Is working from home better for the environment than working in the office? Although remote work from the convenience of your own home has clear benefits such as avoidance of daily commute or dropping unnecessary face-to-face meetings, it’s not that straightforward when it comes to overall sustainability.
Working from home can for sure be environmentally sustainable but it would depend on several factors. One of them is your energy consumption habits and that would vary from household to household but would also differ in different parts of the world. In countries with cold winters, for instance, you would have to consume energy to heat your house (or at least your workspace). On the other hand, in countries that experience uncomfortably high temperatures, you would most probably have to use air conditioning or other cooling units to maintain an ideal working temperature. That being said, the ideal temperature is a subjective term and unlike working from office where the temperature has to be regulated working from home allows you to decide on whether to turn the heating or air conditioning on or keep it off.
The next big determinant of your home office sustainability status are types of energy sources you rely on. While renewable energy sources (solar, hydropower, biomass, geothermal, or wind) would make your work from home super “green”, traditional non-renewable energy sources such as oil, coal, and gas would be a pretty big bump on your way to turn your home office into an eco-heaven.
Other factors that determine your home office sustainability include your water consumption, the type of lighting you use and how your building operates in general. In addition, some researchers argue that avoidance of daily commute to/from office doesn’t necessarily translate into lower carbon emissions. A 2019 University of San Francisco study reported that significantly fewer work trips were made post-pandemic, but that these trips were replaced with an increase of 26% in personal trips. These trips were mostly social and recreational, and the researchers noted that they would not have been taken if the employees were working at the office. So, plan your personal trips carefully and responsibly.
Apart from major aforementioned factors, is there anything else you could do to make your work from home more sustainable?
Make your coffee at home or use reusable coffee cups
Brewing coffee at home helps you save more time, money, and energy. In addition, it allows you to avoid single-use coffee cups and select premium materials like organic and fair-trade coffee beans, organic milk, and reusable coffee filters. To make your coffee addiction zero-waste, you can start composting your coffee grounds.
In terms of money saving, everything speaks in favor of coffee made at home - while you would pay around $4-5 for a cup of takeaway coffee in Australia, home-brewed coffee would cost you only 15-20 cents per cup. Takeaway coffee fix might cost you even more in the near future as raw material costs are expected to skyrocket. David Parnham, the president of the Café Owners and Baristas Association of Australia estimated in early 2022 that a regular cup of coffee would cost as much as $7 by the year-end.
Sometimes we do need a change of pace though. If you truly want to get out and enjoy some fresh air along with your coffee, make sure you bring along a reusable mug.
And what about tea? It comes in a compostable tea bag, so it's safe, right? Well, not exactly. Some manufacturers infuse a plastic material into the tea bag so it can be heat sealed. Scientists confirmed that an alarming 11.6 billion microplastics and 3.1 billion nanoplastics are released from just one tea bag steeped at 95°C. That alone is enough reason to brew your tea at home. Use loose-leaf tea and a chic teapot for a calming and genuinely healthy experience.
Cook at home instead of takeaway
Cooking at home is more sustainable because you're avoiding single-use containers, takeout bags, and plastic utensils. Though many takeout packages use seemingly harmless materials like paper, wood, aluminum, and bioplastics, in reality - when taking their whole lifecycle into consideration - their usage lead to some devastating environmental impacts.
For example, compostable takeout containers and utensils are believed to be the go-to “green” alternative to their single-use plastic counterparts. In reality, they might score better only when they can be properly composted - if ending up in landfills or incinerators they create an overall higher Global Warming Potential. The problem is made worse because, even when these products are composted, the bioplastics have much higher impacts on acidification, water use, ozone depletion and toxicity.
Compostables also contribute to the emission of greenhouse gases. This is because emissions are released into the atmosphere as these plastics are being produced. Indeed, growing crops like corn and starch to create bioplastics require burning significant amounts of fossil fuels. Growing these crops for biomaterials also contaminates soil with pesticides and can cause an overloading of nutrients in waterways (leading to the creation of so-called ‘dead zones’ through the process of eutrophication).
Use TerraCycle Zero Waste Boxes to recycle difficult waste
TerraCycle is a company that is committed to finding the best way to recycle various materials. Their research and development team are made up of scientists and specialists who analyse materials and identify the best way to recycle them.
Their Zero Waste Boxes let you segregate mindfully and ensure that your waste is recycled properly. You can choose from a variety of different box types depending on the kind of waste you normally produce in your household, workplace, or elsewhere. They recycle a variety of products ranging from medical waste to coffee capsules to coloured markers.
The collected waste is manually separated into plastics, fibers, metals, and fabrics. All this waste undergoes processes that help turn them into reusable materials. TerraCycle completes the process in four easy steps – choose, collect, ship, and recycle.
By achieving zero waste solutions via TerraCycle, you can show your appreciation of the value of resources, energy, and workforce used in making products. You’ll be helping divert waste from incinerators and landfills, and even earn points. Your collected points will become a financial donation to the charity or school of your choice.
Store documents in the cloud using services like DocuSign
Signing documents is another thing that the pandemic has complicated. We used to sign contracts, invoices, and other paperwork without much of an afterthought. Nowadays, companies can use online documents signed electronically to replace printed documents.
Enter DocuSign - the company that lets you sign and store electronic documents safely. Signed documents are stored in your account and are encrypted so that you'd be able to trace if they had been tampered with. You will also be able to release payments in real-time after your document has been signed.
DocuSign is a leader in on-demand electronic signature solutions. The company announced recently in its commemoration of Earth Day that its award-winning e-Signature service has reduced paper consumption by 837 tons or approximately 14,230 trees.
DocuSign is free to use if you're signing, but you need to pay for a premium account. Despite the cost of an account, using an electronic document manager may be better for your company's wallet. In 2015, DocuSign estimated that each transaction saved around $36 in the costs of their materials. Their clients include large brands like Apple, Unilever, AstraZeneca, and Visa.
Compost food scraps
Setting up a worm farm in your own home may seem daunting, but it's easy and fulfilling in the long run. Remember that your worms will need warmth, air, moisture, food, and darkness to thrive. Feed them raw fruit and vegetable scraps but avoid citrus fruit peels to prevent fruit fly infestations. Remember that raw meat, dairy products, and cooked food don't make good compost material since they take too long to break down and may attract pests.
An alternative to worm compost bins is Bokashi Bins, which are terrific tools that turn your kitchen waste into compost in a matter of 6 weeks. With Bokashi you would need to use a special Bokashi Mix that would allow your food scraps to break down faster and make it odour-less. Visit the Compost Revolution website where you can learn more about different compost options and get some amazing discounts directly from your councils for composting-related products.
Use reusable garbage bags
As during your office hours, you would undoubtedly generate some waste, its time to think what it goes into. At TOMbag, we believe that single-use garbage bags are no better than single-use plastic shopping bags that you most probably already ditched. The life without single-use waste bags may be hard for some people to imagine, but it has to be the norm for our environment to thrive.
TOMbag reusable garbage bags can be used for any kind of waste at your sustainable home office - general waste, recyclables including paper and plastic, and even compost. All our products are fully circular - made from post-consumer waste using certified recycled plastic, they can be fully upcycled at the end of their life. According to principles of circularity, they are also super durable and are made to last.
Worried about cleaning them? You don’t need to be. Your TOMbag cleans very easily - you can just wipe it down or machine wash for a thorough rinse. Most importantly, TOMbags are completely waterproof. This makes them so much more superior to thin, leaky plastic waste bags.