There are different aspects of reducing our footprint on our planet with remote work. I will go through them and will also highlight, that there are two points where remote work stresses the environment.
We all know that commuting is a bad thing. Not only for commuters and the productivity, it’s at first bad for the environment. For sure it’s better to take bus, train or ferry (i.e. in Vancouver or Sydney) then your car, but in any case you have a significant amount of air pollution and climate gases forcing climate change. If you power your electric car by photovoltaics, you are the extreme rare exception.
Lot’s of cities are now looking closely at their pollution data, maybe a little more since VWs scandal. Some are calculating how many death per year are caused by traffic pollution and some are even banning cities temporarily for diesel cars (“Oslo temporarily bans diesel cars to combat pollution” by TheGuardian).
Now it’s very clear what a big impact working from home has for the health of the environment and the health of the people. And we are not starting to discuss the saving on gas, car loans, parking or train tickets or the danger of accidents in this article.
Less commuting results in less demand for new or wider freeways, streets and railroads. That is a direct impact to longer untouched nature or the possibility for more parkland.
Today, urbanisation is still a mega trend in developped and developping countries. This study (2014 Revision of World Urbanization Prospects) of the United Nations shows it well and is also projecting this till 2030.
But the rise of remote work will slow this process down and I’m pretty sure, it will reverse that trend someday in the midterm future. The reason is clear, without the need to life in a city for work, lot’s of people will seek a place with more nature und less leases (however many will stay in the city, which is ok because actual infrastructure is more than enough for them).
The de-urbanisation, caused by the fact that you are able to live in a quieter, cheaper and cleaner environment, will have a big impact on the environment. Huge areas in metropol regions can be converted into parks or can be completely recultivated. That’s adding large potential space for plants and animals and will increase the air quality to name only one big benefit.
This decentralisation of living will fit perfectly with the new general way of power generation through solar and wind. The power will be generated and consumed decentralised, without the need of increasing the number of huge power plants to feed the demand of the cities or to build new power lines.
But there is, like always, a downside with remote work and the environment. If you are a digital nomad, you like to travel much, including flying a lot with planes and use all the other transporting possibilities. It depends on the commute, that you would do at your home town and it depends heavily on the frequency and lenght of your travelling, if you want to calculate what of both is worse.
But in any case you should consider to reduce your carbon footprint as digital nomad. There are lots of possibilities, donating for forestation projects or volunteering (for sure online) for nonprofits are only two of them.
The other downside will come from the wish to life and work at beautiful places (i.e. in the near of nice beaches). That will bring a pressure on that communities to enlarge their size into untouched nature. Hopefully we can cope that with a modern approach of coexistance of people and nature with as less impact as needed.
What are your thoughts on remote work and our environment? Please let us know in the comment section!