- The pandemic and its impact accelerated sustainability efforts in the same way it did remote work.
- In 2020, NO₂ emissions dropped and seismic waves reduced as a result of less travel and activity.
- Going forward, businesses should set sustainability goals and encourage employees to do their part.
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When the pandemic hit, many organizations switched to full-time remote work and almost immediately there were some unexpected benefits seen around the globe. The lack of commute meant fewer cars on the road, and almost zero business travel meant fewer airplanes in the skies, resulting in cleaner air and far fewer emissions in our atmosphere. As a result, many of us, myself included, started to think more about how we could make not just sweeping changes within our organization to maintain a greener world, but also small yet impactful changes at our homes during our time in quarantine. Looking at our wall of K-Cups, we made the decision as a family to reduce our reliance on single-use plastics and explore other ways to minimize our environmental footprint.
Although the initial impact of COVID-19 meant that organizations had to focus on business continuity, employee welfare, and productivity, I predict that we will start to see the pandemic and its lasting impact accelerate sustainability efforts in the same way it has remote work. As we look toward the “next normal,” we can expect to see more global corporations, investors, and business leaders intensifying their sustainability efforts to reduce their carbon footprint and promote greater sustainability in a meaningful and measurable way.
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Environmental implications of remote work
In the US alone, emission of NO₂, one of the key indicators of global economic activities, declined 25.5% in April 2020 compared to previous years. It was also fascinating to see that small ground vibrations generated by everyday activities dropped up to 50% in some places, marking the longest and most prominent reduction of seismic waves from human activities in recorded history.
At the same time, there were some unintended negative consequences of more people working from home. Research published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information found that quarantine policies established in many countries led to more online shopping, which increased the amount of household waste from shipped package materials. The research also pointed out that many countries postponed waste recycling activities to reduce the transmission of COVID, like in the US where recycling programs in many cities were reduced by nearly 46%, leading to an increase in landfill and environmental pollutants worldwide.
As we consider what the long-term impact of a more permanent shift to remote work post-pandemic will have on the way we live, work, and interact, there is a big potential for it to play a significant role in reducing our carbon footprint and promoting greater sustainability. Yet remote work alone won’t solve all our sustainability problems; there is also a behavioral change that needs to occur. In this new landscape, sustainability efforts can’t just be about optimizing offices, but they will also need to center around empowering and educating people to drive sustainable, long-term change in the office or working from home.
Building a people-centric sustainability strategy
Like many global corporations, at LogMeIn we have looked at our own sustainability practices to rethink where and how we use office space, and to make those spaces as environmentally friendly as possible. Bringing that vision of creating more sustainable places and practices for our people to fruition took a number of preliminary steps. Initially, our sustainability initiatives were inspired by grassroots, internal efforts from employees who cared deeply about reducing our carbon footprint at the office. That then evolved into working with external consultants to do a comprehensive review and assessment of our corporate practices to better understand where we’ve made progress and where we still had work to do. From there, we created a formal sustainability governance committee, outlined our goals and set a strategy for the journey ahead. Now we’re beginning to look beyond our offices. Having made the decision to permanently shift to a remote model, we’re focused on how we can apply our sustainability goals and best practices to account for the emissions output of our employees at home.
One core lesson that I learned from this process is that having an effective post-COVID sustainability strategy will need to focus on how companies can educate, train, and empower employees in building sustainable practices — whether at home or in office. Allowing all employees to be a part of the solution will make your business —and the world as a whole — more sustainable and eco-conscious. Potential initiatives that businesses can implement to help achieve this include:
- Inviting employees to take a personal pledge to cut down on their own emissions while at home.
- Further engaging employees with sustainability trainings and global green teams.
- Continuing to reduce and offset all employee business travel emissions.
- Implementing incentive programs and gamifying the sustainability experience to further motivate employees and push them towards their goals.
- Appointing an internal leader or employee-led committee to serve as the face of sustainability within the organization.
- Providing employees with information on local and state-led energy programs and initiatives that they can use to make their homes more energy efficient. For example, where I live in Massachusetts you can enroll in a program like Mass Save, which works with certified contractors to help make your home more energy efficient.
Remote work is part of the solution to make us a more sustainable and eco-conscious economy and world. Although change won’t happen overnight, focusing on the things that your business and employees can control and impact to reduce their environmental impact will contribute to the larger effort to move the needle.
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