5 ecological benefits of remote work in Hawaii
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Reducing or eliminating vehicle use
Water main breaks. Accidents. Parades. Protests. Lava. Crime scene activity. Closures due to rock slides. And don’t forget construction work! So many things disrupt our local commutes that we cannot even list them all.
Many people dream of escaping the daily commute by working from home.
But remote work in Hawaii has an even more amazing benefit: reducing the pollution of the aina.
Reduced air pollution
Pollution from those cars is easy to forget about – until you are cleaning your jalousies and lanai chairs of all of that soot. Or when you are driving in a cloud behind someone and wonder how they passed vehicle inspection.
Having some workers work from home or from a co-working space would address some of Hawaii’s vehicular pollution. It seems like a no-brainer, so why don’t more local organizations do it? There is a “fear that employees won’t be working at home, they’ll be slacking off, ” according to an article in Civil Beat. 1 “Employers do not trust employees to work from home,” says a similar article. 2
Hopefully the benefits to our environment will outweigh those fears and lack of trust.(link) If you are reading this article, chances are you are already considering remote work, or considering allowing an employee to work from home. These next few points should help you decide to take action!
Depending on the type of car involved, you could reduce Hawaii’s annual CO2 emissions by as much as an entire metric ton. 3
This is because you or your employee would no longer need to drive to the office. Two-car families may even be able to reduce to a one-car household by using car-sharing services like Hui instead. The result is less noise and better air quality for humans, animals, and plants.
Can your company start by taking just one car off the road one day per week?
Reduced plastic waste
Perhaps you use a ceramic cup for the office. Maybe you already carry your own cloth bag and your own reusable lunch box and utensils. You are to be commended! However, many folks simply do not do this. So plastic waste is another source of pollution generated each workday.
With Hawaii’s plastic bag law, perhaps we are doing a bit better than the mainland. According to EarthDay.org, we are “averaging about 13 bottles” and “about 307 bags per person per month for every person in the U.S.” 4
But bento boxes wrapped in plastic, musubi wrappers, your 3-o’clock candy break packaging, or the plastic shopping bag that still comes with your takeout. Grabbing a bottle of water at the gas station because you forgot your Hydroflask® … and don’t forget the office kitchen with its stirrers, cups, coffee pods, plastic-coated paper plates and plastic utensils. Working from home, employees can use their own home utensils and drinks, and eat at home, drastically reducing their annual use of such plastics.
Food and paper waste
It is easy to see how folks working at home would be forced to rely on electronic transmittal of information, thus saving paper. And that seems to be the trend, according to the EPA, which says, “The generation of office-type (high grade) papers also has been in decline, due at least partially to the increased use of the electronic transmission of reports, etc.” 5
However, beneath this email and cloud storage are huge datacenters with 24-hour cooling, security, and backup batteries made from unsustainably-mined minerals. So it remains to be seen whether or not the trees saved are actually offsetting the overall environmental impact.
Food waste, however, is another story. “In the US, most waste is landfilled where rotting food creates methane, a greenhouse gas twenty‐five times more potent than carbon dioxide.” 6
Americans tossed out 267.8 million tons of municipal solid waste in 2017. 15% of that was from food; 25% was from paper and paperboard. On an individual scale, that’s roughly 3 lbs. of food, and 5.6 lbs of paper per workweek, per person. 7
It’s not exactly clear how much food waste would be reduced by remote workers eating at home. But who hasn’t done the Friday afternoon office fridge purge? There’s less wasted food at luncheons and meetings, less takeout food. Spending $25 per week on lunch or snacks at the office – let’s factor in some sick days, holidays, and vacation – by working from home for a year, a medium meat eater could save as much as $1200 — and 0.98 metric tons of CO2.
Less office wardrobe
This last one may be a surprising environmental benefit to many: reduced clothing waste.
Yes, the ugly side of the clothing industry is that the average American now generates 82 pounds of textile waste each year.8 And a large portion of that is polyester, elastic, buttons, zips, etc., which breaks down into micro plastics in the air and in the ocean.
It’s a simple fact that working remotely means you don’t need to buy as much of an office wardrobe. Working at home wearing your favorite old t-shirt, instead of buying a new white cotton shirt, you also save up to 713 gallons of fresh water.9 Remote-working in slippahs – you conserve the 3,626 gallons of water it takes to manufacture a pair of leather shoes.10
1 Civil Bytes: Telecommuting Could Be an Economic Force for Hawaii https://www.civilbeat.org/2015/08/civil-bytes-telecommuting-could-be-an-economic-force-for-hawaii/
2 Want Real Traffic Relief? Give Oahu’s Students And Workers Flexible Hours https://www.civilbeat.org/2019/02/want-real-traffic-relief-give-oahus-students-and-workers-flexible-hours/
3 Carbon Footprint Calculator https://calculator.carbonfootprint.com/calculator.aspx
4 End Plastic Pollution Fact Sheet: Single-Use Plastics https://www.earthday.org/2018/03/29/fact-sheet-single-use-plastics/
5,7 National Overview: Facts and Figures on Materials, Wastes and Recycling https://www.epa.gov/facts-and-figures-about-materials-waste-and-recycling/national-overview-facts-and-figures-materials
8True Cost Movie https://truecostmovie.com/learn-more/environmental-impact/
10Water Calulator https://www.watercalculator.org/water-use/the-hidden-water-in-everyday-products/