Can one global public health crisis help cure another? In the case of Covid-19 and C02 emissions, it seems so. In March 2020, shelter-in-place initiatives required millions of Americans to abandon their corporate cubicles and head for their home offices. The environmental impact from this attempt to flatten the contagion curve resulted in less commuting for employees and lower energy costs for corporations.
While it’s true that not all work can be done from home, such as jobs in the food & beverage and hospitality industries, statistics show that 80 percent of employees in work-from-home-compatible positions support telecommuting. Global Workplace Analytics, an organization that has estimated work-from-home potential since 2011, uses peer-reviewed frameworks and occupational data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) as evidence in favor of these claims.
And as Covid-19 vaccine rollouts bring the nation closer to herd immunity, employees and companies are positioned to protect the environment by shortening their commutes and saving money by advocating for full- or part-time work from home.
Work-from-home policies gained worldwide traction in 2020, but there is much-untapped potential remaining to reduce the nation’s carbon footprint. To this point, statistics from Global Workplace Analytics estimated in 2020 that about 75 million U.S. employees, or 56 percent of the workforce, could work from home part-time. Of that 75 million, only 3.7 million professionals in the United States currently work from home part- or full-time.
As is the case with most major societal trends, policies and leadership mindsets take time to shift. However, the environmental and economic benefits cannot be ignored, and according to Forbes, there’s no doubt: telecommuting and remote jobs are here to stay. Young college graduates seeking their first job and seasoned employees who have worked at the same company for years all stand to benefit from work-from-home.
Beyond the benefits mentioned above, there are numerous reasons people desire to work from home. Some are weary from lengthy commutes or want to save money on gas. Most are looking for a better work-life balance where schedule flexibility is a pillar of their job. Working from home gives people less time commuting and more time focusing on things that make them happy.
However self-serving a work-from-home career may sound, reducing time spent in traffic is not the only way work-from-home saves energy. The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) reported that consumers working from home actually saved $3.5 billion and collectively kept 20 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions out of the atmosphere through using newer internet connectivity equipment. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), this is equivalent to the amount of energy needed to power nearly 2.5 million US households for a year.
Telecommuters save more than just time and money. As more companies allow employees to work from home, individuals and companies reap the benefits of reducing their carbon footprint. Read on to discover ways working from home helps protect the environment and ten “green” telecommuting careers.
Please note that you can calculate your current carbon footprint by using this tool available from the Nature Conservancy.
Here are three ways working from home can protect the environment and decrease public health risks.
This is one of the most obvious ways remote workers can benefit the planet. Fewer people driving to work means lower carbon dioxide emissions.
Some companies are already noticing this environmental advantage and calculating that favorable effect on the environment. For example, when three international corporations Aetna, Dell, and Xerox, implemented new telecommuting policies, they saved almost 100,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Society for Human Resource Management. More granular details for Xerox shows that by allowing workers to telecommute, including finance directors, software programmers, and systems developers, employees saved 4.6 million gallons of gas and drove 92 million fewer miles.
Overall, the nation could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 54 million tons, which is the equivalent of taking almost ten million cars off the road for a year, according to the Telework Savings Calculator.
Many companies are downsizing their commercial space to save on energy and real estate costs and adjust their workspace needs to the increasing number of people working from home part- or full-time. Office space is more than a cult-classic film: it’s a significant overhead cost for large and small companies to build and rent expensive space. According to Telework Savings Calculators, companies could save more than $500 billion a year in real estate, electricity, absenteeism, and turnover and productivity, saving more than $11,000 per employee per year.
According to the EPA, heating and cooling is one of the largest energy expenses beyond the financial and resource cost of new construction. Also, office spaces need costly essentials like desks, chairs, conference tables, copy machines, printers, servers, whiteboards, phones, and small items like Post-It notes, pens, paper clips, and even business cards. People who telecommute may already have many, if not all, of these things at home. They may even choose to use their kitchen table, extra bedroom, or the surface of a bed for desk space.
