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WFH: good for the planet as well as our purses

As we continue to get back to normal in this post-pandemic world, many of us have been pleased to welcome one big change which seems to have stuck: hybrid working. Thanks, in part, to North Yorkshire County Council’s broadband rollout, many of us have everything we need to do our job within the comfort of our own home.

With more people than ever now working from home, at least for part of the week, the time saved on the commute and the money saved on the petrol or train fare have been welcome, especially during this cost-of-living crisis. However, I’ve found myself wondering about the environmental cost of working from home. What’s the carbon footprint of all of these video calls, and what about the emails which seem to be coming thicker and faster every day?

According to carbon footprint specialist, Mike Burnes-Lee, a video call like Zoom, Teams or Facetime, generates 10 grams carbon dioxide equivalent (gCO2e) for an hour’s call, laptop to laptop or 50gCO2e per hour on a desktop computer and screen. But what does that actually mean?

As I usually work from home, I’ve done the maths on this one. Should I go into the office in Leeds more to save on video calls?

Let’s say I have three online meetings a day that’s 30gCO2e. Taking the train has a carbon footprint almost 100 times bigger than that (80gCO2e a mile x 36 miles = 2,880gCO2e). If I needed to drive there, the return journey wracks up an incredible 19,080gCO2e (530gCO2e a mile x 36 miles) – that’s the equivalent of more than 1,900 video calls!

Imagine if there are five or ten people on the call who also don’t have to travel. Or what if your business is international, I haven’t even attempted to work out the carbon cost of a return flight to Geneva, or New York, or even Singapore, but you get the picture!

I was also interested to learn that most of the carbon footprint associated with video calls is what is known as “embedded carbon”, that means the energy used to make all the components in the laptop or PC. Relatively very little energy is needed to power the call itself.

Texts are no big deal either (0.8gCO2e each) and emails are cheap on carbon too – 0.3gCO2 from laptop to laptop for a short one, or 17gCO2e for a long one with attachments. But watch out, if you copy in lots of people or are on a lot of junk mailing lists those 17grams can clock up!

The figures pale into insignificance when you consider the huge amount of energy needed to manufacture and move a car or train.

Of course, meeting in person has lots of benefits and sometimes a video call just isn’t the same. But it’s great to know that working from home has benefits for the environment, as well as our purses and work-life balance.


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