How to reduce your carbon footprint while working from home
Alice Doyle
ESG Consultant

We have seen two growing trends in 2022 – climate change and working from home.

The move to flexible home-working reveals just how much electricity an employee uses, as it is no longer included in the office building's overall energy use.

The following tips will help you increase productivity, save on energy costs, and reduce your carbon footprint.

1) Know your own footprint
The first step towards understanding how you can reduce your carbon footprint is to understand what your personal carbon footprint is.

There are plenty of carbon and environmental footprint calculators available such as Carbon Footprint Calculator and WWF Carbon Calculator. Work through each easy question and see helpful tips on savings that suit you, and your lifestyle.

2) Optimise your home office
The carbon footprint of all our gadgets, the internet, the electricity which powers them and the systems that operate them, account for almost 4% of global greenhouse gas emissions — almost as much as the airline industry.

This is projected to double by 2025. So make sure you turn off your IT equipment (and VPN!) as soon as you are not using it.

Sending even a short email can add four grams of CO2 equivalent and sending an email with a large attachment can add up to 50 grams. So think twice before you hit ‘reply to all’ and use messaging apps such as Teams, as this can often be more energy efficient for short informal messages.

Make sure you unsubscribe from any unwanted or no longer relevant email lists, and if you're shopping online, say no to receiving emails from the company unless you're really interested in them.

Other simple tips such as using digital notes apps help you go paperless. And make sure your desk space is set up in a spot that provides as much natural light as possible, and don’t forget to use energy-saving light bulbs.

Also add some house plants to your work-station, as houseplants increase the air quality inside by purifying the air – see the top 10.

3) Do you need video?
Using video on calls is important when connecting in meetings – but we don’t always have to use it for a quick team meetup.

Taking a one-hour Zoom call between two people has the same carbon footprint as driving two kilometres, or taking a train ten kilometres.

When you switch from video conference calls to audio-only calls, you will be able to reduce your carbon footprint by 96%.

Now that working from home and video conferencing is the new norm, audio-only makes a substantial difference to long-term digital emissions from home offices.

4) Change your search engine
As you hit search, your search engine uses multiple servers to retrieve your query — this consumes energy and produces greenhouse gases.

Based on WebFX estimates, Google searches performed daily produce 700 million grams of CO2, which would be equivalent to driving 1.67 million miles, or three and a half times to the moon and back!

Most search engines are making efforts to ensure that they are climate responsible - Google uses a mixture of renewable energy and carbon offsetting to reduce the footprint of its own operations.

Microsoft, which owns the Bing search engine, has promised to become carbon negative by 2030.

Other lesser know alternatives include the Ecosia search engine, which is not only carbon neutral, but also has its own solar plant. They also plant 1 tree for every 45 searches  so your searches add a little bit of biodiversity back into the world too. 

Other search engines include OceanHero (a charitable search engine with many great features that collects one ocean-bound plastic bottle for every 5 searches), and Youcare (a charitable search engine that lets you choose the charities you want to support).

5) Save on energy
Until recently, office workers or workspace renters had to compromise eco-energy preferences with their employer or landlord. However, the pandemic has shifted that responsibility to the individual, bringing consumer power into our personal workplace.

Remember to switch it off, the greenest energy is the energy that is saved! In stand-by mode the power consumption of both a desktop and a laptop falls to about a third.

There is no need to leave PCs, laptops or monitors on overnight. Also make sure that printers and mobile phone chargers are not left on unnecessarily, especially at night and the weekend as these too will use unnecessary power when not in use, called energy vampires.

If sockets are hard to reach or you’re likely to forget, use timer switches or plug-in remote-controlled sockets to turn off laptops and printers.

Make your office space cosy — If you work in the same room all day, there’s no need to heat the whole house. It is estimated that 19% of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions come from warming up the places we live and work, with more than three-quarters of this coming from domestic buildings.  Turning the thermostat down by one degree can save 310kg (and £60) of carbon dioxide a year for a typical UK household.

And remember to get up from your desk and move around. As well as being scientifically proven to help concentration, taking breaks helps productivity.

6) Switch energy providers
In 2020, the world added 50% more renewable energy capacity compared to 2019, and the amount of renewable capacity for 2021 to 2026 is expected to be 50% higher than from 2015 to 2020.

Now is the time to take advantage of this shift to cleaner energy in your own home. In the UK there are now a plethora of 100% renewable tariffs that are affordable and price competitive.

Making the switch is very straightforward, and some even offer a £50 cash back and a referral scheme. Why not try out Good Energy, OVO Energy or Ecotricity.

With gas insecurity and fuel hikes predicted, now has never been a better time to change over to a renewable energy fixed-rate tariff. The Big Clean Switch can find you the best prices also!

7) Don’t forget your lunch break
The UK was responsible for 6.7 million tonnes of edible food waste in 2021, with 70% of that coming from households, creating more than 25 million tonnes of greenhouse gases (GHG).

That’s 5.5% of our entire national Green House Gas emissions – and more than the total annual GHG emissions of Kenya.

So plan meals in advance, and try out bulk cooking and using leftovers in your meal planning. Buy what you need and eat what you buy, and if you can, shop local. Small greengrocers are more likely to sell loose veg and produce without the plastic wrapping too.

Dispose of your food scraps by composting instead of sending them to a landfill or learn how to compost at home. If you cant compost, why not connect with neighbours or community gardens who have compost bins that you can donate to.

There is little doubt that flexible home working will continue into the future, so it is important we all embed a culture of sustainability for every member of the organisation to take home.

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