Mar 6, 2024

Does remote work help the climate? How remote access and support affect greenhouse gas emissions

  • Connect and support people
  • In January 2024, the yearly average global air temperature exceeded the critical 1.5 ° C warming limit for the first time. At this rate, climate change is causing floods, droughts, wildfires, and other disasters worldwide — seriously threatening life as we know it.  

    The warming process can only be slowed if governments, organizations, and individuals minimize greenhouse gas emissions. One way to do so is by working remotely. In fact, according to a 2023 study, remote work can reduce emissions by up to 58% compared to traditional office work.  

    This article explores how remote work cuts emissions compared to the conventional office, accounting for potential risks. It also offers tips on how to leverage remote work to achieve your organization’s sustainability goals.

    What are the main sources of emissions in the conventional workplace?

    Before diving into the environmental impact of remote work, let’s look at the main sources of greenhouse gas emissions in the traditional workplace.  

    Office energy usage

    Electricity and heat are the leading sources of CO2 emissions worldwide. Conventional offices have a high energy consumption for lighting, heating, and air conditioning. Office equipment like computers, monitors, and printers also use a lot of energy. And let’s not forget about appliances like coffee machines, refrigerators, and microwaves. 

    Work-related travel

    The second major source of carbon emissions is transportation, which includes work-related travel. In 2022, more than half of the people commuting to work or school did so by car — even though, aside from flying, car travel is the form of transport with the largest carbon footprint

    Business trips are another critical aspect to consider. Many employees travel long distances for meetings, conferences, client visits, and technical support. They often do so via airplane, and air travel remains a major emitter of CO2, especially domestic flights.  

    Office waste

    Another way of causing greenhouse gas emissions is by creating waste. Offices tend to have a high usage of disposable items like paper, office supplies, food packaging, plastic bottles, and so on. 

    In addition to that, 8-10% of global greenhouse gas emissions are associated with food waste. And the amount of food that goes to waste in office cafeterias, lunchrooms, and catered events certainly adds up.

    What are the environmental benefits of remote work?

    As conventional office work has a large carbon footprint, remote work appears to be a promising alternative. But what are the actual environmental benefits of working remotely?

    Less travel for work 

    The most obvious environmental benefit of remote work is that remote workers travel less. Employees can substantially reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by working from home or somewhere nearby.

    Remote work and collaboration technology like video conferencing, cloud storage, and digital project management tools also reduce the need for physical meetings. They enable employees to meet with clients, contractors, and other external parties worldwide without leaving their desks. 

    Reduced work-related travel doesn’t only have a substantial impact on greenhouse gas emissions. It also means there are fewer vehicles on the road at rush hour. This can improve the quality of life in urban areas.  Think less traffic, fewer accidents, less noise, and cleaner air.  

    Smaller office spaces

    Remote work also means a reduced need for office space. Companies should consider downsizing their offices when introducing a remote work or hybrid policy. That way, they can cut the energy used for office heating, air conditioning, and lighting. This doesn’t only benefit the planet. Office downsizing is also an effective way of cutting overhead costs. 

    When the demand for office space decreases, communities are under less pressure to build new office buildings. This means more possibilities to create climate-friendly living spaces and preserve natural habitats. 

    Less waste

    People working from home tend to produce less waste. After all, they can drink coffee from mugs instead of to-go cups. They don’t have to pack or buy their lunch, reducing the amount of disposable packaging like tin foil or Ziploc bags. And they can prepare everything using the appliances they have at home. Also, employees working from home can prevent food waste by preparing the right quantities and saving leftovers.  

    More digitalization 

    Remote work encourages paperless, digital workflows. With the switch from a conventional workplace to a work-from-anywhere approach, it becomes clear that we don’t need Post-it notes, paper clips, or toner to be productive. Remote workers can boost their productivity and reduce waste by using digital resources rather than physical office supplies. 

    More mindfulness

    Another aspect to consider is that employees may be more environmentally conscious at home than at work. Recycling tends to be more common in homes than in the workplace. Reasons for this include people not feeling responsible for dealing with waste and a lack of available recycling facilities. And since they’re paying the energy bill, remote workers may be more motivated to turn off lights or unplug laptops.

    Does remote work always reduce carbon emissions?

    Remote work can save up to 58% of carbon emissions compared to conventional office work, according to a PNAS study from 2023. However, to reap the environmental benefits of remote work, businesses must also be aware of the risks. 

    One risk is that remote workers might replace their commute with other, non-work-related travel. This can happen when they move to rural areas, where day-to-day tasks like taking children to school, grocery shopping, and doctor’s visits are associated with longer car drives. Remote workers are also more likely to live far away from their workplaces. This can mean that if they need to come into the office, they must fly to get there.  

