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How to Work from Home In a Sustainable Way

Updated: Jul 30, 2021

The concept of "Going Green" has existed among us from some time now. The debate over climate change is huge, varying, and at times, controversial and open to criticism.The health of our planet seems to be on the forefronts of our minds. So with more of us becoming increasingly eco-conscious, how do we become more sustainable when working from home?

When you work from home with absolutely no commuting, it might seem that we have the eco friendly box ticked. But there are many other considerations: from the energy you use to the materials you buy, and the practices you adopt on a daily basis. You are in charge of reducing your carbon footprint both in and outside of working hours. What was decided at an organisational level, is now devolved to us as individuals.The carbon footprint of businesses has not simply reduced, it has merely been dispersed to the thousands of individual homes, and there are no guarantees that those homes are running efficiently. But let's look at what we can do to be better individuals and citizens to this planet.

By working from home we can make more environmentally friendly choices.

We can choose a home-cooked meal, instead of going out for a quick bite at the nearby restaurant. We can look for far more greener options for our paper consumption, and we can choose how we furnish and decorate our workplaces in a more sustainable way. Energy usage is going to be a primary concern during this time when each and every one of us will be cooped up inside our houses utilising power almost the entire day. This could lead to an excessive overload on our electronic appliances as well.

Looking at what we buy and whether this would not result in unintended consequences on the environment is a good way to start being more sustainable when working from home.

Helen Waddington says: "There is quite a lot that individuals and corporations can do. These include making decisions about what kind of stationery we buy and the food we consume to where we source our energy and internet hosting... I make the conscious decision to buy recycled paper and pens. Everybody can do something like that."Founder of HKW Risk Management

Another way to help lower the carbon footprint of the items you purchase is to source your products locally.We have seen a rise of the tagline "SupportSmallBusinesses" in the past year since the pandemic.This emerged when small local businesses were struggling to keep their business running in the early stages of the pandemic and a collective effort to shift from large commercial brands to local organizations was started to help uplift them during this crisis.This led to more environment friendly choices and purchases.

One of the issues with working remotely from an environmental and waste perspective is the amount of duplicate devices. If somebody works a few days at home and a few days in the office, they are likely to have extra devices. "If we've all now got two laptops, four screens, and two phones, that's a huge amount of electronic stuff that we perhaps didn't have before," says Waddington.

The added environmental concern with electronics is electronic waste it generates, which is more difficult and expensive to process. Unless there are extremely specific needs businesses will have to take a decision on whether an individual requires as many devices as they are provided and or whether a few cutbacks on it will not hinder the process which inturn will lead to a lower carbon footprint. As we have already discussed carbon footprint a couple of times, here is what it actually means.

A carbon footprint is the amount of greenhouse gases-primarily carbon dioxide-released into the atmosphere by a particular human activity. A carbon footprint can be a broad measure or be applied to the actions of an individual, a family, an event, an organization, or even an entire nation. It is usually measured as tons of CO2 emitted per year, a number that can be supplemented by tons of CO2-equivalent gases, including methane, nitrous oxide, and other greenhouse gases.

As businesses look to cut back on office space, we are also looking at a situation where there is a surplus of office infrastructure just not being used on a regular basis. Businesses can look at entirely donating or providing these to the organisations in more need of this. While we are on this topic, the bigger organisations are also making swift changes to their work from home policies. Google CEO Sundar Pichai made the announcement of the post-pandemic hybrid workplace in an email to employees under which some 60 percent Google employees will spend a few days per week in the office, 20 percent will work in new office locations and the remaining 20 per cent will continue to work from home.

With a shift in responsibility, comes a potential shift in attitude. Individuals taking on the bills may make much more careful decisions about what they spend money on and whether they need to buy something in the first place.While remotely working there is a chance of producing less waste due to human psychology. While we work from the office every resource we use is free for example pen, paper and in some organizations also food, hence making us believe that any amount of consumption of these items will not lead to any dire consequences. Whereas whilst we work from home we consume a few items in a lesser percentage as it's now part of our personal expense. Although the same may not be true for power and electronic devices.

The difficulty is that larger businesses may well have had systems in place for green waste removal. Since these business parks and offices produce tons of waste on a daily basis their waste removal system will also be very efficient and thorough as compared to the one an individual may have in his/her apartment.

As individuals, we will now rely heavily on our local departments and the processes they use. This will vary by location but it does give us a little more incentive to hold our local authorities up to closer scrutiny, especially for those homeworkers who generate a lot of waste, or use a lot of packaging for instance.

While not everybody can afford to make the most sustainable choices,there are a few big corporations who can afford to make changes, and for individuals who have the capacity to buy greener. For businesses, this is the time to stand out. There are opportunities to be cultural leaders.

Businesses, who previously encouraged sustainable behaviour such as investing in a cycle to commute to work or providing transport cards for locals to travel in buses or metros, which are now possibly redundant, could offer alternatives such as offers towards solar panels or coupons to green initiative restaurants.

The work from home norm could shift what benefits and perks become more desirable for employees. Discounts and savings on green energy power or with mobile and internet providers could perhaps become more important to employees if they are responsible for higher usage costs due to working from home.

Every choice we make has an environmental impact and certain consequences and sometimes it's pretty difficult to make the right choice because there are always positives and negatives to an initiative.

Yet collectively, if we individually adopt the most sustainable work practices we can, we can make a significant impact on the health of the planet.

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