Over the past year, it is undeniable that there have been some significant environmental benefits borne out of the international lockdown measures. Significant reductions in air travel and general energy consumption have had a huge impact on carbon emissions, as has compliance here in the UK with the Governments ‘work from home wherever possible’ policy, meaning organisations and individuals have contributed considerably too.
However, as life begins to return to normal and many organisations utilise a mix of employees WFH on a fulltime or hybrid basis, many of these environmental gains will be reversed but they do not have to return to pre pandemic levels. There is a once in a lifetime opportunity to reset our day-to-day working impact on the environment but to do so, organisations and employees need to understand what their historically environmental impact was and where it can be moving forward.
For some organisations there are understandably other far more significant contributing factors such as manufacturing processes, travel or freight requirements but the specific environmental impact associated with employees affects all organisations of all sizes and in all sectors and is perhaps more relatable.
Understanding the potential positive environmental impact that a WFH policy can bring, could have tangible benefits to most organisations but is establishing it worth the effort?
Is it worth Knowing Your WFH Environmental Impact?
When adopting a WFH policy, it is reasonable to assume that there are positive environmental gains to be had due to lower volumes of employee commutes but unless time is given to establishing what these benefits are, it is likely that the impact will be deemed too small to make a difference and so just ignored.
The size of impact an organisation and its employees have on the environment through its energy consumption associated with commuting or running the office, will be determined by its size, nature of its business and demographics but whether the organisation employs 2, 20 or 200+ people, every little bit of CO2 reduction counts towards the bigger picture.
As such, the act of ignoring these benefits could be a major business error as any environmental improvement through WFH should be celebrated and used as a real business credential.
So how does an organisation go about establishing its WFH environmental credentials?
WFH Environmental Fact: 5,418 young trees would need planting every single year by a typical organisation with 20 employees working in a conventional office environment just to offset their 32 tons of CO2 emissions.
The impact of some or all employees WFH fulltime or hybrid can therefore have a significant environmental impact.
How to Establish Your WFH Environmental Credentials
For large organisations of 250+ employees, the Government introduced a scheme back in 2014 to help with the understanding and management of energy consumption within business, namely the Energy Savings Opportunity Scheme (ESOS). By understanding an organisations consumption points, recommending changes and implementing solutions, the intent of this mandatory scheme was ultimately to improve energy efficiencies and reduce consumption.
Over recent years, there has been much debate as to whether an ESOS style approach should be applied to the SME market which makes up 99% of all UK businesses, an approach that based on scale alone, would seem logical. Implementing such a scheme on a hugely diverse business landscape would clearly be a challenge but with the pandemic period having emphasised the day-to-day benefits of cleaner air on the environment and people’s health, it is conceivable that a desire to understand the consumption levels and recommended changes for all sized business may well be an environmental process that may ultimately be officially proposed.
Whether it is made mandatory or not for SME’s, the reality is that there are only positives to be gained from implementing such a review and there probably could not be a better time to undertake one than now as plans are put in place to transition employees to a hybrid or fulltime WFH practice. It does not have to be onerous or complicated and dependant on the size and complexity of the organisations structure, could take the form of a simple audit of working practices and those of the employees. This could include the undertaking of a:
Employer Audit - To identify energy consumption within the new working set up, where the conventional 9 to 5, five day a week office structure is no longer the norm. Because it is unlikely that consumptions would have been audited previously, these figures could then be extrapolated to establish an indicative idea of consumption levels pre-pandemic, thus forming a benchmark. Reasonable assumptions can then be made to identify the overall impact that a WFH plan would have based on reductions in office heating, lighting, IT equipment and water consumption requirements.
Employee Audit - In much the same way as the employer audit, organisations could empower employees to conduct energy audits themselves within their personal WFH zone by providing them with templates and guidance on how to map their energy consumption on aspects like: - Lighting - Heating and air conditioning - IT and other office equipment - Commuting to and from the office - Travelling to and from suppliers and clients It is worth repeating that as a one-off, individual’s energy consumption levels may appear small but when multiplied by the number of employees WFH on a set number of days per week, it forms a vital part of the equation.
What to do with the Audit Results - It is reasonable to assume that even when taking into consideration seasonal adjustments for increased heating and lighting of the WFH zone during winter, the difference between the ‘benchmark’ and the new WFH policy will highlight significantly reduced consumption levels. Assuming this is so, the next actions should be to:
Shout about it! As the organisation’s environmental savings and green credentials can now be substantiated, then display it on your website, on your marketing material, tell your clients (they will want to know) and announce it to your prospective clients and future employees (they will also want to know)
Make recommendations within the organisation and to employees WFH as to what changes could be made to reduce energy consumption or Co2 emissions even more. Aspects to consider could include: - Installing utility smart meters - Changing energy supplier or tariff to a cleaner greener renewable offering - Installing energy efficiency measures to reduce heating and air conditioning needs - Improving insulation - Repositioning of furniture to maximise heat radiance - Setting individual room thermostats correctly - Maximising ingress of natural light - Fitting motion sensor light switches and timers - Fitting energy efficient lamps and dimmer switches - Regularly checking and maintaining air conditioning units to ensure maximum airflow - Ensuring computer monitors and pc’s are turned off at the very least each night - Optimising monitor brightness - Ensuring printers and copiers are turn off at night - Ensuring microwaves, kettles, vending and coffee machines are turned off at night - Ensuring dishwashers are fully but correctly loaded and the right cycle selected - Not overfilling kettles (only what is needed) - Ensuring fridges are maintained and set efficiently or replaced with a top energy-rated model
This article has focused primarily on the energy aspect of the environmental impact of WFH but in addition to this, a similar but equally as important audit could be undertaken to establish the impact of consumption and waste reduction associated to WFH. This would include aspects such as reductions in the use and disposal of office stationery items, packaging (food wrappers etc) and water.
It is also worth remembering that as highlighted in previous articles, there is opportunity for organisations to make considerable savings by adopting a WFH policy and so reinvesting a fraction of these savings to enhance its environmental credentials could have real added value to the process.
In summary, if there has been one positive to come out of the last year, it has been the realisation of how much better things can be from an environmental perspective, if nothing other than just the cleaner air we breathe. The adoption of WFH policies by organisations of all sizes and the identification of their past and future carbon impact, can have far significant reaching benefits for all.
The WFH Zone is the UK’s first online portal designed to assist organisations and individuals in the process of setting up to work from home (WFH) on a full time or hybrid basis, in the most cost effective and ethical way. Our service helps employers and employees find quality suppliers of a range of Services and Products specifically associated with a work from home zone.