Study reveals remote work cuts carbon footprint by 54%

The study considered various factors overlooked in carbon footprint calculations, including home energy use, commute distance, transportation mode, device usage, household size, and office setup

Hybrid workers working remotely 2-4 days a week can reduce their carbon footprint by 11%-29%. (Photo: National Herald archives)
Hybrid workers working remotely 2-4 days a week can reduce their carbon footprint by 11%-29%. (Photo: National Herald archives)


Remote work can actually result in 54 per cent lower carbon footprint compared with onsite work, a new study has shown.

The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that hybrid workers who work from home two to four days per week can reduce their carbon footprint by 11 per cent to 29 per cent, but working from home one day per week is cutting carbon footprint by only 2 per cent.

The study, conducted by researchers at Cornell University and Microsoft, used survey data and modelling to incorporate factors sometimes overlooked when calculating carbon footprint, including residential energy use based on time-use allocation, non-commute distance and mode of transportation, communications device usage, number of household members and office configuration, such as seat sharing and building size.

“Remote work is not zero carbon, and the benefits of hybrid work are not perfectly linear,” said study senior author Fengqi You, a professor in energy systems engineering at Cornell.

The study found that seat sharing among hybrid workers under full-building attendance can reduce carbon footprint by 28 per cent. 

Hybrid workers tend to commute farther than onsite workers due to differences in housing choices.

According to the study, effects of remote and hybrid work on communications technologies such as computer, phone and internet usage have negligible impacts on overall carbon footprint.

“Remote and hybrid work shows great potential for reducing carbon footprint, but what behaviours should these companies and other policy makers be encouraged to maximise the benefits?” said Longqi Yang, principal applied research manager at Microsoft and corresponding author of the study.

“Globally, every person, every country and every sector has these kinds of opportunities with remote work. How could the combined benefits change the whole world? That's something we really want to advance our understanding of,” said Yanqiu Tao, the study’s first author.

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