Telecommuting can help cut down on construction costs and the need for companies to purchase or rent space to create a comfortable working environment.
Even though many people get in cars every day, driving is statistically dangerous. Fewer vehicles on the road mean everyone’s chances of being in a fatal crash are lower. Statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) show that traffic volume decreased nationwide by more than 16 percent in 2020 between January and June, as did traffic fatalities by a rate of 3.3 percent compared to the same six-month period in 2019.
Unfortunately, while the traffic volume decreased, the number of traffic fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled (VMT) increased to 1.25 in 2020 from 1.06 in 2019, meaning fewer cars didn’t equate to fewer traffic fatalities. Data from NHTSA shows that alcohol, drugs, and speeding were involved in many traffic-related deaths in 2020. To this point, merely reducing the number of cars on the road isn’t enough to reduce the risk of being in a fatal car crash on the way to work.
Beyond health and safety, car crashes cost individuals billions of dollars in repairs and healthcare costs every year. By working from home, professionals can significantly reduce their chances of getting into a car accident. Global Workplace Analytics reports that telecommuters could save almost 90,000 people from traffic-related injury or death. Auto-accident costs can be reduced by more than $10 billion a year.
Additionally, by not driving, telecommuters minimize wear and tear on U.S. highways by more than 119 billion miles a year, saving communities hundreds of millions in highway maintenance costs. These cost savings create healthier economies and free up funds to spend on investing in sustainable infrastructure.
Regardless of personal beliefs or political alignments on climate change, science shows irrefutable evidence: telecommuting reduces the levels of C02 emissions, which contribute to global warming. From the data above, it’s clear that implementing work from home policies is a massive step towards creating a safer, cleaner world while saving individuals and companies money.
There is a wealth of work-from-home job opportunities, ranging from one or two days a week at home to 100 percent remote work. Here are ten green jobs that lend themselves to part- or full-time remote-based positions.
Environmental scientists work to clean up polluted outdoor spaces, write policies, or consult with industries to create cleaner soil, water, and air. They can find jobs as teachers or professors in distance-learning programs, allowing them to teach classes remotely, lead student conversations online, provide distance-based instruction and even conduct academic evaluations. If they prefer to take the research route, environmental scientists may carry out research and peer-edit reports from home.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS May 2019), environmental scientists earn an average annual salary of $77,940 per year.
Environmental economists weigh the costs and benefits of extracting natural resources to make decisions to benefit the planet. According to Environmental Science, job responsibilities include creating policy, running complex computer-based modeling programs, and communicating research findings to governmental organizations. Many environmental economists are employed by federal or state governments or scientific institutions, many of which could offer telecommuting opportunities.
According to PayScale (2021), the average annual salary for an environmental economist is $99,946.
Grant writing is an excellent career for anyone who enjoys working from home. Writing requires a fair amount of concentration and the ability to pull together essential pieces for a proposal. The key to succeeding in this job is to craft a convincing proposal that compels grantors to give the green light to fund initiatives. A grant writer can write proposals remotely for any nonprofit or government organization dedicated to helping specific populations or causes. Because many grant writers are self-employed, this job is well-suited for anyone who wants to run a business out of their home.
The BLS (May 2019) does not have wage information for grant writers specifically but estimates the annual average salary for writers and authors to be $73,860. By comparison, data from PayScale (2021) reports the average yearly salary for grant writers is $48,857 per year.
Stormwater drainage systems run throughout communities worldwide, and the BLS shows that positions in a related job (hydrologists) are growing at a rate of 5 percent (2019-2029), which is faster than average occupational growth nationwide (4 percent).
Professionals in this job must be skilled in planning reviews and implementing stormwater programs that can be completed remotely. Stormwater plan reviewers have various educational backgrounds, such as environmental science, environmental engineering, hydrology, or stormwater management. Hydrologists must have a bachelor’s degree and, in 2019, earned average annual salaries of $86,330 (BLS May 2019).
