Those who work remotely aren’t just saving time and money; they may also be saving the environment.
That’s especially true for those who live in rural areas and commute long distances every day, but even those who travel shorter distances to work can help reduce congestion, infrastructure degradation and road accidents by working remotely.
“From the environmental perspective, it's tough to argue,” said Wayne Berger, the CEO of IWG Canada and Latin America, the parent company of remote office space provider Regus. “If you can help people eliminate two hours a day in a commute alone in their car, the quality of their life increases, they have more time with their friends and family, they get more opportunity to be productive, they balance their schedule differently, and it does reduce CO2 emissions.”
According to a recent study by IWG, each of the company’s flexible workspaces can reduce commuting times in Canada by 9,348 hours, and reduce CO2 emissions by 168 metric tons. That’s equivalent to the amount of emissions produced by 40 houses in an average year. Other research by IWG found that as of 2017, 47 per cent of Canadians work outside their company’s main offices for half the week or more, and 11 per cent of Canadian employees work remotely every day.
“There are great social benefits, there are great family benefits, there are great local economy benefits – because people will invest more in local services and amenities – and then there’s the environmental benefits,” Mr. Berger said.
The extent to which commuters and the environment see these benefits, however, ranges significantly between rural and urban workers. Research has found that the environmental impact of working remotely, as well as the benefit to local economies, is far greater for those that would otherwise commute from rural to urban areas. Even if they spend the same amount of time getting to work, those travelling longer distances are responsible for more vehicle emissions than those spending an equivalent time in traffic.
Economists at the Regional & Rural Broadband Project at the University of Guelph found that remote workers in rural parts of Southwestern Ontario stand to save between $9,000 and $24,000 per year on car expenses by working from home. In a separate study of the Halton region, the organization also found that each remote worker reduce carbon emissions by 2,732 kilograms per year, equivalent to roughly 64 per cent of an average home’s annual energy consumption.
“If you look at that number for one telecommuter, it doesn't seem like a huge deal, but when you scale it up to the number of people who live in Ontario, or the number of people who telecommute in Canada, it starts to look pretty appealing,” said David Worden, an economist for the Regional and Rural Broadband Project.
Mr. Worden adds that it’s not just about taking cars off the road, either. “Road depreciation, infrastructure wear, congestion, road accidents, all those factors; the arguments for the environmental benefits for telecommuting are definitely significant. “
The benefits are much less significant, however, for those based in urban areas. According to a study conducted by researchers at L'Université du Québec à Montréal, or UQAM, many Canadians who work from home are still on the road during peak traffic hours, and only spend an average of 14 minutes less behind the wheel each day.
“There were probably a bunch of reasons why people are still travelling during congested periods, even though they're not going to their workplace,” said Ugo Lachapelle, one of the study’s authors and a professor of urban studies, planning and transportation at UQAM. “For example, driving kids to school, or going to a meeting, or going to do some sort of an errand at a bank or a store, you can still be travelling during the congestion period.”
According to Mr. Lachapelle those who commute to and from work each day often take care of personal errands on the way, and those who work remotely often have similar responsibilities.
“What our results suggest is that [working remotely] will reduce [emissions], but not necessarily by exactly your home-to-work distance,” he said. “That’s because you are likely to conduct all sorts of other activities, and they can’t be combined with your errands on your way back from work.”
Though the study only considered the average Canadian’s daily travel, however, Mr. Lachapelle says that those who commute from rural areas are able to cut down on travel time by conducting those errands locally. Doing so also goes a long way in supporting local businesses.
Even for Canadians in major cities, however, those 14 minutes can make a significant impact when multiplied by the country’s vast and growing remote working population.
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