Many small businesses already participate in an easy and low-cost way to be environmentally friendlier: letting employees work from home – either every day or just on occasion. But how much of an impact does that really have?
You must account for several factors, but the heftiest savings comes from taking cars off the road. Let’s look at the numbers:
- The average U.S. commute is about 32 miles round-trip, according to a 2005 poll by ABC News, analyzed by Gary Langer. That’s about 7,840 miles per year, assuming an employee works five days a week, 49 weeks per year (with 3 weeks of vacation).
- If the employee drives a standard midsize vehicle — which typically emits around 0.9 pounds of carbon dioxide per mile — he or she would emit 29 pounds of carbon per day commuting, adding up to a commuting footprint of about 7,100 pounds of CO2 per year.
- Have five full-time employees? That’s nearly 35,500 pounds of CO2 emitted into the atmosphere each year – the equivalent of what an average American four-person household generates annually. (See CO2 emissions of various things here.)
However, the calculation isn’t quite so straightforward. When employees work from home, they generally use extra electricity and heating fuel to keep their home office lit and climate-controlled and to power their computers and other peripherals. (The extra emissions created by using a furnace to heat the home during the day, for instance, can nearly offset the CO2 savings from not commuting, a 2003 study found.) If you’re able to turn off the equipment and close the office because nobody’s there, however, the savings will be more significant.
Though the total green benefit may not be quite as powerful as it first seems, it can be quite impressive depending on the circumstances. And keep in mind there are other non-green benefits that come with telecommuting. For one, surveys repeatedly find that telecommuting make employees happier by providing them more work-life balance and less time on the road. Moreover, businesses can save money by reducing their operational costs. Studies have also shown telecommuting leads to higher employee productivity.
Do you or your employees often work from home? Do you think there’s a big environmental benefit?