Posted: 23 Apr. 2020 5 min. read

4 ways to reduce your environmental footprint whilst working from home

Every cloud has a silver lining, or in the case of the COVID-19 pandemic, a green one. From satellite images of vanishing pollution in China, to unprecedented sightings of the Himalayas, to dolphins in the Venice canals, the positive environmental impact of the coronavirus crisis has not gone unnoticed. In fact, the scientific community is anticipating the largest ever annual fall in CO2 emissions in 2020, more than during any previous economic crisis or period of war[1].

As we stay at home to help flatten the curve, our own travel-related carbon footprint has plummeted.

Let’s look at some examples. A colleague who used to drive 25 kilometres to the Perth office has been working from home this past month. In doing so, they have reduced their carbon footprint by 155kg CO2e — the equivalent to charging 20,000 smartphones[2][3]!

Reduced public transport has also made a huge impact. For example, everyone who isn’t hopping on the tram for a daily 5 kilometre commute into and back from the Melbourne CBD office reduced their carbon footprint by up to 13kg CO2e in four weeks[4].

As for business air travel, back-of-envelope calculations based on the firm’s historical travel data suggests that we’ve saved 8,000 flights and 10 million kilometres of air travel—or over 1,000 metric tons of CO2e—this past month alone[5].

These are rather exhilarating and eye opening stats.

Now, as you’d expect, there is significant debate about the extent to which this reduction in carbon emissions will be sustained after COVID-19. Regardless of what the future holds, we have the opportunity to build on this momentum to introduce more sustainable practices inside our homes. This is all the more important as the sanitary imperatives of COVID-19 have driven regression in other sustainability areas, such as single-use plastics and packaging. 

We asked our Deloitte Climate Action Champions Network to share their tips and recommendations for reducing our environmental footprint from home:

1.    At your desk

Fact: The energy consumption of digital technologies accounts for c.4% of worldwide carbon emission and is expected to double by 2025 to reach 8%. The use of digital technology accounts for 55% of its energy consumption, compared to 45% for the production of equipment[6].

  •  Turn off your IT equipment (and VPN!) as soon as you are not using it
  •  Wear climate appropriate clothing. Put a jumper on, rather than the heating. Open a window for some breeze, or turn on a fan rather than the air conditioning
  •  Set up your desk to make the most of natural light outside or in direct sunlight to reduce electricity use: “In order to reduce the amount of electricity I use with indoor lights, I have set up a little outdoor office in my (small) shady courtyard, as the weather is quite pleasant right now! That way I can get some fresh air as well as reduce my carbon footprint.” – Sigrid

2.    In the kitchen

Fact: Livestock provides just 18% of calories but takes up 83% of farmland and produces 60% of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions[7].

  • Explore a more plant-based diet for better associated health, environmental and financial benefits: “Now's a great time to experiment with new recipes or ingredients that are more eco-friendly.” – Adam
  • Invest in solutions that help keep produce fresh for longer, minimising food waste and prolonging periods without going to the shops: “I love my swag bag. Not only does this reduce food waste to landfill (if you don't compost), but it also reduces the need for plastic to store produce, and will help minimise the number of times you need to head to the supermarket and further help reduce the spread of COVID-19.” – Alyssa

3.    In the garden/on the balcony

Fact: If food waste were a country, it would be the third biggest global greenhouse gas emitter after China and the United States[8]. 

  • Don't send your organic waste to landfill - get a compost bin or worm farm to prevent food waste GHG emissions, produce natural fertiliser, and get a new family project going
  • Grow some veggies. From window box to community gardens, opportunities to grow your own vegetables are numerous. Combining this with the above allows you to create your own micro closed-loop food system (organic waste -> compost -> home veggie patch -> plate).

4.    At the source

Fact: At 0.82kgCo2e/kwh, Australia’s grid has one of the highest emissions intensity in the world due to the number of coal-fired generators. For comparison, the UK’s emission intensity is 0.22kgCo2e/kWh[9].

Why not use the spare time at home to make household and administrative changes that will have an enduring impact on your carbon footprin

  • Move home electricity and gas to renewables under the government Green Power sche
  • Replace antiquated energy-inefficient devices with the latest green technology alternatives (LED lights, 5 and 6 star-rated fridges, efficient water heaters and washing machines).

Want to find out more

1. Calculate your ecological footprint to understand how many planets we would need if everybody lives like you (and what you might want to do about it…)

2. Consult this recent study to target changes in your household consumption with the highest potential for climate change mitigation of household consumption options. Top 10 are all transport, electricity and diet related.

The firm’s Climate Action Program is working across the firm’s footprint, voice, and market offerings to reduce the firm and our clients’ carbon footprint for a more sustainable future.

[1] https://www.carbonbrief.org/analysis-coronavirus-set-to-cause-largest-ever-annual-fall-in-co2-emissions

[2] Assumptions used: 50km daily car journey, 5 days a week, 154g CO2 passenger km (source https://chartingtransport.com/category/greenhouse-gas-emissions/)

[3] https://www.epa.gov/energy/greenhouse-gas-equivalencies-calculator

[4] https://www.abc.net.au/tv/carboncops/factsheets/cc_other_transport.pdf

[5] Based on FY19 Deloitte Australia Operational Sustainability Data

[6] https://theshiftproject.org/en/article/lean-ict-our-new-report/

[7] https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/may/31/avoiding-meat-and-dairy-is-single-biggest-way-to-reduce-your-impact-on-earth

[8] https://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-09-11/un-says-wasted-food-is-third-biggest-carbon-emitter/4952126

[9] https://publications.industry.gov.au/publications/climate-change/system/files/resources/cf1/national-greenhouse-accounts-factors-august-2019.pdf

More about the author

Elodie Broad

Elodie Broad

Senior Consultant, Monitor Deloitte

Elodie is a senior consultant in the Monitor Deloitte strategy practice. Elodie’s experience to date involves working across the private, public and not-for-profit sectors in the UK and Australian markets, helping organisations to refresh their strategy, realise new growth opportunities and deliver strategic transformations. Elodie specialises in helping businesses tie business performance with societal outcomes by embedding sustainability at the core of their business strategy and core operations, pursuing new models of “profit with purpose”. Passionate about climate change and sustainability, Elodie is part of Deloitte’s Climate Action Advisory Council and actively involved in the firm’s Bushfire and Climate Action Programs.