Both the Met Office and the Department for the Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs have advised businesses to encourage home working, saying this brings ecological as well as economic benefits.
Speaking at the Workwise UK Conference in London on Wednesday, Dr Richard Betts, head of climate impacts at the Met Office, told ZDNet.co.uk that home working could also allow businesses to operate from smaller premises, saving money.
"There are financial incentives and compelling corporate social responsibility incentives," said Betts. "Companies are affected by legislation. When legislation comes in regulating carbon emissions, companies encouraging home working will be ahead of the game."
The government is in the process of drafting legislation to govern carbon emissions. The Climate Change Bill has been in draft since March 2007. One of the aims of the bill is to establish targets for reducing carbon dioxide emissions — including making the UK's Kyoto Agreement targets for a 60 percent reduction by 2050 legally binding.
Betts said letting employees work from home can significantly reduce carbon emissions. "Let's say working from home cuts out a half-hour commute in the car," said Betts. "Day to day that can have a huge impact. Avoiding air travel through teleconferencing can also have a huge impact."
Betts added that it is also in the global public interest to reduce carbon emissions. In a speech giving evidence about climate change being caused primarily by carbon emissions, Betts said greenhouse gas concentrations are increasing, the global average temperature has increased by 0.7°C over the past 100 years, sea levels have risen by 20cm since the beginning of the 19th century, and worldwide snow cover is melting.
"The cost of inaction will be many times greater than the cost of action," said Betts, who added that businesses could also use information about green initiatives to promote their images.
Environment minister Hilary Benn, who was also speaking at the conference, said companies could save commuting time and money by encouraging home working. "Smarter working is all about flexibility," said Benn. "You can cut emissions, reduce congestion, and save resources, time, and money. Fundamentally what we need to do is put a price on carbon."