Working from home could cut more than 50% of a worker’s carbon footprint, new study says

A woman works from home.
A woman works from home. | Windows, Unsplash

Need a solid reason to work from home? Tell your boss that it’s good for the environment.

Working from home full time could cut a worker’s greenhouse emissions by more than half compared to their office-working counterparts, according to a new study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

How is working from home good for the environment?

It’s a bit of a no-brainer when thinking about why working from home that has the potential to cut down on emissions: Less driving leads to a smaller carbon footprint.

The surprise is how much it could reduce emissions. The study found that under optimal conditions (we’ll get into that in a minute), switching to working full time from home from working on-site could reduce a person’s carbon footprint by 58%.

Is hybrid work better for the environment?

Workers who split their time between the office and at-home work aren’t necessarily as environmentally clean, the study found.

Hybrid workers who work from the office two to four days a week still have the potential to reduce emissions by 11 to 29%.

“The remote work has to be significant in order to realize these kind of benefits,” co-author of the study, Longqi Yang, told The Washington Post. “This study provides a very important data point for a dimension that people care a lot about when deciding remote work policy.”

However, working remotely one day a week had negligible differences when noncommute travel, home energy use and commuting distance are factored in.

Factors such as energy consumption at home and other lifestyle choices also affect whether working from home is good for the environment.

“It’s one interesting piece of the puzzle, but not the whole story,” John Trougakos, who was not involved in the study but has studied remote and hybrid work models, told the Post.

“To have a comprehensive plan for something like this, you’re looking at more than just the workplace, and obviously the other choices that people make in their life will also impact the emissions that they create and that organizations might create as well,” he said.


What are 3 ways you can reduce your carbon footprint at home?

“Realizing the environmental benefits of remote work requires careful configurations of lifestyle, home and office, and coordinated sustainable practices and incentives across individuals, companies, and policymakers,” the authors wrote in the study.

Here are three ways to reduce your carbon footprint in your home office, per clean energy transition company Constellation:

  1. Replace incandescent light bulbs with LED lamps, which use 85% less energy.

  2. Set the thermostat two degrees lower in winter and two degrees higher in summer.

  3. Turn off lights and unplug electronics when they’re not in use.

Joe O’Conner, director and co-founder of the Work Time Reduction Center of Excellence, told The Washington Post that the new study rounds out the idea that our individual choices can maximize work-from-home benefits.

“This study really emphasizes the importance of lifestyle and the choices that we make ... when we’re working remotely as being really key to realizing the kinds of potential benefits that can be unlocked,” O’Connor said.

Fengqi You, a co-author of the study, agrees with the sentiment but added that things are expected to change as more electric cars become available and innovations to better emissions.

“This is a study for now,” he told the Post.