CodeTalks Conversations: The Environmental Impact of Remote Work

Making a Great Impact by Doing Small Changes in Our Working Habits

CodeTalks Conversations: The Environmental Impact of Remote Work

“Netflix in 2014 produced 11,000 tonnes of CO2. If you’re using the energy that Netflix is using in one year, you can power a car for 300 years or watch TV for 40,000 years. Isn’t that amazing?” – Jan Henne

To shed some light on how developers impact the environment, Jan Henne and Max Berghoff organized the “Everything you code is killing Planet Earth” panel discussion at this year’s CodeTalks conference. CodeTalks is the largest developer conference in Germany, with over 1500 participants every year. It looked like the perfect place to initiate a conversation about how all of us as developers impact the environment with our daily work.

As someone who has built and led remote teams, both as a software engineer and a CEO of Adeva, I was invited to give a fresh perspective on how we can contribute to the environment by working remotely. Together with Lovis Möller, Guus van Weelden, Lenz Weber, and Bastian Hofmann, we peeked into many different causes for today’s state of Earth: from servers’ energy consumption, through energy inefficient apps, to the future of work without commuting.

When you think about remote work, you probably think of improved productivity or the ability to work with the best developers no matter the location. But, I’m sure you’re underestimating the environmental impact of remote work.

Did you know that the remote work can have the same impact on the environment as planting 2 billion trees per year? 2 billion!

How does remote work benefit the environment?

  • Working remotely reduces CO2 emissions, fuel spending, and pollution.
  • Remote work is not location dependent, which stimulates the development of small towns and reduces the crowd in large cities. This means greener cities and higher quality of life.
  • With coworking spaces, you can combine the office benefits with remote work benefits. So, less commute, lower carbon footprint, and optimized energy spending (even renewable energy usage).

CodeTalks Conversations: The Environmental Impact of Remote Work

Working Remotely Lowers the Carbon Footprint

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), the carbon footprint an average car leaves over the course of a year is around 4.7 tonnes. Based on the average daily commute for work, it’s estimated that working remotely can lower that number for 69%, or in total, 79 million tonnes per year. If you can’t relate to that, let’s compare it with something more tangible. The amount of carbon footprint that remote work saves is equal to:

  • planting 2 billion trees;
  • providing energy for over 8.5 million homes;
  • recycling 27.5 million tonnes of waste per year.

Shocking, right?

Lowering the commute is the most obvious environmental impact of remote work. It not only reduces our carbon footprint but it also lowers the fuel utilization. That’s not only lowering the impact caused by burning the fuels, but it’s also reducing the energy-intensive processes for extracting them that damage local ecosystems. Add reduced air pollution to the math and you not only get an environmental benefit but also a huge improvement of the quality of life.

Remote Work Improves Life Quality Through Decentralization

After graduating, I never thought about moving back to my hometown. No one did. Good career opportunities existed only in the capital. Or, abroad. At a global scale, this is one of the biggest problems of modern society. We have a dysfunctional centralized system with large overcrowded cities on one side and deserted towns and villages on the other.

People have different lifestyles and like different things in life. Living in the large tech centers is an amazing opportunity for some, but an exhausting burden for others. Having the opportunity to work from anywhere in the world has introduced many new options to choose from. The digital nomad community has grown and it becomes more and more common to opt for a non-permanent home. The “new rich” decide to move to less developed countries where they enjoy the luxuries and afford a lifestyle they want.

And others simply decide to move back to their hometowns or even small villages, looking for peace and quiet.

“Before I started working remotely, I commuted 4 hrs per day. I had to go to the bus station, switch 2 buses and then go to the office. Transportation is not very reliable in my town. I had to wait for buses in the cold, sometimes it was overcrowded and it was a hassle to get monthly tickets. Everything added up, I spent 12 hrs per day! Now that I work remotely, I don’t need to worry about that. I can work from anywhere and I have more time to spend with my friends and family.” – Nikola Gjorgjievski, Software Engineer at Adeva

When people have the chance to decide where they live, more often than not, they won’t choose the big city lifestyle. Having less crowded cities, we can look forward to more midtown parks as opposed to new buildings. That means improved quality of life in both large cities as well as small towns.

Offices Can Be Environment-Friendly If Optimized

Renewable energy in offices

“It’s not that the office is the big bad wolf, with no environmental benefits. Having a single office as opposed to multiple home offices can be much more environment-friendly if you optimize processes and raise enough awareness. Think ride sharing, reusable cups and cutlery, and using central heating/cooling system instead of multiple ones in home offices.” – Aleksandar Burzevski, Frontend Developer at Adeva

True, you can optimize a lot of things in the office from energy consumption, starting from optimizing the energy consumption to catering lunch to reduce the use of disposable plastic. Apple, for example, now runs completely on renewable energy, from its shops to its offices and data centers.

Yet, this is hard for small companies to achieve. And forming a habit of optimizing energy consumption in the office, avoiding disposable plastic or share rides with colleagues can take a lot of time and effort. That’s the main reason why it’s easier to make an impact when working remotely. You don’t need awareness campaigns or getting into the habit of thinking about the environment – it just comes naturally. Remote workers spend energy much more efficiently than office workers because they are aware of its cost. They cook more often and use disposable plastic much less simply because they have the conditions for it. It doesn’t take any effort and that’s why it works.

Combining the Best Things About Remote and Office Work

For me, working from home means improved productivity, faster work, and ability to organize everything around my own schedule. Yet, a lot of people fear remote work just because of the lack of social interaction. Co-working spaces solve that problem. They give you the chance to interact with many interesting people and feel the office vibe, while still taking advantage of the remote work benefits.

Now, imagine a world where co-working spaces are optimizing energy consumption, including a food bar and are nearby so you could walk or use alternative transportation instead of driving there for hours. That, to me, is the office of the future.

What Can You Do Today

If you have a leading role in your company, try giving your employees at least one remote day. Apart from a greener environment, you will face increased productivity and long-term impact on your company.

If you’re employed in a company, try by sharing this with your managers and the team. We can do so much just by speaking up and spreading the voice. If it doesn’t work, you can always try to be more aware of your daily habits. Try using reusable coffee cups instead of getting a new one every time you hit Starbucks. Think about energy spending at your office as much as you think about what you spend at home. And, try using alternative means of transportation for your daily commute. A small change in our habits can have a big impact on the environment.

Conclusion

Remote work does not only benefit the business, but it also benefits the environment. By embracing remote work, we can:

  • Lower pollution, global warming and improve the general health just by lowering the commute.
  • Decentralize the system and have great living conditions in small towns as well as large tech centers.
  • Build the office of the future: embrace coworking spaces and get a self-sustainable office environment and people to socialize with.

You can make a significant improvement to the environment just by introducing one single remote day in your workweek. Try it, it will not only benefit the environment but it will also result in a more productive team.

Katerina Trajchevska
CEO and Senior Software Engineer