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Is Home Office Better for the Environment?

By Sofía Hanna | Thu, 01/21/2021 - 17:45

Now that people are not spending a long time commuting to the office thanks to remote work, they might think we are becoming greener. But that may not be the case. According to a Nature Communications study, there was an 8.8 percent decrease in global CO2 emissions in the first half of 2020, comparing it to the same period in 2019. This study mentions that the decrease was due to the lockdown and that the impact lessened as restrictions were lifted. However, even with this decrease in CO2 emissions, there is still a significant environmental impact due to factors that are now part of our daily routine.

A new study from Purdue University “estimates the approximate carbon, water and land footprints associated with each hour of data spent in popular internet apps.” To illustrate what the study means, a one-hour videoconference with the camera on emits 150-1,000g of CO2. To put this in perspective, a car burning a gallon of gasoline would emit about 8,887g of CO2. “If you just focus on one type of footprint, you miss out on others that can provide a more holistic look at environmental impact,” stated Roshanak Nateghi, a Purdue professor of industrial engineering.

Since March, a variety of countries reported that their internet traffic increased by 20 percent. Assuming these numbers keep growing the way they have, by 2021 we would need a forest of about 71,600mi2 to offset the CO2 emitted from home office activities demanding electricity consumption, which is land, water and carbon-intensive.

The study’s author, Kaveh Madani, mentions that no one is arguing that working from home is an improvement to the way things were. However, people are not informed of the environmental weight of this new normal. “Banking systems tell you the positive environmental impact of going paperless but no one tells you the benefit of turning off your camera or reducing your streaming quality. So, without your consent, these platforms are increasing your environmental footprint,” states Purdue’s release.

Some of the apps with the largest environmental footprint are Netflix, Zoom, TikTok, WhatsApp and Facebook. The study seeks to help people understand the environmental cost of the services being used. By doing so, companies could make small changes that could generate a big difference.

The data used in this article was sourced from:  
Purdue University, Nature Communications
Photo by:   Picography, Pixabay
Sofía Hanna Sofía Hanna Junior Journalist and Industry Analyst