Work from home and save the planet. It seems reasonable: if you don’t have to travel to work there are fewer cars pumping out greenhouse gases. Homeworking can indeed be good for the environment, according to a report from a team at Oxford University – but only if it is done in “a planned and managed way”.
The report, sponsored by BT Conferencing and Giritech, a Danish company specialising in security systems for remote working, concludes that teleworking can significantly reduce road traffic. But it also warns that the government and companies need to promote changes in the way people use technology if the green advantages of teleworking are to be realised.
“The indications are that the energy savings from travel will outweigh the additional energy used as a result of the extra hours spent working at home,” says the report, published last week.
Says David Banister, professor of transport studies at Oxford’s Centre for the Environment and one of the authors of the report: “There is a massive appetite for home and remote working: 65% of people asked said that they would work from home if they could.”
The report highlights the pros and cons of working from home, and finds, for example, that while teleworking eradicates energy used on journeys, the extra heating and lighting needed at home wipes out 80% of the savings.
According to Aaron McCormack, CEO of BT Conferencing, the report demonstrates a need for smarter thinking: “There is a need for people to think innovatively and how they use technology to run their businesses more efficiently.”
The report, published to coincide with last Friday’s National Work from Home Day, was backed by the TUC and the CBI as well as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth.
But many are still doubtful about the benefits.
There is a perceived fear, for example, that teleworking can be done more cheaply by outsourcing the functions to lower-cost economies such as India, while others point out that there is an additional environmental issue.
“The more that people work from home, the more computers there will be,” says Jon Godfrey of Lifecycle Services, which specialises in recycling old machines. Meanwhile, increasingly powerful computers demand increasingly hungry power supply units, says Godfrey.
“Computers used to have 250W power supplies. Now modern computers have 500W power supplies. They also have items like servers and routers which are left permanently on.
“This is the kind of problem the research is designed to air, says Aamir Butt of Giritech.
“The purpose of the research is to find out what problems technology is creating for the environment and getting people to think about ways of solving them,” said Butt.
First appeared 24th of May, 2007 in The Guardian