Similar to grant writers, journal editors can often find opportunities to work from home. The BLS reports that 14 percent of all editors are self-employed while 10 percent work in professional, scientific, or technical services.
Scientific journal editors may need to ensure that formatting requirements are met and accurate terminology is used to edit scientific, academic writing. These positions require a degree in science and prior editing or writing experience at the academic level. Most editing jobs can be entirely remote, while others may be part-time, temporary, or offer flexible schedule opportunities at a distance.
Editors usually need at least a bachelor’s degree and earn average annual salaries of $71,910 (BLS May 2019).
Research assistants are tasked with many investigation projects related to sustainability, wildlife protection, and climate change. Research assistants can find positions in government, non-profits, and even scientific establishments, any of which may seek remote help. Since much of the work involved in research involves collecting, codifying, and analyzing data in written reports, this is an ideal career for those seeking part- or full-time remote-jobs, depending on position requirements. A background in writing, science, or a specific discipline are the minimum qualifications for most positions.
The BLS (May 2019) reports the average annual salary for social science research assistants is $51,340.
There is no shortage of demand for legal representation in the environmental world. Those interested in working law without a legal degree can access work-from-home positions as a paralegal.
To prepare for a case, paralegals gather facts for a case and research background information that may help the defense or prosecution. An environmental paralegal might work for a firm focused on prosecuting companies that violate environmental codes or a firm that works to protect intellectual property, such as patents for new technologies that efficiently capture and convert renewable energy from the sun.
An associate degree is typically required to enter the field, although some firms may require paralegals to have a bachelor’s degree. The average annual salary for paralegals is $55,020 (BLS (May 2019).
Professionals with sales experience could work remotely selling water treatment products and systems. Via telecommuting, water treatment salespeople can stay in touch with their existing contacts, meet with new prospects, and set up new accounts using phone calls, video conferencing, and email. While a bachelor’s degree isn’t always required for sales positions, a proven track record of success and access to industry contacts helps earn commission-based income.
Sales managers earned average annual salaries of $141,690 in 2019, according to the BLS.
The best educators require people to think critically in their disciplines, and the environmental challenges of the 21st-century call for educators to inform and inspire students studying environmental science. This discipline examines topics ranging from climate change to air and water pollution and protecting water resources.
The field of environmental science encompasses many different areas, such as biology, chemistry, and physics. University teaching jobs require a doctorate or master’s degree in environmental science or a related field, and professors willing to teach online classes are ideal candidates for 100 percent remote positions. Professor wages vary widely depending on the discipline and whether or not the job is grant-funded.
Postsecondary teachers in biological science earn an average annual salary of $98,700 (BLS May 2019).
This may not sound like the most alluring job of all of the telecommuting jobs out there. Still, the solid waste industry affords flexibility for those interested in using their environmental engineering skills to efficiently and correctly dispose of solid waste. Senior solid waste engineering professionals may offer consulting to various waste disposal entities, reducing garbage or sludge generated through industrial, commercial, or residential uses.
A senior solid waste engineer might oversee the design and management of landfills, prepare engineering design reports, double-check building plans and manage permit application processes. They may propose cutting-edge ways of disposing of unwanted solid waste into sources of energy, such as biomass waste-to-energy systems that convert garbage into steam, producing a renewable clean energy source. A solid waste engineer typically has a bachelor’s degree in environmental engineering or another type of engineering field. According to Salary.com, in 2021, salaries for solid waste engineers range from $63,363 to $74,789.
In summary, saving the planet can be as simple as finding a remote job. There is a growing number of green jobs in which professionals can excel by working part- or full-time from home.
According to Kate Lister, the president of Global Workplace Analytics: “…there is no easier, quicker, and cheaper way to reduce your carbon footprint than by reducing commuter travel.” By working remotely, US employees with work-from-home capable jobs can make a positive environmental impact and protect their precious free time.
As the world slowly recovers from the devastation of the Covid-19 pandemic, remote positions are likely to become more widely available. Employees might find the right telecommuting job that utilizes their education and professional experience to create a healthier future for the planet.