Homeworking gives big carbon savings

20th May 2014

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Thomas Fischer

Increasing the number of staff working from home could save UK employers 3 million tonnes of CO2 and £3 billion in costs, according to the Carbon Trust

In its latest report, the trust argues that significant carbon savings could be made if more UK businesses and the public sector embraced homeworking.

It estimates that, while 40% of jobs could now be done from home as a result of technologies such as broadband internet and cloud computing, just 13% of the UK’s workforce does so, and only 35% of businesses have policies allowing homeworking.

The report calculates that allowing staff to work from home two days a week can save on average 440kg of carbon each year from their commute alone, and that further savings are available if firms take the opportunity to rationalise their office space.

Increasing desk utilisation from 65% to 80% in an air-conditioned office in London can save 700kg of CO2 a year and £195,000, estimates the trust.

However, the trust also warns that when calculating carbon savings firms must consider the increase in emissions generated by staff in their homes. On average, workers will generate an extra 180kg of CO2 through increased energy use, particularly heating, says the report.

It outlines the tipping points at which allowing staff to work from home two days a week generate sufficient carbon savings to outweigh any potential increases. Commutes by car need to be at greater than 4 miles each-way, while the distance by bus and train must be more than 7 miles and 16 miles respectively.

To increase the environmental benefits of homeworking and to make it a more attractive to employees, the trust suggest that employers follow the example of firms like Aviva and EDF Energy, which have both run programmes to encourage staff to improve the energy efficiency of their homes.

“In the right circumstances, homeworking has the potential to be expanded significantly and be a win-win for business and the environment,” commented Hugh Jones, managing director of advisory at the trust.

“But companies must be careful to ensure that they get the balance right, for if employers do not take account of their individual circumstances, a rebound effect, from employees heating inefficient homes, may actually lead to an increase in carbon emissions,” he warned.

The trust’s report includes case studies of homeworking programmes, including at Wokingham Borough Council, which has achieved a ratio of 1:4 employees per desk, enabling the council to release 14 offices, saving £270,000 a year, and cut commuting and business mileage by 10–15%.

The report includes top tips on building the business case for homeworking. These include:

  • gathering information on current rent and energy costs;
  • gathering data on staff commutes, including distance and mode of transport;
  • carrying out an occupancy survey to determine the number of unoccupied desks at different times during an average day; and
  • talk to the IT department about whether current security and file-sharing approaches could support homeworking.

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