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As we welcomed in 2020 the shape of life over the next two years was impossible to foresee including the millions that would shortly be working from home but just didn’t know it.

At the time, the biggest domestic issue consuming the attention of politicians in the UK was the withdrawal from the EU. 

Globally, the major shared concern was, and remains, the potential disaster of irreversible climate change. Reports of an unidentified virus far off in China went largely unnoticed by the world.

Yet by the end of March 2020 the country was in lockdown. Shops and businesses closed, planes grounded and even the busiest roads fell silent. In some ways, it can be hard to remember how severe those early restrictions were. 

Non-essential travel and contact ceased

In every office building across the country the level of necessary precautions rose daily. Anti-bacterial sprays appeared on every desk, keyboards and telephones were frequently disinfected, and then on March 23rd the first lockdown was announced, becoming law on March 26th. 

Except for key-workers in environments such as hospitals and care homes, working life changed completely as millions more people joined the 4 million already working from home.

This virtually blanket measure to stop the spread of the virus early on had a number of unintended benefits. Noise pollution was reduced drastically. You could stand on a footbridge overlooking a normally busy A road and listen to the silence. And you could actually ‘hear’ birds over the usual din of traffic and life. 

Residents under airport flight paths were treated to weeks of clear skies and undisturbed peace. But the biggest win was in the massive reduction in carbon emissions.

Emissions dropped drastically when we started working from home more

The average commuting time in the UK is over 90 minutes, most of it spent driving. 

The average petrol car produces approximately 180g of CO2 per kilometre. With almost no vehicles on the roads, emission levels dropped like a stone. 

A study conducted by the Spanish Institut de Ciencia i Tecnologia Ambientals calculated that working from home for just four days a month would reduce nitrogen dioxide from traffic by 10%. 

The impact of the fall in carbon emissions resulting from the cessation of flights, from heavy industry as well as the sudden drop in demand for energy was even greater.

By the summer, some of the lockdown restrictions were being eased, but not before the UK had achieved something for the first time in 138 years. 

On 16th June 2020 the UK reached the end of a 68-day period in which not a single piece of coal was used to generate power. 

Are we reducing or increasing our carbon footprint by working at home?

It’s wrong to assume that there were no environmental costs to lockdown, because working did not cease and some of the energy costs were simply transferred, along with the burden of paying for them, to employees. 

However, while digital resources such as video conferencing consume substantial energy in data centres, tools such as Zoom produce just 0.6% of the carbon emissions in the average commute. 

A study from the University of Sussex concluded that in some cases working from home enabled us to reduce our employment-related emissions by as much as 80%.

This needs to be balanced by the fact that spending most of the day at home entails the use of more energy. In the summer this might not be significant, since heating costs are often slight, and longer days mean using less electric light, but the principle remains. 

Our way of life here in the UK requires power, and shifting that requirement from office to home does not make it disappear.

Of the 4 million or so individuals who work from home as a matter of routine, it is with the nation’s inventory clerks that we at Inventory Base have most contact. 

Working from home is the norm for most inventory clerks

Although much of their time is spent on property reports and inspection visits, the majority of clerks work from home so need a dedicated office space at home where they can perform administrative tasks. 

But a postive impact of more people moving out of their usual workspace and int the home has menat that there has been an increased availability of tenants present for inspections.

This has, in many ways, made inventory and property management simpler, although there are inevitably situations in which the presence of a tenant might not always be entirely helpful! 

On the whole, appointments have been and are easier to make, particularly at short notice, enabling clerks to spread their inspection visits more evenly over the working day.

This change in working practices, whether it persists beyond the pandemic or turns out to be temporary, has not fundamentally changed the job of the inventory clerk as most, if not all providers, work from home. 

However, the experience of enforced home working has probably concentrated the mind of the majority of office workers on the potential for the individual to make a real difference to climate change. 

That two-month coal-free period was not the result of a government environmental initiative, but of millions of individuals making contributions that amounted to a national achievement.

There is a balance to be drawn between working from home and at the office 

With that success in mind, those who will always work from home can learn long-term lessons to maintain their positive influence. It’s important to avoid the temptation to work long hours, simply because you can. 

Clerks and small business owners already tend to work longer than office hours purely because their business depends on maximising the amount of reports to generate the revenue needed to scale and deliver services.

But there are some things you can do to both break up the day and not add to your carbon footprint.

  • try to take the fullest advantage of natural light rather than having all the lights on in the home
  • use energy savings bulbs in your home and work space
  • try not to rely on all-day heating; an extra jumper or warm pair of socks may do the trick!
  • only fill the kettle with the enough water to make yourself a warming brew
  • turn off unused electrical equipment; even in standby mode equipment will still use energy 

If money allows, try to invest in the most energy efficient equipment, replacing old energy guzzling printers and monitors, opting instead for laptops that use much less electricity.

But also remember your physical well-being is intrinsically linked to your working performance so don’t forget to take care of you. 

  • take regular breaks 
  • get up to do small chores to reduce your screen time
  • go for a walk rather than sit at your desk to eat lunch
  • set your working hours so you have time to move away from the laptop 
  • engage with family and friends so it doesn’t all become work, work, work 

Is working from home a positive step for the environment?

We can all profess concern about the environment but often we consider it the sole responsibility of governments to take action. Considering the positive environmental impacts we’ve seen over the past two years this could be the springboard and incentive we all need to start making a difference to our environment.

Some of the benefits of more people working from home have been:

  • improved air and noise quality
  • reduction in energy consumption to heat, power and illuminate offices
  • fewer emissions from a reduction in the daily commute (cars, trains, aeroplanes, buses)
  • reduced use of plastics as less bottles and coffee cups go into landfill

As noted by Pilita Clark – Financial Times columnist:

“In the short term at least, remote home working may not offer a significant solution to the climate dilemma. It may lower emissions in some cases, but shift them around in others.”

Although working from home isn’t going to save the planet; it can be part of the solution. Take the first steps to postive action, reduce your carbon footprint and go paperless with Inventory Base property reports.