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If you’re one of the thousands of employees working from home, you might think 2020 was a pretty sustainable year for you. After all, remote employees tend to have smaller carbon footprints since they’re not commuting to work, while staying indoors probably means you aren’t contributing waste from the lunches and coffees you’d buy if you were at the office. These things may be true, but working from home isn’t necessarily as eco-friendly as people assume.
In the months after the start of the first lockdown, municipal waste increased by 20% and energy usage rose significantly, due to the fact people were spending more time at home. Even though working from home has its benefits, it’s important to be aware of the potential environmental damage you could be unknowingly inflicting. At Bywaters, sustainability is at the heart of what we do, so we’re here to point you in the right direction. We’ve already covered staying waste-free in the office, but working remotely is a little different. These are some ways you can boost your sustainability.
Cut down the online shopping
Being stuck at home without anywhere to go makes it very tempting to shop online. However, treating yourself can easily get out of hand. You may find yourself ordering items you don’t really need (which is wasteful in itself because it relies on using the planet’s finite source of materials). Remember these products will normally be packaged in non-biodegradable plastic and generate significant amounts of CO2 through transportation emissions.
The vast majority of retailers use lots of packaging for their deliveries, despite claiming to have strong sustainability values. Take ASOS, for example. Although the company has made some progress, plastic is still a major problem. And buying clothes from fast fashion brands is a particularly bad idea because they tend to be poor-quality and are only worn a few times before being discarded, leading to textile waste.
The obvious way to up your sustainability credentials is to shop less and try not to get sucked in by deals and discounts. Before you buy anything, consider whether you really need it, its longevity, and how many times you’ll use it. If you do need to buy something, be more sustainable by shopping with businesses that have committed to sustainability, such as Lush. The brand tries to avoid packaging altogether, but if necessary, uses recycled materials to reduce environmental impact. Which reminds us — always recycle your waste after a purchase to prevent it from going to landfill. This can have significant environmental benefits in the long run. For example, here at Bywaters, our dry-mixed recycling service has prevented almost 17 million kilograms of CO2 emissions in the last year.
Prepare your own food
One benefit of working from home is the hours you save by swerving the commute. Use this extra time to your advantage by cooking more meals from scratch, reducing your contributions to the food industry’s energy-intensive processing, packaging, and transporting processes. Takeaways are a delicious treat, but as well as costing more, they are also delivered in unsustainable plastic containers. Preparing your own meals benefits both your health and the environment, and gives you full control so you know exactly where your ingredients are sourced from. It’s also possible to recycle food waste, or alternatively, you could try composting.
Going organic helps too, which means choosing produce farmed without man-made fertilisers, pesticides, and growth regulators commonly filled with nasty chemicals. These tend to pollute the air, water, and ground, causing animals and plants to suffer as a result. While reducing your meat intake helps to lower your carbon footprint even more.
Reduce paper usage
Paper waste is a big issue for many businesses — the average worker uses 10,000 pieces of paper every year and 6,800 pages are wasted. While working from home, try to cut down your paper usage wherever possible. Consider whether you really need to print that document, it will be more environmentally-friendly to read it on your computer and add your own notes there. However, if you must print something, be savvy about it. Make sure your settings are programmed to print on both sides to get full use of each sheet, and use recycled printing paper for bonus points. And of course, if you do need to use paper, recycle it once you’re done.
Do you like to jot down notes? Try a note-taking app such as EverNote, Microsoft OneNote, or Notion.
Identify where waste is coming from and take action
We’ve already mentioned that household waste is on the rise since more people started working from home. To combat the issue, you first need to see just how much rubbish you’re generating and identify where it’s coming from. We recommend conducting a small experiment. Collect all your waste for a week — try your best not to throw anything away — to learn how much it all adds up. The ugly accumulation may be uncomfortable to bear, but it will hopefully be an eye-opening experience that will initiate better decisions in the future.
What can you do to cut this down? There are many ways of doing so, including using a stainless steel water bottle rather than a single-use plastic one, reusing your supermarket shopping bags, and doing your grocery shop at a local market where food is typically loose rather than packaged.
Be cautious of energy usage
Energy bills will inevitably increase as a result of working from home, but there are ways to be more sustainable. Home heating contributes to carbon emissions so wear more layers to keep warm instead — there’s no one stopping you from working wrapped up in a cosy blanket! Or if it’s really cold, try and minimise how much heat you’re using. Some radiators have dials so you can direct the heat to the room you’re working in rather than warming up the whole house. Simply turning your thermostat down by 1°C can save up to £80 a year and lessen your impact on the environment too.
It’s worth noting that your computer uses energy too, even when you’re not working. Try turning it off on your lunch breaks, or put it in sleep mode if you don’t want the hassle of closing and reopening everything you’re working on. You can also blur your background on video calls to save bandwidth and energy. But remember at the end of the day to completely switch your machine off and unplug it. Switching plugs off and unplugging after use reduces energy consumption, as these still draw and waste energy from the grid.