    Further, if managed poorly, hybrid work can have a negative environmental impact. Remote work must go hand in hand with a reduction in office space. If people are working at home and half-empty offices are still powered at total capacity, the energy used by the employees at home is added to the fixed energy use of the office space. 

    The information and communications technology (ICT) people use to work remotely also consumes energy. However, a recent study shows that their contribution to carbon emissions is negligible.  

    Remote work can be a great way for businesses to reduce their environmental footprint and improve workplace satisfaction — as long as they actively address these challenges.

    How do remote maintenance and support affect carbon emissions?

    Many articles focus on the impact of work-from-home (WFH) on greenhouse gas emissions. But how do remote maintenance and support influence emissions? 

    Say goodbye to on-site visits

    Imagine a classic technical support scenario. A device or machine isn't working, and the expert who can fix it is located two hours away. Traditionally, the expert would have to travel to the user’s location, i.e., a four-hour round trip (not accounting for traffic), even if it only takes 20 minutes to resolve the issue. 

    With remote technology, the expert can access the machine, identify, and solve the problem without leaving their desk. Or they can communicate with the user via augmented reality (AR) enhanced calls. This way, they can point out the issue to the user and guide them through fixing it themselves. 

    And it doesn’t stop there. The use cases for remote technology in maintenance and support are endless. But they all have one thing in common: Less travel means happier technicians, happier customers, and a happier planet. 

    Make the most of what you have

    It’s common practice to get rid of devices when they break. Especially when it’s difficult or expensive to fix them. However, throwing devices away instead of repairing them causes unnecessary waste and puts a tremendous strain on the environment.

    More than 50 million tons of electronic waste are generated every year, and only 20% are recycled. Many electronic devices contain toxic substances. So, they contaminate the air, soil, and water when they aren't disposed of correctly. 

    You can break the cycle of tossing and replacing devices. Remote technology allows you to perform proactive maintenance on devices and machines to prevent foreseeable technical problems. And with readily available technical support, users will be more inclined to get their devices fixed instead of trading them in. It’s all about being mindful of your resources and making the most of them.  

    What about sustainability at TeamViewer?

    Sustainability is central to TeamViewer’s business model and corporate culture. TeamViewer has a dedicated sustainability program and aims to achieve net zero by 2040.

    How to leverage remote work to achieve sustainability goals

    This article highlights that remote technology can significantly reduce your company’s carbon emissions. However, using remote access and support isn’t enough to make a sustainable impact. To achieve your climate neutrality goals, remote technology must be part of a larger strategy to make your company more climate friendly.

    Align company and sustainability goals

    It’s hard to become climate-friendly in the long run if your sustainability goals are competing with your business objectives. Managers shouldn’t ask themselves, “Should I do what’s best for the company or the environment?”. Your company needs a planet to operate on, so it’s worth considering environmental factors when defining business goals.

    Foster a sustainability culture

    Sustainability considerations should be embedded into every part of your organization — not just your corporate social responsibility (CSR) program! Help your workforce develop an environmentally conscious mindset, whether in the office or working remotely.

    Encourage big and small, climate-friendly behaviors, such as switching off the light, eating less meat, or using less paper. If leaders demonstrate sustainable behavior — e.g., traveling by train — the rest of the company will be more motivated to do the same.

    Educate your employees

    Employee behavior has a significant effect on your organization’s environmental footprint. Some employees may be super-conscious of their greenhouse gas emissions, but others may not.

    To address this gap, offer training that (1) makes employees aware of the importance of sustainability and (2) provides easy ways to contribute to the company’s efforts to reduce emissions. Organize events and campaigns to raise awareness within and outside the company.

    Support sustainable behavior

    Provide incentives that support employees to reduce their emissions. Here are a few ideas to get started:


    • Reward employees for walking, biking, or taking public transport to the office
    • Provide a platform that helps employees coordinate carpooling

    Business trips

    • Reward employees for traveling by train
    • Encourage virtual client meetings and team events

    At home

    • Grant a bonus to employees who switch to renewable energy
    • Distribute used corporate devices and equipment to employees

    In the office

    • Provide bicycles to get around the premises
    • Set up water refill stations
    • Offer locally produced food along with plant-based options

    Above all, don’t forget to listen to what your employees have to say. Find out how to support them in leading a more sustainable work life. They might have some great suggestions!

    Ready to cut your emissions with remote technology?

    Discover TeamViewer’s solutions for remote work and support. Start reducing your carbon emissions today.