Is operating remotely better for the environment?

These days, it’s easier than ever to start and manage a remote business. There are plenty of online resources and tools you can use to set up a new business and start running it without a centralized physical location. And once you do this, you can save time, save money, and improve convenience for all your employees (and even your customers).

For example, you can start a bookkeeping business entirely remotely. You can learn all about bookkeeping, create a business model from scratch, start a website, and then start finding clients and working for them all online.

On top of that, remote businesses are becoming more accepted and fashionable. During the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses were practically forced to operate remotely if they wanted to stay afloat. After this wave of remote operations, people warmed up to the idea – and remote businesses and positions became more in demand.

But the question remains – are remote businesses truly better for the environment?

The Environmental Benefits of Operating Remotely

Let’s take a look at some of the most important environmental benefits of operating remotely.

Reduced transportation. It’s estimated that travel for work accounted for about 30 percent of all miles driven before the COVID-19 pandemic. Most people who worked at a physical location drove to work alone, and drove several miles each way every day.

Working remotely and allowing people to do their jobs without driving anywhere instantly eliminates most of this traffic. If an office with 1,000 people closes down and begins operating remotely, that’s 1,000 people who are no longer driving on the roads, producing carbon emissions, and consuming fuel.

Fewer paper products. While some paperless offices have existed for many years, the majority of physical offices still rely on paper products to remain in operation. Running your business remotely means you can transition to a purely digital, electronic world where you don’t rely on paper products at all.

Less electricity and utility use. Offices can be very expensive to maintain because they use significant amounts of electricity. Keeping all the lights on in a multi-story building uses significant electricity, and depending on how the business is run, water and natural gas consumption may be high as well. Converting to a remote model is typically associated with less overall energy expenditure.

New business models. Additionally, starting a business with the intention of going remote allows people to discover new business models and new ways of running businesses, optimizing for efficiency. Whether you’re looking to enhance your environmental sustainability or you’re just looking to save some money, this is a move in the right direction.

The Caveats

There are a few caveats to keep in mind, however:

Alternative transportation options. Some of the calculations for the sustainability of remote businesses depend on the assumption that most people are driving to work. But in areas where public transportation is readily available or where most people bike to work, this benefit is arguably negligible. Operating in-person businesses could be perfectly sustainable if more people would pursue alternative transportation options.

Utility use at home. The utility usage equation is also not straightforward. It’s definitely true that offices use significant amounts of energy, especially if they operate 24/7 or if these buildings are truly massive. However, it’s not always guaranteed that total energy consumption will be reduced when everyone works from home. Remember that when a person works from home, they may be more inclined to use more energy in that home environment, heating or cooling the home, using more appliances, and ultimately wasting more energy. If every person in the business increases their home energy use, it could easily counteract whatever energy was saved by closing the office down.

Higher energy demands. In some ways, operating remotely does demand more energy. You’ll have more people using more electronic devices to connect with each other. You’ll need servers and energy-intensive technological equipment to sustain your business infrastructure, and you may start relying on higher-tech additions to keep your business running smoothly, increasing your energy needs further.

Hybrid models. Most business owners are interested in downsizing physical office space, even if they don’t eliminate it. But hybrid models present energy problems of their own – sometimes representing the “worst of both worlds.”

The Bottom Line

So what’s the bottom line?

As you probably suspected, remote businesses truly are better for the environment in most ways. Operating remotely reduces your reliance on energy, reduces transportation demand, and ultimately allows for a more sustainable way of doing business.

However, the benefits aren’t as numerous or as massive as you might suspect – and if you want to operate your remote business as efficiently as possible, it’s important to recognize some of the limitations and complications associated with this model.