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Is Remote Work Better for the Planet? 6 Ways to Work from Home Sustainably

Here's exactly how to work from home sustainably, from energy use to waste.

Written by
Jane Smart

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, many individuals who previously worked in offices have been given the opportunity to permanently work from home. And, when done right, remote working can be great for the planet.

Is Remote Work Better for the Environment?

We first saw the positive effects of millions of people staying at home in a study published in the journal Nature. The researchers said government policies during the pandemic altered patterns of energy demand around the world, as "many international borders were closed and populations were confined to their homes, which reduced transport and changed consumption patterns."

That led to a 17% decrease in global CO2 emissions by April 2020 compared with the mean 2019 levels. Some countries decreased as much as 26%. But according to Global Carbon Project, global CO2 emissions have since nearly returned to pre-pandemic levels as much of the world has returned to pre-pandemic activities—including heading back to the office.

With that being said, if you're able to continue working from home, there are many ways you can make a difference. Without a daily commute, you're helping reduce CO2 emissions. And by slightly tweaking some of your other habits—such as being mindful of your energy and water usage and reducing your waste—you can make WFH life even more sustainable.

How to Work from Home Sustainably

1. Use What You Already Have

This may sound super simple in terms of working from home, but using any old office supplies you already have laying around before buying new will benefit your wallet and the planet.

Before going on a Target run for new items, take a look around your house or apartment. Maybe you'll find something you had on your list, be it highlighters, pens, sticky notes, planners, or folders. You'll likely be surprised by what's already tucked away in your home.

2. Make Your Own Coffee and Food

One major perk to working from home is being able to cook all your meals—and be your own barista—opposed to ordering takeout from a café or restaurant. Doing so not only reduces waste but also emissions from driving back and forth.

Put together a grocery list at the beginning of the week so you're able to buy all the ingredients you'll need. You can even start with these lunch ideas, which include flavorful sandwiches, Mason jar salads, wraps, and more.

3. Start Composting

Now that you've started making meals from home to save money and minimize disposable packaging waste, it's probably time to invest in a countertop compost bin. There's a wide range of sizes and types to choose from depending on your needs, from a small and affordable bin to the pricey (but impressive!) Lomi electric composter.

By adding your food scraps to a compost bin rather than the trash, you're keeping food waste out of landfills, where it sits and releases greenhouse gas emissions. Considering a whopping 70 billion pounds of food waste enters landfills every year, every bit helps.

4. Adjust Your Thermostat or Air Conditioner

Unless you're dealing with a heat wave, consider combatting excessive energy usage by relying on light layers and fans on hot days, and some extra layers or a wearable blanket on chillier days.

For example, running a fan is a more energy-efficient way to beat the heat than using an air conditioner. It doesn't have to be an everyday thing; even a few days a week can make a difference (and reduce your electric bill).

5. Unplug Anything You're Not Using

It's totally normal to forget we have tons of cords and devices plugged in. Just take a quick look around your space. Working from home can require a lot of technology.

The solution to excess energy consumption could be as simple as unplugging anything that's not being used. Plus, it's a great way to find work-life balance: At the end of the day, truly unplugging can benefit both your mental health and the planet.

6. Maximize Your Natural Light

When you are home, it's probably second nature to turn on the lights while you're working. But before doing so, open the blinds and let the sun's natural light in. Aside from giving you a natural mood boost, using the sun as your light source whenever possible is a great way to save electricity.