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How to lower your carbon footprint in your home office

Making your workspace eco-friendly

4 minute read
green leaf on computer keyboard

When working from home, it is easy to go about your work day with electrical office essentials constantly guzzling power – not to mention domestic appliances such as washing machines and kettles on the go.

When the COVID-19 pandemic caused many professionals to work remotely, it presented the perfect Petri dish to examine how changes in our work patterns affect the environment.

With the average commute time slashed and less traffic on the roads, some might assume our carbon footprint was also lowered.

However, Low Carbon Australia Director Tristy Fairfield said our greenhouse gas emissions were still something to be aware of when working from home and that it was important to grasp every opportunity to reduce them.

“It’s not only employees who need to be mindful of their emissions when working from home, companies also need to start thinking about how to account for and reduce their employees’ emissions when they are working remotely, as there will be increased expectations to monitor and report on these in their greenhouse gas reporting,” she said.

Does working from home lower our carbon footprint?

According to Ms Fairfield, determining whether working from home is better on the environment depends on what changes are being made overall.

“The benefits of working from home need to be seen in the broader context of sustainability and wellbeing objectives as well."

“There are so many variables to consider when looking at the overall impact on greenhouse gas emissions – the length and type of the avoided commute such as car, public transport or bicycle, commercial building versus residential building efficiency, what is happening to the previously fully occupied office space, air travel and the efficiency and use of lighting, computers and printers.”

Given the push to work remotely has been granted by many global companies, Ms Fairfield said the focus needed to shift to how employers and employees could work together to make the new normal – whether that be working fully remote or hybrid – as sustainable as possible.

“This should include other important issues such as waste reduction, as well as employee health and wellbeing,” she said.

Making your workspace eco-friendly

While switching off appliances at the end of the work day is all well and good, the answer to lowering your carbon footprint could be hidden in your walls, roof and flooring.

According to The University of Technology Sydney School of Architecture Associate Professor Nimish Biloria, many homes across Australia lack sufficient insulation, use subpar heating and cooling equipment or are badly designed, causing households to crank up heating or cooling devices.

“I live in a home built in the 1980's and the biggest problem in this house is air gaps – the windows, the doors – they all have gaps resulting in hot or cool air to escape,” he said.

“The first thing to consider is draught prevention.

“Often times, while cooling or heating our homes, we tend to leave doors to spaces which are not occupied open.

“Appliances, therefore, tend to work harder to cool or heat much larger volume of space than what is being occupied.

“In order to climatise a place to have maximum efficiency of the heating or cooling system you are using, a barrier, as well as draught prevention, is essential.”

Dr Biloria said insulation, adequate shading and double glazing were equally important to consider, reducing overall energy consumption and achieving thermal and visual comfort.

Changing behaviours

With the amount of time we spend working from home increasing, Dr Biloria said we needed to consider a fundamental shift in our behaviours towards energy efficiency.

“We need to be mindful of not only buying appliances with high-energy efficiency ratings but also of how much we use them,” he said.

“In my own home, there’s an electric kettle upstairs, which is always the culprit.

“Just buying a Thermos and preparing a batch of tea or coffee that could last all day is a simple but effective way to reduce the amount of time you’re turning devices on and off – in my case, the kettle.”

If you find yourself relegated to one area of the house as you work, Dr Bilora said it was important to switch off other appliances you were not using.

“It’s not just about using too many devices in your home at the same time, it’s about how we use them, where we use them and how to make behavioural changes to optimise the usage of those devices,” he said.

The future of working from home

In terms of future working from home arrangements, Ms Fairfield said both public and private sector policy development needed to catch up quickly to ensure all-round benefits can be maximised.

“Employers and employees need to find the right balance for their own circumstances,” she said.

“Companies will likely attract and retain high-quality staff when they are flexible and genuinely committed to environmental sustainability by offering opportunities and support for staff to implement sustainable practices both at home and in the office, as well as demonstrating corporate net-zero commitments and action.”