Homeworking could save the UK £3bn and three million tonnes of carbon a year, according to research by consultancy the Carbon Trust.
Investigating the potential environmental benefits of a further shift to homeworking, the Trust said technological advances make homeworking a viable option for over 40% of UK jobs.
However, in its homeworking report, it said only 35% of companies have a policy allowing their employees to work from home and where it is offered, between one third and one half choose not to use it.
Over 4 million UK employees now work from home, reducing employee commuting and resulting in carbon, money and time savings. The Trust said if office space is properly rationalised as a result, homeworking can also significantly reduce office energy consumption and rental costs.
Yet the report cautioned that carbon savings are sometimes not achieved because of potential rebound effects, particularly the increased carbon emissions from employees working in homes that are energy inefficient. Workplaces that can realise the greatest immediate environmental benefits from a shift to homeworking tend to be those with long average employee commutes, especially by car, and where employers are contemplating a move to new premises.
It suggested the rebound could be mitigated by the use of better insulation and smart metering in homes, or using alternative workspaces close to home. “The rebound impact on home energy consumption could be reduced through employees working in shared spaces, such as libraries, urban communal workspaces or telecottages sited in rural areas.”
The report added that social isolation experienced by some homeworkers can be tackled by effective communication strategies and balancing time at home with time in the office. “The opportunities offered by homeworking remain finely balanced with a nervousness regarding the impact of having staff outside the office. But as the need to reduce our carbon footprint increases, it has never been more important to examine homeworking carefully and to resolve these ambiguities.”
Hugh Jones, managing director of advisory at the Carbon Trust, said: “Homeworking is on the rise, with numbers increasing by over half a million since 2007. This new research shows that in the right circumstances, it has the potential to be expanded significantly and be a win-win for business and the environment.
“Significant financial and carbon savings can be achieved from the roll out of homeworking. But companies must be careful to ensure that they get the balance right, for if employers do not take account of their individual circumstances, a rebound effect, from employees heating inefficient homes, may actually lead to an increase in carbon emissions.”
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