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Hybrid working can greatly cut carbon emissions
Five-day commuting to city centre has largest carbon footprint of any working model
The Asset 24 Apr 2023

Hybrid working can facilitate major carbon savings and has the potential for significant impact on the climate crisis, according to a recent study.

The study, by workspace provider IWG and Arup, measured the environmental impact of hybrid working, based on both building and transport emissions, on six cities across the US and UK with a deep dive on two major carbon contributors – London and Los Angeles. Others cities examined were New York City, Atlanta, Manchester and Glasgow.

Data from these cities showed the potential for huge carbon savings in other metropolises around the globe, such as Hong Kong, through the widespread adoption of hybrid working, which has rapidly expanded among white collar workers who are now using the available technology to work where is most convenient and they are most productive.

The potential carbon savings remain significant for UK cities with Glasgow (80%), Manchester (70%) and London (49%) all showing the potential to benefit from workers reducing their commutes and working closer to home as part of a hybrid model, something that more and more employers in Hong Kong have been following suit, the study says.

Cities in the US, on the other hand, showed the largest potential carbon savings when also taking transport into consideration, due to the prevalence of commuting by car, with Atlanta (90% reduction) just edging out Los Angeles (87%) and New York (82%).

Impact of commute

A traditional five-day commute into a city centre has the biggest carbon footprint of all. In Hong Kong, in 2020, 19.7% of greenhouse gas emissions came from the transport sector, the second most of any sector, only behind the electricity industry. The number of licensed private cars has been continuously increasing. As of 2021, more than 70% of registered vehicles in Hong Kong are private cars, which is a main contributor of emissions within the transport sector.

In London, carbon emissions, the study finds, are reduced by 49% for those mixing time between a city centre HQ and local workspace, and 43% lower when splitting time between a local workspace and home, when compared with a traditional five-day commuting pattern. They key driver in emissions reductions was distance; when workers more frequently stay near home, their emissions are lessened.

And, compared with offices in the city centre, local workspaces, the study notes, have less emissions per square metre of floor area. Crucially, local workspaces have higher utilization rates, and therefore, each person is responsible for less emissions than a central office location.

Hybrid working, according to the study, is proving to be especially attractive for employees, with 88% of workers saying flexible working was important to saving money and achieving a better work-life balance. By living and working closer to home, hybrid working helps people be healthier and more productive.

“We have an extraordinary opportunity to radically reduce humanity’s negative environmental impact by encouraging the adoption of hybrid working,” says Mark Dixon, CEO of IWG. “Five-day commuting to city centre offices has the largest carbon footprint of any working model.

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