The Positive Environmental Impacts of the Flexible Work Economy

Did you know that working remotely and away from a typical office environment could reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by 54 million tonnes every year? 

There are so many benefits of the flexible work economy for employers and freelancers; which is why it’s heartening to know that this way of working is growing exponentially. 

According to a recent study by economists at Harvard Business School, when the pandemic is over, one in six workers is projected to continue working from home or co-working at least two days a week.

One of the key reasons to work this way is the positive impact on our environment, something we’re really passionate about at Work for Impact.

What is a freelancer?

A freelancer is someone who provides services independently for a fee, and usually on an hourly or fixed-term project-basis. It’s a form of self-employment where someone works for him his or herself.

How is freelancing done?

Freelancing is usually done remotely from a freelancer’s home. However, it’s not uncommon to see freelancers operating from enterprise hubs consisting of co-working spaces.

What are the positive environmental impacts of the flexible work economy?

The environmental impact of an activity or process is considered positive if it’s beneficial to the environment. In other words, the activity, process, or service in question must not endanger or harm the environment in any way.

The positive environmental impacts of the flexible work economy can be viewed from a carbon, energy, water, waste, travel, air quality, resource, and biodiversity point of view.

The environmental benefits of freelancing and the flexible work economy are explained below:

Carbon

Working flexibly from home, when compared to working from offices, tends to produce less work-related carbon emissions, which are responsible for climate change and global warming.

The main source of carbon emission when working from home is from the electricity used to power portable laptops or computers, which we use to collaborate with our teams or clients offsite. On the other hand, business employees produce carbon emissions from a wide range of on-site sources from offices, conference rooms and lunchrooms.

Global Workplace Analytics estimates that working remotely and away from a typical office environment could reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by 54 million tonnes every year. This figure is based on people working 2.5 out of 5 working days in a week offsite or remotely.

By these estimates, flexible working can save a minimum of 50 million tonnes of carbon per year. This is equivalent to taking 10 million cars off the road each year.

benefits of freelancing
Source: Webex (2018) Environmental infographics.

Energy

Working flexibly leads to less energy usage compared to working for a business as an employee mostly due to businesses using a significant amount of energy in their daily operations. 

Photo by Burak K from Pexels

According to BusinessEnergy.com, businesses can consume as much as 250,000 kWh per year (compared to an average household which typically uses 10,972 kWh of electricity per annum).

Based on these figures, it is evident the flexible work economy offers a viable working option for reducing global energy demand and consumption.

This is because businesses, as well as their employees, use a significant amount of energy in their daily operations. 

According to BusinessEnergy.com, businesses can consume as much as 250,000 kWh per year. It is worth knowing that an average household uses 10,972 kWh of electricity per annum

Based on these figures, it is evident that businesses consume a lot of energy, making freelancers a viable working option for reducing global energy demand and consumption.

Water

The use of freelancers can also help to conserve water resources and reduce water scarcity around the globe. The potential of freelancers to conserve water is due to the fact that a freelancer’s use of water during working hours is mainly for domestic purposes. However, water is used in businesses for washing and cooling procedures.  

This suggests that businesses have the potential to consume high amounts of water which puts a strain on water resources. Freelancing, on the other hand, requires little or no water and can help to conserve water in the environment.

Waste

Working remotely from home results in less paper, plastic, and bottle waste around the world. A typical freelancer works remotely (i.e. from home), without the need for purpose-built physical office buildings. This results in little or no production of the aforementioned waste that is associated with the entire life cycle and supply chain processes of a typical business environment.

Also, freelancers have low overheads and purchase little or no office items, resulting in less waste.

Travel and air quality 

Freelancers help improve the environment by reducing travel (to the office for example), which in turn reduces nitrogen oxide emissions. It is well known that the use of transportation by businesses produces nitrogen oxide emissions, a harmful greenhouse gas that is responsible for global warming.

However, freelancers require little or no travel to service clients. Global Workplace Analytics estimates that working remotely or offsite can save around 119 billion miles of highway driving. This equates to driving around the earth 4.77 million times.

Travel in today’s world produces nitrogen dioxide, a greenhouse gas that reduces air quality. However, freelancing and working from home eliminates work-related travel, thereby improving air quality overall.

benefits of freelancing
Source: Webex (2018) Environmental infographics.

Resources

The flexible work economy is instrumental in the conservation of natural resources, such as trees and fuel in today’s world. Employees in a typical business environment need meeting rooms, which are generally made from timber and steel. Also, offices used by employees require a large amount of supplies (that are made from chemical substances).

However, freelancers do not need a significant amount of these resources to operate. They can work with minimal supplies, which means they consume far fewer resources.

Biodiversity

Remote work can improve biodiversity greatly. Businesses can often destroy biodiversity through land use, waste generation, and other means. For example, land use and waste produced by businesses have been linked to erosion, and soil contamination.  

Positive social impacts

Having highlighted some positive environmental impacts associated with freelancing, it’s important to note that these impacts lead to many different benefits.

A society that uses less resources, energy, water, and transportation will produce much less waste and carbon, which will lead to better energy efficiency, and improved health and safety.

Energy efficiency

Energy used in today’s world is based on fossil fuels. Roughly 85% of global energy consumption comes from non-renewable sources. This has created tension in countries around the world due to the fact that fossil fuels will eventually run out. However, if we as a global society can reduce our energy consumption via freelancing then countries  will become more energy efficient, resulting in huge financial savings.

Health and safety

Traveling releases nitrogen oxide, a harmful gas that causes illnesses such as heart and lung disease. So, the reduction of people driving to work due to more people working remotely helps reduce illnesses and disease, resulting in happier people, communities, and society as a whole.

Join the flexible work economy!

Join Work for Impact now to connect with and hire on-demand freelance talent. Work for Impact is a new platform that offers opportunities for socially, environmentally responsible and nonprofit organizations to find and hire quality freelance talent. To get started, you can sign-up for a free account or browse our on-demand talent pool.

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