The Importance of Telecommuting in Reducing Carbon Emissions

Telecommuting has become more and more prevalent since the advent of cloud computing and the internet. Employees and students alike are sitting down in their home office, living room or bedroom to do their jobs and complete their courses.

Beyond the obvious benefits of choosing to attend an online school or deciding to work remotely have to a person’s well-being, telecommuting can also play a large role in saving our environment.

Smaller office buildings with fewer people in them mean less carbon emissions. Energy Star estimates that the typical Midwest office building produces about 37 pounds of CO2 per square foot. The smaller the footage is, the smaller the emissions will be. The less space that has to be cooled, heated, and lit up, the better for the environment. Offices that want to keep employees connected can bring them in one day a week on a rotating basis so they’ll only need desks for 10 employees instead of 50.

With a simple Skype installation, conference meetings are entirely possible and cost effective for even the smallest of companies. Skype can also be used as an instant messaging system to reach across the distance to employees who aren’t working that day. Installing Dropbox or showing employees how to use Google Docs will allow everyone to work on a single project even when they’re not together.

In addition, Americans are spending more time commuting each year than they’re taking in vacation time. They spend an average of 100 hours a year getting to work, according to the Census Bureau. The average passenger car emits about 2.8 grams per mile, and the average truck emits about 3.5 grams, according to the EPA.

If we were able to cut that down to driving to work just one day a week (about 20 hours per year), we could clear up traffic jams, free up employee time and greatly reduce carbon emissions. Zeroing out a company’s carbon emissions is all too often focused only on what is being done in the building itself. Green companies should take a look at what else happens in their employees’ lives to ensure it’s all working together to be environmentally sound.

Apart from the obvious, having employees telecommute can have unexpected, ripple-effect impacts on the environment.

See, telecommuting can also cut down on the amount of fast food employees consume. They’re far more likely to fix something in their own kitchen than to sprint to the nearest McDonalds on their lunch break if they’re already home. This cuts down on the excessive packaging used for the food and the gas used to bring it to that specific location. It even helps your employees spend even less time in their cars.

Replacing all the light bulbs in the office is a great way to start a green movement. Putting a recycling bin in the break room is also a positive step. But telecommuting will always make the biggest positive impact on the environment until we’re all driving hydrogen powered cars.

Article by Joseph Baker.

Joseph Baker’s business experience in management spans more than 15 years. A leader of development and management teams, he also implemented budget reductions professionally and as an independent contractor. Joseph led strategic planning and systems of implementation for nine organizations, public and private, and worked extensively with small businesses.

He holds a Bachelor of Science in Marketing from Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business.

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2 comments on “The Importance of Telecommuting in Reducing Carbon Emissions

Lew Perelman

I’m a persistent advocate of telework and support the efforts of the Telework Coalition (

But reducing carbon emissions is one of the lesser benefits. The major benefits include saving energy in transportation, and thus reducing reliance on oil imports from strategically dangerous regions. Also saving time, increasing productivity, and thus overall freeing up money that then can be used for more valuable purposes. Telework also has a key role in enhancing the resilience of business and government operations to natural disasters, terrorist attacks or other disruptive events — albeit at the risk of increasing vulnerability to some forms of cyber-attack.

Some of the benefits suggested above, however, are overstated and/or entail significant negative costs. For one thing, people working from home or from satellite offices close to home will still be using much of the HVAC, hot/cold water, physical space etc. that they otherwise would be using in an office building. And to the extent that smart phones and tablets increasingly enable people to work while travelling, the transportation-related savings from telework may be diluted.

Meanwhile the wholesale abandonment of office buildings would have a depressing effect on a real estate sector that is already acutely distressed. That in turn would undermine the value of various real-estate backed investment instruments, further stressing a global financial system that is still in dire straits. Taking away all that restaurant business means the erosion or collapse of more businesses and the loss of yet more jobs, often those of the working poor.

In the near term, the positive gains from expanding telework are likely to far exceed any negative impacts. But at a larger scale, at some point more costly trade-offs will have to be considered.

[…] This might explain why 73 percent of people who aren’t teleworking yet are willing to do so. However, 53 percent are facing rebuttals from their hierarchy. This clearly shows that educating people on this practice is critical to its development. To learn out more on this, please refer to a previous Cleantechies article : The Importance of Telecommuting in Reducing Carbon Emissions […]

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