While the benefits of hybrid working on employee productivity and mental health have been well explored, the question of how this model will affect carbon emissions still remains relatively unanswered. But working-near-home by its very name suggests less travel time, and thus lower emissions - so how could a hub and spoke system help us achieve net zero by 2030?
How bad is commuting for the planet?
Short answer - pretty bad. A 2021 report by the CBI and KPMG estimated that transport accounts for a third of the UK’s total emissions, with 20% of all distances travelled in the country before the pandemic being part of a commute. The start of the pandemic saw a dramatic drop in emissions, with the greatest decline (around 40%) being in the transport sector.
While we can’t expect these pandemic lows to continue at a sustainable rate, a shift in the way we work could be the simple solution to our high transport emissions.
How a hybrid model could help
A study by Fast Company found that switching to a four day office-based week could cut commuting emissions by 20%. While the report was also advocating for the mental health and productivity benefits of lowering working hours (something that has had a lot of focus recently), the findings are still extremely relevant to today’s topic. Getting out of the office for at least one day a week could mean working-from-home, or working-near-home in a serviced space within walking/cycling distance.
Even more convincing data from IEA has supported adding variety to our traditional centralised offices. The report, which was published in June 2020, reads;
"By analysing commuter trends and labour market data, we found that if everybody able to work from home worldwide were to do so for just one day a week, it would save around 1% of global oil consumption for road passenger transport per year. Taking into account the increase this would bring in energy use by households, the overall impact on global CO2 emissions would be an annual decline of 24 million tonnes (Mt) – equivalent to the bulk of Greater London’s annual CO2 emissions."
But only when done correctly
As with anything, there are always two sides to the story. Findings from Vodafone and the Carbon Trust urged employers to be careful when implementing hybrid working for sustainability reasons. "In a worst-case scenario, this split could result in consuming more energy and emitting more emissions as both homes and offices are fully operating to enable teleworkers and office workers to do their jobs," the study said. If reducing carbon emissions is a key goal for your company you might consider a hybrid policy where employees are all using the head office on the same day, so as to minimise energy output on those days when your staff are working remotely. Encouraging the use of ‘third workspaces’ as opposed to the home could be the answer to this problem - serviced office spaces tend to be open five days a week, 9-to-5 anyway and house people from multiple companies at once. Such a split would mean your employees’ homes don’t have to overcompensate in their energy usage.