Is WFH better for the environment?

It’s long been suggested that, by removing the need to commute, WFH is better for the environment than office-based working. However there’s been very little independent research into the topic over the last few years to back up the claim.

A new scientific paper on the impact of WFH on the environment, recently posted by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) – a peer-reviewed journal of the US National Academy of Sciences (NAS) – has reignited the debate.

The paper, which can be accessed at concludes that “in the United States, switching from working onsite to working from home can reduce up to 58% of work’s carbon footprint, and the impacts of IT usage are negligible, while office energy use and non-commute travel impacts are important”. 


PNAS survey


The study says that achieving the environmental benefits of remote work requires proper setup of people’s lifestyle, including their vehicle choice, travel behaviour, and the configuration of home and work environment.”

It’s a fascinating insight into the topic, backed up by hard independent research and evidence. The study calculated the impact of WFH frequency from 0 to 5 days a week on carbon emissions, taking into account commuting, non-commuting travel (e.g. driving to buy lunch if you WFH), office energy, home energy and ICT energy. And it found that, by moving to 2 days a week at home, carbon usage can be reduced by 11%, to 4 days by 29% and to 5 days a week by a staggering 58%. These benefits were mainly realised from less commuting and closing offices. 

Stanford Professor and leading commentator on the WFH revolution Nick Bloom commented “we know commuting is energy intensive, but only after reading this did I realise offices are also huge energy users. For firms, this highlights how a supportive WFH policy can deliver progress on climate objectives. Indeed, these effects are so large that WFH policies are likely to be one of the most powerful tools for companies trying to reduce their carbon footprint.”

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