Can flexible workspaces help businesses reduce their carbon footprint?

As more companies move their corporate real estate portfolios to account for a growing flexible workspace market, a new report suggests that this could help improve staff health and wellbeing while cutting carbon emissions.

Can flexible workspaces help businesses reduce their carbon footprint?

The report claims that the average flexible working centre can help generate carbon emission savings of 118 metric tonnes annually between now and 2029

Flexible workspaces are growing in popularity. Otherwise referred to as shared office space or a “flexiblespace”, the idea is that a business unpacks itself from one central headquarters to capture benefits by embedding its work into local communities, usually outside of bustling city centres.

Colliers International has suggested that the number of flexible workspaces in Europe increased by 205% between 2014 and 2018 and that the number of providers grew by 138%. In the UK, many smaller towns and cities have seen flexible workspace figures experience double-digit growth. Additional research from JLL suggests that up to 30% of corporate real estate portfolios will be flexible workspace by 2030.

A new Suburban Economic Study, commissioned by Regus and conducted by independent economists has been released today (18 February) and has sought to articulate the business benefits of tapping into this growing market, and there are some notable sustainability improvements to be captured alongside benefits to staff wellbeing and local community engagement.

The report claims that the average flexible working centre can help generate carbon emission savings of 118 metric tonnes annually between now and 2029. The major carbon savings derive from a reduced commuting distance with the report claiming that “allowing people to work closer to home, a local office space will save workers an average of 411,000 of commuting days per annum by 2029”.

Globally, 2,560,000 metric tonnes of CO2 could be saved, according to the report – equivalent to the emissions of 1,280 flights between London and New York.

The flexible workspace all offers energy benefits over working from home. According to the report, flexible workspaces are likely to be more energy efficient for heating and lighting co-working areas, rather than just an individual at home.

The report also notes that the availability of local workspaces will help reduce air pollution, while workers are less likely to be exposed to areas of high air pollution such as city centres.

Regus’s parent company IWG’s chief executive Mark Dixon said: “Commuting can be uncomfortable, unfriendly, and incredibly time-consuming. It is also a huge source of global pollution. In an age where every business and individual has a responsibility for their environmental impact, commuting into major cities looks increasingly old fashioned.

“Over the next decade, we expect to open many more locations in smaller towns, cities and suburban areas. Our vision is that, in the near future, there will be a professional workspace available on every corner ending the idea of commuting for good. This will benefit our personal health, as well as that of our planet.”

Additional benefits

According to the report, the “flex” market could add more than £12bn to local economies over the next decade, adding 231 more jobs per community and funnelling £15m into the local economy.

The business presence through flexible workspaces can also stimulate the local economy through new procurement opportunities, largely focuses on utilities, security, cleaning, catering and maintenance, the report adds.

Workers will also benefit from reduced commutes, improving their work/life balance, health and wellbeing. It will also help businesses tap into new areas of worker talent.

While the report solely focuses on flexible workspaces, flexible work times have also been mooted as a way to reduce a businesses’ carbon footprint.

Spurred by the Labour 4-day week campaign, a handful of businesses are now exploring how a four-day working week would impact productivity. A poll found that 74% of UK people supported the notion a four-day week

While it has generally been discussed that a four-day week would lead to a reduction in the consumption of resources, specific analysis has found that an individual’s carbon footprint can be reduced by more than 14% just be spending 10% less time working. If hours were cut by 25% – a day and quarter each week – the carbon footprint would be reduced by more than a third (36.6%).

Matt Mace

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