Increasing the numbers of employees working from home could save up to £3bn in energy costs for UK businesses, reducing over three million tonnes of carbon emissions nationwide.
That's according to a new report released today (21 May) by the Carbon Trust. The report indicates that homeworking can significantly reduce office energy consumption and rental costs, as well as additional CO2 emissions created by employees when commuting.
Advances in technologies such as smartphones and cloud computing means it is now all the more feasible, with the report revealing a significant increase in homeworkers to over four million out of a 30 million-strong workforce.
"Homeworking is on the rise, with numbers increasing by over half a million since 2007," said the Carbon Trust's managing director of advisory Hugh Jones. "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."
The Carbon Trust's research goes on to reveal a critical finding: carbon savings are sometimes not achieved because of potential rebound effects, particularly the increased carbon emissions from employees working in homes that often energy inefficient.
Jones says business must therefore take care to factor in their individual circumstances when considering homeworking policies, to ensure that these will actually cut carbon emissions and not increase them.
"Significant financial and carbon savings can be achieved from the roll out of homeworking," he said. "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."
Over 40 per cent of UK jobs are compatible with working from home, but only 35 per cent of companies have a policy allowing their employees to do so. And where homeworking is offered by companies, between one-third and one-half choose not to accept it.
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.
Case study: Cisco
One firm that has taken advantage of the energy reduction benefits of telecommuting is networking equipment manufacturer Cisco.
Ian Foddering, Cisco's chief technology officer and technical director, said: "By 2018, there will be over 10 billion mobile-connected devices globally. As such, telecommuting will not only become commonplace but is already in the progress of fast becoming the most natural way for people to work and collaborate globally. Cisco has aggressive targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from our operations and suppliers worldwide, and telecommuting is helping us to achieve these goals.
"The average Cisco employee telecommutes two days a week and those using our Cisco Virtual Office technology typically work from home three days each week. In total, this amounts to avoiding 35 million miles of commuting per year. Not only is this great for the environment, reducing Cisco's CO2 emissions by 17,000 tonnes annually, but it's also great for business, with an estimated $333 million per year made in productivity savings.
"Although some organisations may experience cultural barriers in adopting telecommuting, we believe our experience at Cisco demonstrates the real benefits to the environment, the business and the individual employee."