When you picture an environmentally friendly office, your mind probably goes one of two places.

The first is a state-of-the-art building, with clever tech that automatically minimizes energy use and so many plants it’s more of a conservatory than an office.

The second is far more low tech, a place where the coffee granules are reused and any used paper is fed back into the printer.

But perhaps companies that care about the environment don’t need to go to such extremes to reduce the footprint of their offices.

What if we just get rid of the office?

Although it may seem a bit Captain America “There’s whales in the Hudson” to look with environmental optimism at the current pandemic, the impact of lockdown on our collective carbon footprint is undeniable.

Globally, our carbon dioxide emissions fell by 17%. Despite the fact that this is a mere blip in the overall context, it does show what is possible with behavioural changes.

The most polluting sector in the UK is transport: road transport makes up more than a fifth of carbon dioxide emissions and this has remained steady over the last 30 years.

So one obvious way of reducing pollution is by removing commuting, as has - unintentionally - been the case over the last year.

One estimate suggests that without commuting, we would emit 7.8 million tonnes of carbon dioxide less every year - just in the UK. To put that in perspective, 1 million tonnes of carbon dioxide is the equivalent of flying from London to Cape Town and back 376,000 times.

For the environmentally-conscious employer considering the viability of long-term working from home, this might be a further incentive to adopt such a policy.

WFH is worse for the environment?

However, this may just be shifting the problem elsewhere.

Research by consulting firm WSP UK, found that while work from home was a more environmentally friendly option in the summer, it actually used more energy in the winter, due to the fact that each employee had to heat their own home - which used far more energy than everyone commuting AND heating one office.

This will come as no surprise to those of us who have seen our gas and electricity bills rocket over the last year.

However, this is perhaps a particularly British problem (the UK has some of the least energy efficient homes in Europe).

But that doesn’t mean that working from home is the best way to go in the rest of the world. After all, in many places summers are also a problem, as people need to cool their houses with air-conditioning.

In these places working from home may never be the environmentally friendly choice.

One company that has acknowledged this issue is remote-first Zapier, which offset 647 tonnes of carbon in 2019 through reforestation. This covered the carbon from things like travel and servers - but also home offices.

Best of both worlds

So, what’s a company just trying to do its best by the environment to do?

The optimal solution is probably Work Near Home, where employees work at a flexible workspace near their home.

This would reduce commutes while at the same time ensuring that the energy used in heating/cooling the building is keeping lots of people at a Goldilocks-ish “just right” temperature, rather than wasted on just one.

Plus, there’s loads of other benefits too.

Of course, this is not going to by itself fix climate change.

But these sorts of changes can make an impact, particularly on a large scale.

Companies that care about their environmental impact should be considering the big picture - and not just putting the onus onto their employees to make environmentally friendly choices.

If you’d like to find out how Desana can help your team work near home, get in touch.