Homeworking and online shopping: Are they really greener?

Cutting carbon emissions - or just moving them elsewhere?
Written by Tim Ferguson, Contributor

Cutting carbon emissions - or just moving them elsewhere?

Home working and online shopping may not be as effective in reducing carbon emissions as previously thought, according to new research.

Both activities have often been touted as green as they reduce the need for travel and the CO2 emissions that result. However, teleworking and shopping can both have unintended consequences that, in some situations, can actually increase the carbon they generate.

According to a report by the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) published this week, while working from home reduces the need for people to commute to work, it also requires greater use of energy - sometimes by up to 30 per cent - than going into the office as people use more electricity at home for heating, lighting and powering electronic devices.

A home office - working at home isn't always good for the environment

Although working at home reduces travel, it can increase carbon emissions in other ways
(Photo credit: Shutterstock)

Homeworking can also lead to people moving further away from their workplace as their need to commute is reduced. As a result, it can increase urban sprawl which is detrimental to plant and wildlife, according to the report.

The report also cites evidence that the number of non-commuting journeys increases when people work at home as they take the opportunity to run errands or the car is used by other members of the family.

"The challenge therefore is to reduce carbon emissions from transport without impeding the economy. That means we need to rely more on innovation and the use of technology to manage existing transport networks better," the report said.

Likewise the environmental benefits associated with online shopping – such as reduced travel and reduced overproduction due to just-in-time delivery – can be negated by other factors. For example, low population density and long delivery distances in rural areas can make deliveries less efficient than in urban areas.

In addition, online orders are often in smaller units than when people visit shops and so more packaging is required.

Carbon savings are possible with online shopping but only if it replaces 3.5 shopping trips, includes more than 25 items or if the purchase made is for an item more than 50km away.

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