Mobile workforce not always more green-friendly

Report claims letting employees work from home won't necessarily lower carbon emissions, but Singapore businesses say they have other initiatives and technologies to manage their carbon footprint.

Working from home may not necessarily reduce one's carbon footprint, claimed a recent IET report. However, Singapore companies with mobile workers say they are continuing their enterprise efforts to lower their carbon footprint and minimize the environmental impact of their business activities by using various technologies and initiatives.

In its report released September, the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) claimed that working from home actually increased energy use by 30 percent. The study looked at the rebound effects of activities traditionally thought to be green and environmentally-friendly, such as home offices and online shopping.

For example, when not working in the office, people may use more electricity at home, be it for lighting, turning on the air-conditioner or powering their laptops.

In an e-mail interview with ZDNet Asia, Eugene Tay, editor of online green community site Low Carbon Singapore, said it is not enough to look at different green tech or services separately or to implement them in a piecemeal manner, regardless of the home or office.

He emphasized that a more holistic approach is needed by looking at the whole building and its occupants' behavior. The design and construction of the structure should be considered, from the use of natural light to natural ventilation, he said, adding that it is also important to educate the occupants and change their behavior toward more environmentally-friendly.

Citing a similar approach, analyst Steve Hodgkinson told ZDNet Asia that being truly green is about changing one's behavior to avoid unnecessary activities and energy consumption, as well as switching to more efficient, less energy-consuming ways of doing things. Working from home does not necessarily achieve this, said Hodgkinson who is Ovum Asia-Pacific's research director, IT.

The analyst added that "energy-efficiency tends to be an attribute of new technology and scale". Rather than homes, he pointed out that cities and offices are the ones which drive the scale and investment in the latest, most energy-efficient technologies.

Hodgkinson noted that working from home may appear to reduce emissions since there is no commuting to work in a car, but argued that this could just be replacing an efficient technology with an inefficient one. Face-to-face business meetings could lead to more car trips within the suburbs instead of walking to the location within the central business district or taking a short trip on the train, he elaborated.

Daniel Kessler, communications manager of Greenpeace International, said that "increased remote work is a mixed bag". He added that the focus ought to be making sure that technologies which the workers use are as green as possible.

Remote working on the rise
Nonetheless, remote working is on the rise, according to a 2008 Gartner survey. To counter, companies that have mobile workforces say they carry out other initiatives and technologies to manage their commercial carbon footprint.

Judy Lee, program manager, corporate citizenship and corporate affairs, said that more than 65 percent of IBM's manpower is mobile, as this reduces the need for business-related travel.

To reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), she added that IBM's other strategies include efforts to boost the efficiency of its logistic operations, purchasing electricity generated from lower CO2-emitting and energy-renewable sources where feasible.

In an e-mail to ZDNet Asia, Lee said IBM's carbon emissions in 2009 were 2.6 percent lower than in 2008. The company's energy conservation initiatives across the company worldwide in 2009 resulted in power savings equal to 5.4 percent of its total energy use, exceeding the target of 3.5 percent, she added.

Promoting industry green standards
Ronnie Lee, country general manager for Lenovo Singapore, said that along with its membership in the Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition (EICC) since June 2006, Lenovo optimizes its global logistics program by turning to shipping methods that are more environmentally friendly, such as ship and rail.

The EICC is an association that promotes a code of conduct aimed at improving working and environmental conditions for organizations involved in global electronics supply chains.

Lee highlighted that Lenovo focuses on shipping products in an environmentally responsible way, such as joining the EPA SmartWay program. This is a collaboration between the freight industry and U.S. Environmental Protection agency to promote fuel efficiency and reduce Greenhouse gas emissions.

Constructing energy-efficient buildings
In his e-mail, Greenpeace's Kessler cautioned that data centers and telecommunications networks, which bring information to mobile devices like the iPad, will guzzle about 1,963 billion kilowatt hours of electricity in 2020, more than triple the current consumption.

Chia Boon Chong, deputy director of corporate social responsibility, SingTel, said the company's newest data center, Kim Chuam Telecommunications Center 2 (KCTC-2), was constructed to comply with Singapore's Building and Construction Authority's Green Mark scheme. The scheme, introduced in 2005, evaluates how environmentally-friendly buildings are based on criteria such as water and energy efficiency and the potential to reduce environmental impacts.

Energy-efficient technologies and initiatives are also applied across SingTel's corporate offices, including light sensors in washrooms, telecommuting and flexible working arrangements, said Chia.


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