas emissions would be reduced by 54 million tons: the equivalent of taking almost 10 million cars off the road for a year. 
  • More than 640 million barrels of oil would be saved. 

However, the Harvard Business Review warns that a true picture of the situation requires us to take multiple environmental factors into consideration – including the secondary factors referenced in DETE’s research published last week. 

In 2020, the International Energy Agency calculated that: 

  • For people who commute by car, working from home is likely to reduce their carbon dioxide (CO2) footprint if their journey to work is greater than about 6 kilometres.
  • However, for short car commutes or those done by public transport, working from home could increase CO2 emissions due to extra residential energy consumption.
  • If everybody able to work from home worldwide were to do so for just one day a week, it would save around 1% of global oil consumption for road passenger transport per year.
  • Taking into account the increase this would bring in energy use by households, the overall impact on global CO2 emissions would be an annual decline of 24 million tonnes  – equivalent to the bulk of Greater London’s annual CO2 emissions. 

What’s clear is that going remote has huge potential for meaningful impact in meeting climate targets. We also know that asking companies to go remote is asking them to undertake a major transformation project.

Mark your calendars: April 2023

We’re working to drive the systemic change needed to support companies to go remote and do it sustainably and impactfully.

In April 2023, we’re going to bring global leaders in climate action, business, government and the future of work together in Ireland for a first-of-its-kind conference on the social impact of remote working.

Our objective with this conference is to catalyse a massive leap forward from conversations about the future of work to real action and deep impact, with a huge focus on harnessing the power of remote working as a force for real change in the climate crisis.

We will build a case for how to scale remotely in a way that really counts for our planet.

Learning from Shopify

In the meantime, one of Ireland’s biggest remote employers, Shopify, is making strides to find answers to some of the difficult questions around remote working and carbon emissions.

In May 2020, Shopify announced it was moving to a fully remote working model. In June 2020, Stacy Kauk, Shopify’s Head of Sustainability, asked

“What does going digital mean for the company’s carbon emissions?” 

Shopify is running an experiment to see what impact remote working has on its energy usage and emissions, with a pledge to open source their findings. The results will be useful for businesses of all sizes in figuring out how to meaningfully – and profitably – weave sustainability into their strategy. 

Businesses must act now on carbon emissions

We don’t know exactly what form they’ll take, but widespread carbon emissions rules, restrictions and reporting obligations feel inevitable if we are to have any chance of meeting our climate change targets.

We reached out to Peter du Toit, founder of FutureWork IQ and a passionate advocate of remote working as a means of reducing carbon emissions.

He highlighted the IPCC’s finding that some of the changes made to ways of working during the pandemic should be maintained; this time, to help us reach our emission reduction goals. 

Pointing to the IEA’s 10-Point Plan to Cut Oil Use, he told us that: 

“Those organisations that get ahead of [the need to meet SDGs] by either becoming location independent, or who are able to have employees arrive for in-person interactions using local mobility (i.e., walking or cycling) or via clean public transport/electric vehicles (where available), will be way less disrupted than those who don’t do that workplace re-engineering now.”

How might building climate change targets work in your company? 

As you scale your remote company or transition to a remote-first model, how can we at Grow Remote support you in embedding a culture of sustainability into your everyday business processes? 

Send me your questions, concerns and suggestions: [email protected]