The COVID-19 pandemic forced many industries to switch to remote or hybrid work. Now that the risk seems to be at least temporarily dispelled, it is time to reflect: did the fact that millions of people stayed at home have a real impact on the environment?

Cleaner air, less plastic

Lower mobility of populations under lockdown restrictions has translated into a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Nitrogen dioxide levels, responsible for the increased incidence of respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, have also decreased.
Lockdown has brought about very interesting effects, such as people’s increased sensitivity to global threats in general, including climate change. During the pandemic, more people began to declare a reduction in the use of disposable plastic packaging.

Lower energy consumption? Not really

Closing down businesses means a drastic reduction in their electricity consumption. However, at home, energy is also necessary. Figures from the US show that during the pandemic, a typical household paid about $10 more per month for electricity, due to computers running, lights on, increased use of microwaves or coffee machines.
People who share one lamp or one air conditioner in one office have moved to homes, where everyone switches on their appliances separately, thereby leading to an overall increase in electricity consumption of 10 to even 30%.

Lower energy consumption? Not reallySo is working from home better or worse for the climate than working on-site? The answer is: it depends what we look at. Moreover, for the effects achieved to be sustained, for example in reducing greenhouse gases, remote working would have to start playing a much greater role in society than it does today.

Marta Nowak

+Reference list:
T. Amnuaylojaroen, N. Parasin. The Association Between COVID-19, Air Pollution, and Climate Change. “Frontiers in Public Health”, 2021, 9, art. 662499.
H. Bowers. The hidden energy costs of working from home.
D. Crow, A. Millot. Working from home can save energy and reduce emissions. But how much?
C. Edmond. Working from home might not cut energy use as much as we’d hoped.
A. Miller. 6 Surprising Environmental Impacts of Remotely Working from Home.
X.P. Nguyen, A.T. Hoang, A.I. Ölçer, T.T. Huynh. Record decline in global CO2 emissions prompted by COVID-19 pandemic and its implications on future climate change policies. “Energy Sources, Part A: Recovery, Utilization, and Environmental Effects”, DOI: 10.1080/15567036.2021.1879969.