Hybrid working can deliver huge carbon savings in city centres
Hybrid working can deliver significant emissions reductions, with a study across major US and UK cities suggesting that some regions can deliver an 80% reduction in carbon emissions through reduced travel and office use.
Flexible working is desirable for a lot of white-collar working roles, with research from Aviva suggesting that 88% of workers view flexible working as an important factor in job roles, in order to save money and have a better work/life balance.
Separate research of HR professionals in the US, conducted by IWG, also found that 94% of companies now use hybrid working in job offers to attract, recruit and retain talent.
Now, a new study from IWG, with support from Arup, has measured the carbon impact that hybrid working can deliver. The study analysed potential emissions savings across six US and UK cities – London, LA, New York City, Atlanta, Manchester and Glasgow.
The study explored the carbon savings that could be delivered as a result of reduced travel, working closer to home and utilising local, shared workspaces, compared to the traditional five-day commute.
Of the cities studied, Atlanta had the potential to deliver a 90% reduction in transport and office use emissions, followed by LA and New York.
In the UK, Glasgow could deliver an 80% reduction, followed by Manchester (70%) and London (49%). Emissions could be reduced in cities like London by mixing time between city-centre-based offices and local workspaces.
Per capita transport emissions in the US are 2.5 times higher than in the UK due to larger, less fuel-efficient vehicles, and lower use of public transport, hence the higher potential savings. Additionally, utilising local workspaces was found to have fewer emissions per square meter of floor area than central HQ office spaces. The survey argued that local workspaces have higher utilisation rates, and therefore, each person is responsible for fewer emissions than a central office location.
IWG’s chief executive Mark Dixon said: “Five-day commuting to city centre offices has the largest carbon footprint of any working model. Simply spending less time in or travelling to a city centre drives a drop in emissions from buildings and vehicles alike. Allowing people to work close to home, enabling them to split their time between home and a local workplace, has the potential to reduce a worker’s work-related carbon emissions by 70%.
“The single biggest change we can all make right now is to provide people with the choice to work closer to where they need to be, and with lower impact on the environment. And that’s down to all of us. The results of our research with Arup show clearly that given the right will this is within our power – right now.”
One issue that could potentially arise from remote working is that businesses end up under-reporting emissions as a result. In 2020, during the pandemic, consultancy Ecoact researched the impact of the UK’s coronavirus lockdown on corporate sustainability reporting and environmental governance.
Using the Office for National Statistics’ findings that more than 44% of the UK’s working population were working exclusively from home as a result of the pandemic, coupled with National Grid figures proving that domestic electricity use was currently up 25% year-on-year and analysis of the grid mix, the firms calculated that employees generated 100,000 tonnes of carbon through their home electricity consumption.
However, due to reporting requirements not accounting for these emissions, the study warned that UK businesses collectively underreported their 2020 carbon emissions by almost half-a-million tonnes.
Millions of people in the UK look set to have a greater say over flexible working as part of new plans published recently by the government, so do corporates need to include this as part of environmental monitoring? Epson Europe’s head of sustainability and government affairs Boris Manev explains why they should.
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“Working closer to home” is not always simple, and moving house is both hard work and costly.
As a now retired research scientist, places of work were always fixed for long periods, and house prices often reflected proximity to workplace.
“Flexibility” is frequently impossible.