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TIP OF THE WEEK Working from home helps combat climate crisis

'There’s no quicker, easier, cheaper way to reduce your carbon footprint than not drive,' says report author

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Thanks to Emily Chung of CBC for information in this article.

One of the responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, working from home, could be one of the weapons in the battle against the climate crisis in Canada and elsewhere.

Companies employing hundreds of thousands of people who work from home could help Canada reduce its annual greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions

For example, if the four-million-plus people in Canada whose jobs could be done from home did so even twice a week, it would remove the equivalent of 385,231 cars from the road and cut annual greenhouse gas emissions by 1.9 million tonnes, according to a 2011 report from the Telework Research Network commissioned by the City of Calgary.

“There’s no quicker, easier, cheaper way to reduce your carbon footprint than not drive,” said Kate Lister, lead author of that report. Transportation is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in North America, and a lot of that comes from commuting. 

In the longer term, emissions’ savings can be even greater as telework policies allow companies to reduce the amount of office space they must heat, power and equip.

Many cities, including Calgary, Vancouver, Saskatoon—and even smaller communities like Halton Hills in Ontario—include telecommuting as one of their plans to reduce climate change.

Telecommuting infrastructure also instils resilience against the extreme weather that’s increasing with climate change. It’s part of the climate change adaptation plans for cities such as Waterloo, Ontario.

Enabling telework isn’t necessarily simple. It means buying and configuring equipment like laptops, enabling secure files and resource access in the cloud, and, importantly, training.

“The biggest thing is training managers to manage by results rather than butts in seats,” Lister said.

On the other hand, employer benefits can include cost savings, higher productivity, fewer unscheduled absences, better employee retention, and greater flexibility to scale up and scale down when required.

Lister noted that, up until now, telework has been growing slowly and steadily at about 10 per cent a year. But COVID-19 could prove to be a tipping point. “I do think,” Lister said, “this coronavirus is going to leapfrog the trend.”