Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, working from home is no longer a privilege (at least, it was in Hong Kong before the virus came along). With so many millions of people using their home as an office, that means almost everyone is now living a lower carbon lifestyle, especially for those who used to commute to work.
I’m new to this work-from-home (WFH) thing. Surprisingly, I’ve gotten used to it and feel more productive these days. I noticed that when people talk about the advantages of working from home, reducing their carbon footprint or saving the environment usually isn’t on a top priority. Other more visible benefits that come to mind first are flexibility and being more relaxed (the being relaxed thing is probably why I feel more productive in the office).
But the bigger “hidden impacts” of a home office are the huge positive effects on our planet. A report from the UK Department For Transport found that over 80% of UK workers commuted to work by car in 2017 while 93% of total domestic transport greenhouse gas emissions came from road transport.
Figures like this clearly state the huge contribution that working from home could make to reducing the number of car journeys. Actually, there are several eco-friendly advantages that we can find from replacing the office commute with a WFH arrangement.
Also due to the coronavirus outbreak, most of us have halted air travel, while on the road, less people are driving bus their children to school or to stores now. With less cars clogging up the roads, less fuel is used, less pollution is created and our carbon footprint output is significantly reduced.
Turning your home into an office goes beyond being able show up to work in your pajamas (which I happily do). For one, my digestive health has improved a lot. Like most people, I rely on takeaways for lunch. Most of the time, I’m simply too busy at work or too lazy to go out and fight the lunch crowds. Deliveroo is my new best friend, as I’m sure is the same for many other office workers in Hong Kong.
We rarely think about it, but our food delivery habits end up being harmful to Mother Earth. All take-away and delivery items arrive neatly stored in a disposable container, plastic bag or plastic cup (in my case, all three of those—tick, tick, tick).
Does unhealthy food indirectly hurt the planet? I think I may have found that out in a meeting with my boss. But first, weighing in on the health side of things. Fast food or restaurant food usually has a high sodium content. We don’t get fast food because it’s healthy, but because it’s convenient and a popular choice for people who don’t have a good selection of restaurants near their workplace. Over time, I got a persistent stomach-ache from eating out, which led to frequent trips to the toilet. But now that I work from home, I tend to make my own lunch. I’m no longer buying a lunch that has a lot of plastic packaging.
Back to that meeting with my boss. We were discussing the carbon emissions from one of our overseas factories in a developing country. The specific topic was the septic tank. Apparently, the program we had subscribed to with the World Wildlife Fund had given us a way to measure the carbon output of the factory workers’ collective poo. We even discussed how much poo was generating that amount of CO2. Yes.
Which led me to think: the frequency of poo output that a food item causes may actually be an indicator of whether it’s harmful to the earth. So, fast food—you’re hurting the planet because you’re hurting my guts.
In more ways than one, the COVID-19 virus has brought us to a collective tipping point. I think that this is going to bring permanent change to the way we work in our office spaces. It may be gradual change, as we struggle to get on with our regular lives again in the aftermath of this pandemic, but I am fairly sure it will be a long-term change. If nothing else, it will at least have changed my diet and my… CO2 output.
Back to the topic of work environments: I’ve been thinking a lot about one particular type of workplace these days, and it’s because of the medical workers who have been posting a very thoughtful message.
I now realize: my choice of workplace is saving lives. If I work from home, I’m helping frontline medical workers to have a less painful battle against this coronavirus. So, medical workers: I will work from home for you—because you’re staying at work to help all of us.