Measuring the Environmental Impact of “New Normal”

How Hybrid Working saved nearly 2 tonnes of CO2e per person

The latest international research by Px3 CEO Justin Sutton-Parker examined the detailed travel and work patterns of one international technology company, analysing the responses from 815 employees across 24 countries.

It found that that remote working had reduced commuting emissions by 43% in 2019.  In 2020 as the pandemic response was put in place this reduction rose to 97% compared with previous levels. 

Calculating the impact over the two years in the study, the research found that these measures had generated a global greenhouse gas abatement of 1.9 tonnes of CO2e per employee. 

Highlighting the role that IT has to play in enabling emissions reduction, the study noted that the subject company had invested in a Citrix digital workspace solution with zero trust security and threat analytics capabilities.  This “virtual desktop” enabled desktops and applications to be securely accessed on any device from any location.

As such, in 2019, the approach enabled 72% of global employees to work remotely, although only 13% did so five days per week whilst 28% chose to work from the office full time.  Overall the flexible working arrangement was calculated to have resulted in a reduction of 789,331 kgCO2e in scope 3 commuting GHG emissions in 2019.

With the imposition of travel restrictions in 2020 all employees were instructed to work from home for 9 months of the year, leading to a further 75% reduction in commuting emissions.  

The paper also highlighted significant regional differences in concern about the environment.  Overall employees collectively noted a ‘7.5’ score when asked, ‘If 10 is the highest importance, how important to you is reducing your carbon footprint?’, but this was highest in Asia Pacific registering a score of 8.7. In addition the study identified significant differences between regions in terms of both emissions and abatement, as shown below.

The study, from an established authority on sustainable IT and published as part of the 11th International Conference on Sustainable Energy Information Technology 2021, has important implications for sustainability and carbon-zero strategies, highlighting the positive impact that flexible working has already had on the greenhouse gas emissions and proposing some simple changes to build on the momentum.

Overall the findings indicate remote working has now been proved to be feasible for a much wider audience through the enforced business continuity in 2020, and identifies some key factors which must be examined to ensure commuter emissions do not revert or exceed 2019 values.

The focus moving into 2021 as commuting restrictions lift must be upon recognising that IT enabled remote working does support sustainable practices and GHG abatement. As such, the ‘new normal’ should include both an increase on pre COVID-19 home working instances coupled with an adoption of more sustainable transport modes where feasible. These modes should include the natural transition to electric vehicles plus increases in public transport utilisation and zero carbon activities such as cycling.

The results indicate that increasing the average number of remote working days per week and promoting an incremental shift to sustainable transport example can increase the ability for IT to abate GHG emissions by a further 20% to 60%, even in a ‘normal’ year.

Specifically organisations are encouraged to:

  • leverage the benefits of work life balance delivered by remote working,
  • raise awareness of the environmental impact of commuting
  • encourage the adoption of zero carbon transportation for commuting

The conclusion of the research is that whilst employees will begin to return to the office in greater numbers, future abatement of 60% is achievable in the ‘new normal’ when supported by investment in enabling IT solutions.

The published research is available here: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1877050921014320

(Photo by JÉSHOOTS from Pexels)

About the Report Author

CEO & Research Director: Justin Sutton-Parker, MBA Sustainability & Leadership  

Justin Sutton-Parker is an information technology sustainability professional with over 25 years of experience. Nearing completion of a Computer & Urban Science PhD with the University of Warwick, Justin specialises in the impact of IT on global greenhouse gas emissions, highlighting the role IT can play in slowing global warming and tackling climate change.

Justin is co-founder, CEO and Director of research for Px3. He is also the author of multiple pieces of published research and the sustainable information technology columnist for the UK’s leading sustainable and ethical news, products and lifestyle magazine and Guardian supplement “My Green Pod”.

A regular international sustainability speaker, published researcher, consultant and presenter, Justin set out a personal life goal and aim for Px3 to: ‘Remove the greenhouse gas equivalent of 100,000 cars from the atmosphere by 2050 through the diffusion of sustainable IT.’

Email: Justin@px3.org.uk LinkedIn:  Justin Sutton-Parker

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