The potential sustainability benefits of flexible working

sustainable business

There are plenty of reasons for organisations to be reconsidering their working practices. Thanks to ubiquitous connectivity, remote working has proved viable, and many employers have realised that the working world we build going forward doesn't need to be so rigid and can be designed to suit both employers and their employees.

Whether it's a key organisational objective or an added bonus, there can be environmental benefits to flexible, dynamic working, especially if organisations are careful to consciously factor sustainability into their reorganisation plans. Given the ambitious goals of the Paris Agreement and the UK's target of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, sustainability has been a huge topic over the last few years and the business world is now taking it more seriously than ever. Customers and employees are also increasingly interested in what the companies they buy from and work for are doing to protect the planet, and there are commercial benefits to going green too.

Proof of the impact we can all have by changing our daily routines, including working practices, came during the strictest periods of global lockdown in early 2020, where daily global carbon emissions fell by up to 17%. While this dramatic reduction happened in a time of intense restrictions, it highlights the tangible difference we can make by living and working and differently. Changes such as reduced city commute as part of a dynamic working culture can enable organisations to become more sustainable and help build a better future, especially if organisations invest in making their new IT infrastructure as green as possible.

The benefits of staying put and "virtual" travel

One of the biggest environmental benefits of remote working practices is the reduction of travel. Transport accounts for around a quarter of global CO2 emissions, and the daily commute alone is a significant contributor to our carbon emissions as a country. The 2020 O2 Business Flexible Future of Work report found that if full-time workers worked one day less at the office, each person would travel 1526 fewer miles on average, which would result in an annual 7.1 megatonne decrease in CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent) emissions. If UK workers took it even further and worked from home twice a week, the UK would see an annual CO2e decrease equivalent to more than the total emissions of Northern Ireland.

Another consequence of the recent lockdowns was to bring about an almost complete stop to international business travel. Many organisations are now waking up to the fact that this kind of travel simply isn't always necessary. While occasionally getting everyone together in the same location might be deemed crucial for building and maintaining some relationships, video conferencing technology or even emails and cloud collaboration are good enough for day-to-day communication. This has the potential to make a huge difference to the planet. According to German nonprofit Atmosfair, a return flight from London to New York generates around 986kg of CO2 per passenger. To put that in context, there are 56 countries in the world where the average person's total annual CO2 emissions are lower than this.

There are other potential benefits to staying put and working at home at least some of the time. Reducing office space could help lower energy consumption, especially in the summer months when offices are running energy-guzzling air conditioning systems. Food waste and single-use plastics could also be reduced by employees eating at home, and the volume of printing is likely to be reduced when employees don't have the convenience of printing at the office.

Sustainability is good for business

Being environmentally aware will be important to many of your employees too. According to the O2 Business 2020 Flexible Future of Work report, scrapping the daily commute is a popular move with younger, environmentally conscious employees. 51% of Gen Z and 53% of Gen Y surveyed said they were concerned about the environmental impact of commuting. 39% of workers surveyed wanted to take fewer business trips to help protect the environment. In an increasingly competitive environment, listening to your employees is vital to retain and attract the best talent.

There are also financial benefits to taking measures to become more green and efficient. O2 has also created a Green Savings Calculator, which helps organisations work out how they can use flexible working to reduce their carbon footprint and save money. The calculator focuses on different areas of saving across each business, including travel reduction and long-term strategies such as office rationalisation.

According to early trials of the calculator, UK businesses with 1,000 employees could save an average 534 tonnes of CO2 per year, and £2.6m in energy, office rationalisation and travel-related costs. This is based on employees working from home two days a week, going on an average of two business trips a month, and not taking any international trips.

Building a green infrastructure

Of course, just because your employees aren't physically travelling around as much, doesn't mean you're off the hook when it comes to carbon emissions. Your digital activity still has a footprint. According to 2018 figures from think tank The Shift Project, the carbon footprint of our devices, the internet and the infrastructure supporting it all account for about 3.7% of global emissions. So it's important to carefully consider the environmental impact of your digital systems.

One way to do this is to go with providers who take environmental concerns seriously. For example, O2 is committed to building a greener network, with a goal of becoming the first UK mobile network to reach net zero by 2025. It is also aiming to cut emissions by 30% across its whole supply chain. O2 was also the first mobile network in the world to be awarded the Carbon Trust Triple Standard for carbon, waste and water and is currently one of only three companies in the world to hold the highest level Carbon Trust Standard for supply chain.

Through its business connectivity solutions, O2 is also on a mission to help its customers reduce their impact and build a greener future. Partnering with the UK Government's ambitious Smart Metering initiative, O2 is using its IoT connectivity and infrastructure to help deliver smart metering solutions across the country – which will help further reduce the environmental impact of those working at home.

Flexibility has benefits for so many aspects of your organisation, and it can be a step towards a more environmentally conscious working model. Build a better future for your organisation, your employees and the planet with new working practices.

Find out more about how O2 can help you build a flexible workplace


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