How To Be More Environmentally Sustainable When Working From Home

By the SMU Digital Marketing Team

Global lockdowns were said to positively impact the environment: Wild vegetations began to thrive and wildlife were spotted even in urban environments as humans stayed indoors. However, a January 2021 study showed that “one hour of videoconferencing or streaming, for example, emits 150 grams to 1 kilogram of carbon dioxide, requires two to 12 litres of water and demands a land area adding up to about the size of an iPad Mini”. Also, while office buildings are often designed to utilise energy more efficiently (think SMU Connexion, a zero energy building), individuals tend to use more energy in cooling their workspaces at home. Want to keep a safe distance and be a responsible earth citizen at the same time? Here are four ways we can reduce our carbon footprints, even as remote or hybrid work continues into this new normal.


1. Use Zoom efficiently

An advantage of working from home is the reduction of vehicles on the road, resulting in lower greenhouse gas emissions and fuel consumption as there is no longer a need to commute to the office. But did you know that a weekly hour-long Zoom meeting with six participants releases as much carbon dioxide as a 15km trip in a petrol-fuelled car?

Instead of hopping on a default video call, assess if the discussion requires an online conference, or would e-mail be a more efficient mode of communication? And if a two-way conversation is necessary, consider going old school with a phone call. Talking on the phone while pacing around the room may also increase information retention and creative thought, with a study conducted on the benefits of walking in a classroom suggesting that walking had a significant positive impact on cognitive test performance.

Here’s another excuse to turn off the camera during a web call (besides the fact that you’re in ratty pyjamas): It reduces the carbon footprint of online conferences by a whopping 96 per cent. Furthermore, research indicates that “Zoom fatigue” is in part caused by the cognitive load of making constant eye contact throughout a discussion. As such, a voice call might be less of a strain on our energy levels, while being a more sustainable alternative to video conferencing.


2. Cook at home whenever possible

While we all welcome the lifting of dining-in restrictions at restaurants, it is more environmentally sustainable to eat at home. A typical restaurant meal is said to contribute over three times the carbon emissions of cooking and eating at home. Similarly, the convenience of food delivery services comes at the cost of the environment, due to the production and disposal of single-use packaging and carbon emissions of transportation.

Working from home is a great opportunity to put those lockdown culinary skills to good use. However, if you aren’t quite the next Martha Stewart (or Paris Hilton, who has a new cooking show on Netflix, for that matter), opt to take out lunch using your own tiffin carrier instead of single-use packaging – while getting a break from your screen.


3. Cut back on that online shopping addiction, and shop local whenever possible

The pandemic has made shopping addicts out of all of us, with a third of Singaporeans making their first-ever online purchases amid Covid-19. Online retail therapy is a quick and easy outlet to tackle stress and anxiety, especially when we are unable to vent during coffee breaks with colleagues in the office, or unwind during our daily commute.

However, besides packaging waste and transport, online shopping is also more logistically complex than making purchases at brick-and-mortar retailers: Online items tend to come through from various distribution centres rather than, say, a single supermarket or mall – which leads to higher greenhouse gas emissions per item. Further, shoppers tend to aggregate their purchases at physical stores but make more frequent, smaller purchases from various online merchants, resulting in a larger environmental footprint.

It’s also no secret that myriad online sale events and the opportunity to check out new drops at our favourite web store in the middle of a workday (without the risk of a boss peeking at the browser) lead to impulse purchases of items we don’t really need. Unfortunately, this habit exacerbates the mounting global trash problem and the environmental impact of waste processing.

Instead of compulsively shopping when feeling overwhelmed, why not take a break by taking a walk around the block to burn off stress, or catch a 10-minute power nap to recharge energy levels? If you have to give in to a primal need to consume, or stock up on essentials, support a local brick-and-mortar business or buy locally-made products, to sustain the local economy as well as reduce your carbon footprint.


4. Engage in non-screentime downtime

Let’s face it, do we really need two phones, a desktop, laptop and a tablet? A 2020 Deloitte report revealed that an average US household is connected to 25 devices like smartphones, smart TVs, gaming consoles and laptops. Unfortunately, remote working requires us to stay connected through our smart devices. However, that does not mean that we have to remain stuck to our screens even after hours.

Smartphones and data centres, in particular, are damaging to the environment and will have the biggest carbon footprint in the tech industry by 2040, researchers have found. And just like how video conferencing results in increased emissions, so too do streaming content services like Netflix, especially when programmes are streamed in high resolution.

Apart from the environmental effects of device usage, “constant checkers” of messaging, social media and e-mail accounts report higher levels of stress, according to a study by the American Psychological Association. It is therefore time to set boundaries and reach for something other than a phone or gadget to wind down. For a start, use just one device at a time like watching a TV programme without scrolling through your news feed. Also, turn off all unnecessary notifications on your devices – do you really need to know that a secondary school classmate you haven’t seen in ages has just updated her Instagram Story?

To battle digital withdrawal, engage in an unplugged activity like cycling, knitting (now that Olympian Tom Daley has made needlework cool again), or visiting a nearby library to catch up on your list of must-reads – without having to purchase new books. That way, you can help save the earth, all while enriching your inner and physical self.


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