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Want to Save the Earth? Become a Telecommuter

Topics: Career Advice
If your dream is to leave office life behind and work from home, you can feel good about the fact that achieving your goal might also help the planet. That’s right: telecommuting might help save the earth, as well as cutting down on your commute. In fact, cutting down on your commute is one reason why working from home helps the environment.
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“Transportation, which includes vehicles used commuting to and from work, is the second-largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,” writes Brie Weiler Reynolds, Senior Career Specialist at FlexJobs. “Twenty-six percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States in 2014 came from transportation.”

FlexJobs recently teamed up with Global Workplace Analytics to analyze the environmental impact of telecommuting. Their research found that by working from home just 2.5 days per week, telecommuters save:

Annual Environmental Impact:

  • Vehicle Miles Not Traveled (VMnT): 7.8 billion
  • Vehicle Trips Avoided: 529.8 million
  • Greenhouse Gases Savings: Gas Method (metric tons/year): 3.6 million
  • GhG Savings: EPA Gas/VMT Method (tonnes/yr): 3.4 million
  • Total Air Quality Savings (lbs. per year): 83 million

Carbon Savings Equivalents:

  • Tanker Trucks of Gasoline: 46,658
  • Homes Powered by Electricity for a Year: 538,361
  • Tree Seedlings Needed to Offset (grown over 10 years): 91.9 million
  • Value of Oil Saved ($): $2 billion

To Really Make a Difference, Watch Out for Telecommuting Traps

If you drive to work every day, and live some distance from the office, working from home is a definite win for the environment. But if you commute by bus or train, your energy expenditures are less — and you’ll have to be more careful with your energy use to make a real difference.

At Slate, Brian Palmer notes that running your heat or AC at home uses more power per person than maintaining climate control — however poorly — for an office full of people.

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“These inefficiencies can significantly reduce the carbon savings of working in your pajamas, according to a 2005 study by Erasmia Kitou and Arpad Horvath at University of California-Berkeley,” he writes. “On cold days, an office produces 1.3 pounds of CO2 keeping each worker warm, compared with 11.9 pounds for the average telecommuter. That means [a typical worker’s] furnace will give back 10.6 of the 20.9 pounds of carbon he saves by leaving his car in the garage.”

And then he points out the other ways in which we use energy when we work at home — trips to the grocery story, sneaking in some TV here or there, and so on.

That doesn’t mean that telecommuting won’t help save the earth, of course. It just means that if part of your motivation for working at home is to help the environment, you’ll also need to be conscious of the ways in which you might still waste energy. So: work from home, but also reduce your use of your car, run your AC at 78 degrees instead of 72, get a programmable thermostat, and so on. Every little bit helps.

Tell Us What You Think

Do you telecommute in part to help the planet? We want to hear from you. Tell us about your experience in the comments or join the conversation on Twitter.

Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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