Think Hybrid - Protect the Planet

It’s certainly not new news that the world is facing a climate crisis. And if we want to protect the planet and choose a greener future, the time to act is now. It’s going to take a group effort, with governments, businesses and individuals all on board to effect lasting change but, where to begin?

Looking at carbon emissions - these have been higher over the past 10 years than at any other time in history. To pull back to the levels of the Paris Climate Accords, the world needs to cut global emissions by 45% in the coming decade by substantially reducing fossil fuel use.

One seemingly straightforward way to do this is to embrace hybrid working and cut out the commute to work. According to modelling by the International Energy Agency, if everyone around the world worked from home just one day a week, the overall impact this would have on global CO2 emissions would be an annual decline of 24 million tonnes. A move in the right direction!

No commute = fewer emissions

Here in New Zealand, we love our cars. And we are used to jumping in them, often on our own, even to make the shortest of journeys. This mode of travel has typically been the preferred option over more eco-friendly approaches, such as carpooling, public transport, cycling or walking. However, the attitude is changing.

Increased fuel costs are making us think twice about getting behind the wheel. A growing population and more people in our cities also means there are now more vehicles on the road and peak hour traffic can be a nightmare. What used to be a relatively easy drive to work, for many, has turned into a long haul. Added to this, we have all had a taste of working from home through the pandemic, and not having to travel. So now we are less inclined to want to ‘waste’ hours in the car on a commute to and from work.

Indeed, a recent global study revealed that only one in five workers is now prepared to commute for more than 30 minutes. Many employees don’t want to go back to the office full-time, and many companies are settling into the concept of hybrid offices – which in terms of the environment, is not a bad thing.

Sustainability starts at home

There has been some debate over the fact that hybrid working has the potential to drive up carbon emissions via increased residential energy use.

The International Energy Agency took a close look at this too. And while it was determined that one day of working from home can increase household energy consumption by between 7% and 23% compared with a day working at the office, it was also established that with just one day a week of working from home during an average year, the overall energy saved from reduced commuting is around four times larger than the increase in residential energy consumption.

Something else that international studies have highlighted is that recycling increased over lockdown, which aligns with research that says employees tend to be more responsible about their waste management/waste disposing practices at home than they are at the office.

Those who work from home are also more likely to do away with excessive paper usage, relying on digital options instead. Reduced paper usage means fewer trees being felled, less environmental destruction and lower greenhouse emissions.

Finally, there’s the hot topic of single-use plastic. Picking up a coffee on the way to work, and buying a sandwich, salad or sushi pack for lunch is a fairly common practice amongst Kiwis. Unfortunately, many cafés and lunch bars still use single-use plastic cups and plastic-based wrapping for their food and beverages. Working from home would mostly involve using non-disposable cups, bowls and cutlery, and hence, less single-use plastic.

In conclusion, the benefits of hybrid working certainly stack up environmentally. It could even be considered an indirect form of climate action! Of course it’s not going to solve all the world’s problems on its own but, if the uptake is great enough, and if this ‘stay at home/cut the commute’ strategy is adopted alongside other eco-friendly measures, the future for our planet is looking up.