I went out for a business meeting last week. Yes; that’s right. I went OUT for a business meeting last week; and boy did it feel good! The event took place in the coffee shop (outdoors) of a local garden centre; it was about an hour long, two cups of hot chocolate and a 15 minute drive there and back.
It sounds pretty routine, even hum-drum, but it was a truly seismic event, as the first time I’ve been to a business ‘meeting’ in 15 months without opening my laptop, clicking the link and then taking off ‘mute’. It was truly liberating to go out to work… but then my thoughts turned, naturally, to the petrol cost and consumption, the energy output of the coffee shop etc, etc… and I resolved that the remote way of working, to which we have all become used to and generally comfortable with, must be good for the planet.
Well it is, but that’s not the end of the story. UK companies have already realised just how big a chunk of their carbon footprint is made up of home working. Investment business Standard Life Aberdeen is already onto it, having reported that 55 per cent of their emissions come from their remote working employees, and now they are asking staff to monitor their carbon footprints to help the company meet its ambitious reduction targets, and build on the advantages which working from home bring.
When the United Nations produced its Development Programme back in 2015, adopted by 193 countries, it proposed 17 Goals, two of which are greatly assisted by the rapid growth in home working, which was not anticipated at the time.
Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable ad modern energy for all
This target aimed to double the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency, and working at home reduces the impact of commutes and can increase the efficiency of building energy. Employees are in control of their own heat and light usage and keep an eye on their own bills.
Take urgent action to combat climate change
By working at home as much as possible, not only do employees reduce the companies’ travel emissions, there is the added benefit that people can continue to work during adverse weather conditions, and so the well rehearsed radio message, during icy weather, which counsels us to ‘avoid travelling unless absolutely necessary’ makes more sense now.
Which is all good; but the explosion of remote offices and the likely shift to hybrid models of working has, rightly, turned the attention of Standard Life and others to the area where most of their footprint is generated. And while people who pay the bills will often have a close eye on their cost and consumption, it can’t always be the case when that priority fights for attention with the family or other householders!
But 55 per cent can’t be left unattended and there must be many cases where home energy efficiency lags behind the office; and so Standard Life is using anonymised data which aims to better understand its workers’ emissions. Employees are tracking their energy use through an app, which will measure their carbon footprint and help them to make positive changes.
Here in the UK we have a weather system which is designed to test our usage of energy. Remember lockdown 2020 when the biggest challenge was to stay inside and get some work done while our furloughed friends and family sparked up the barbeque? Well 12 months on we have just endured a May which was indistinguishable from February!
Home workers who usually retire the central heating after Easter, have been heating their offices for much of the day, even now as we approach June, so Standard Life has it right. We all need to be aware of our carbon footprint, not just as citizens but as workers too, and the first step is to measure what we use, understand the data and then make the most impactful changes.
We haven’t seen the end of coffee shop meetings, but the daily commute is fast becoming a chore of the past, and that sounds like a good balance to me.