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Study says remote work could cause drop in carbon emissions

Working from home could help combat climate change but could also negatively impact mass transit systems.
Study says remote work could cause drop in carbon emissions
Posted at 10:31 AM, Apr 11, 2024

Is remote work the answer to solving climate change? A new University of Florida study indicates that increasing remote work could reduce Americans' carbon footprint. 

According to research published this week in Nature Cities, a 10% reduction in on-site workers from 2019 levels could cause an annual reduction of 191.8 million metric tons in CO2 emissions. 

The researchers, however, noted that a reduction in on-site work would cause a significant drop in public transit revenue. They said a 10% decline in on-site workers would cause transit systems to lose $3.7 billion nationally every year, a 27% drop.

Numerous studies have indicated that mass transit can help combat climate change given buses and trains are capable of carrying a large number of passengers. 

“Transit agencies need to be very concerned,” Shenhao Wang, a professor of urban planning at University of Florida who supervised the study, said in a press release. “Yet overall we would expect less energy consumption from reduced car travel. So the picture is very complicated, and whether the effects are positive or negative depends on the stakeholder.”

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The study follows previous studies that show that at-home work helps reduce carbon emissions. Last year, Cornell University and Microsoft researchers published findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that indicated employees who work from home could have a 54% lower carbon footprint than employees who work in an office. 

Hybrid work can also help lower someone's carbon footprint. Their study found that working from home two to four days a week helps someone reduce their carbon footprint by 11% to 29% compared to on-site workers.

University of Florida researchers said that studying the impact of remote work on carbon emissions was challenging before the pandemic because of the limited number of people working from home. They were able to use a time period from April 2020 to October 2022 in their study. 

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