How Telecommuters Reduce Air Pollution

green business, telecommuters

Telecommuting can be traced to as far back as the 1970s, however, technological advancements have allowed for an increased volume of people to do remote work from the comfort of their homes. Remote work has a number of perks and certain cons for both employees and companies. One of the major perks is its environmental benefit which includes greatly reducing air pollution. There are other practical benefits ranging from productivity to childcare, however, the benefits are apparent in local air pollution and public health.

Top global concerns of environmental pollution include greenhouse gas emissions, paper, and plastic waste, fossil fuel reliance and of course, air pollution. Furthermore, all of these concerns see a significant contribution due to daily transportation and business activities. Therefore, leaders and concerned citizens have been working on ways to reasonably reduce the negative impacts that are linked to office work and transport.

The main idea involves the removal of cars from the road and planes from the sky by allowing employees the chance to work remotely. The general consensus is that employees who telecommute consume less energy, drive less as well as create less office-related waste.

While this might actually sound like a great idea, there is a big question that requires answering.

Does Telecommuting Actually Reduce Air Pollution?

Susan Millerick of Aetna reported to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) that in 2014, telecommuting reduced Aetna’s carbon dioxide emissions by 46,700 metric tons. Millerick also stated that telecommuting helped Aetna, which was one of the top telecommuting companies for 2018, reduce its driving by 127 million miles and therefore consumption of petrol by 5.3 million gallons. The reduction of vehicle miles helps to improve general air quality since fewer pollutants are being released into the environment.

Ways by Which Telecommuting Reduces Air Pollution

Telecommuters & Carbon Emissions

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) estimates that an average car emits an approximate figure of 4.7 metric tons of carbon dioxide each year under the assumption that each vehicle averages 11,400 miles per year. Furthermore, assuming that the average worker commutes at least 30 miles each day for work which totals 7,839 miles per year, a single telecommuter can reduce the emission of carbon by up to 69% or 3.2 metric tons of carbon dioxide every year.

This sums up to an excess of 79 million metric tons of carbon emissions every year. The USEPA further went on to estimate that saving such amount of emissions is are the equivalent of:

  • Planting over two billion trees per year
  • Providing electricity to over 11.8 million homes per year
  • Recycling over 27.5 million tons of waste per year
  • Powering over 20,000 wind turbines per year
  • Providing energy to over 8.5 million homes per year

This is therefore indicative of the fact that eliminating the single act of driving to and from work can effectively reduce the nation’s contributions to overall carbon emissions. This also increases further if business trips abroad can be reduced as an average transatlantic flight emits 986 kg of CO2 (London to Los Angeles)

Telecommuters & Fossil Fuels

Combustion of fossil fuel is the main source of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. Fossil fuels are burned for the provision of heat, electricity, and transportation. As a matter of fact, up to 63% of the electricity generated in the U.S. stems from fossil fuels. Therefore, reduction in the overall energy consumption as a result of telecommuters working from home would effectively reduce the demand for fossil fuel.

In addition, 90% of transportation fuel is obtained from petroleum products. Therefore, telecommuters decrease fossil fuel consumption by eliminating the need to drive to and from work.

Telecommuters & Oxide Emissions

Aside from carbon, driving results in the production of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), nitrous oxides (NOX) and particulate matter (PM). These pollutants have negative effects on both human health and the environment.

For instance, exposure to nitrogen dioxide (NO2) can result in respiratory problems such as asthma or other infections. Similarly, when nitrogen oxides react with ammonia, VOCs and other similar compounds, the products of these reactions can alter soil and water acidity, ozone concentration as well as ecosystem diversity.

Statistics show that of the total amount of NOX emissions, highway vehicles contribute 34.8%, they also contribute 13.1% of total VOC emissions and 10.9% of total particulate matter (PM10).

Cutting back on the total number of cars on the road daily would therefore significantly reduce general air pollution as well as other negative human health and environmental impacts.

Telecommuters & Plastic & Paper

To date, the world production of plastics is around nine billion tons. The USEPA estimates that 75.5% of generated plastic waste goes to landfill, and contributes about 18.5% to overall landfill waste.

Recycling only affects about 9.5% and the rest is combusted. Although telecommuters may also visit local eateries and coffee shops, most remote workers stay at home. They have the convenience of reusing cups and plates etc. Therefore, by using less disposable utensils, plates and cups, telecommuters effectively reduce plastic use and consequently, reduce air pollution.

Also, in place of excessive paperwork, telecommuters mainly work online. They make use of different software for various aspects of their jobs such as the creation of invoices and other similar tasks.

This way, paper and plastic use is reduced and in turn, air pollution.