Work From Home Model Cannot Protect The Environment; Energy Usage Is Actually Increasing!

Work From Home Model Cannot Protect The Environment; Energy Usage Is Actually Increasing!
Work From Home Model Cannot Protect The Environment; Energy Usage Is Actually Increasing!

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused nation-wide lockdowns all over the world. The resultant lockdowns have forced the students to study from home via online classes and adults to Work From Home (WFH). 

Many companies like TCS, realising the benefits of WFH strategies have set out to change their company policies and adopt a new work model.

According to a new study by energy policy researchers in the UK might not be as beneficial to the planet as many hope it to be.

Read to find out more…

Is Energy Getting Saved Now That We Are Working From Home?

According to a study by researchers at the Centre for Research into Energy Demand Solutions (CREDS), a UK-based research centre, which tracks changes in energy demand the lockdowns to curb the spread of the virus and the population forced to work-from-home, the commuter travel and related energy use has come down by as much as 80% in many places. 

CREDS has a team of nearly 100 academics at 15 academic institutions, including the Universities of Oxford, Sussex and Manchester. 

However, their study, quoting a small number of studies, found that telecommuting like video conferences, video chatting, voice calls among others has increased energy use or has had a negligible impact. This is so as the energy savings were offset by increased travel for recreation or other purposes, together with additional energy use in the home.

The paper, published in Environmental Research Letters, provides a systematic review of current knowledge of the energy impacts of teleworking, synthesising the results of 39 empirical studies from the US, Europe, Thailand, Malaysia and Iran published between 1995 and 2019.

The mass migration of workers to home working might have only a small impact on overall energy usage. One study noted that even if all US information workers telework for 4 days a week, the drop in national energy consumption would be significantly less effective than a 20% improvement in car fuel efficiency.

What Are the Experts’ Views On This Matter?

Andrew Hook, Lecturer in Human Geography at the University of Sussex, in a statement said, “While most studies conclude that teleworking can contribute energy savings, the more rigorous studies, and those with a broader scope, present more ambiguous findings. Where studies include additional impacts, such as non-work travel or office and home energy use, the potential energy savings appear more limited – with some studies suggesting that, in the context of growing distances between the workplace and home, part-week teleworking could lead to a net increase in energy consumption.” 

Steven Sorrell, Professor of Energy Policy at the Science Policy Research Unit, University of Sussex said, “While the lockdown has clearly reduced energy consumption, only some of those savings will be achieved in more normal patterns of teleworking. To assess whether teleworking is really sustainable, we need to look beyond the direct impact on commuting and investigate how it changes a whole range of daily activities.” 

The authors of the paper added that the redefined work patterns are becoming increasingly complex, diversified and personalised. This makes it harder to track whether teleworking is definitively contributing to energy savings. 

According to the authors, some of the potential energy increases from WFH practices include:

  1. Teleworkers living further away from their place of work make longer commutes on days they worked in the office. One study found UK teleworkers have a nearly 17 km longer commute than those who travelled to work every day.
  2. The time gained from not participating in daily commutes was used by teleworkers to make additional journeys for leisure and social purposes.
  3. Teleworking households spent money saved from the daily commute, on goods, activities and services, also requiring energy and producing emissions.
  4. Isolated and sedentary teleworkers took on more journeys to combat negative feelings.
  5. Other household members made trips in cars freed up from the daily commute.

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