Hybrid working can facilitate major carbon savings and has the potential for significant impact on the climate crisis, according to a new study by IWG and Arup.
The study measured the environmental impact of hybrid working, based on both building and transport emissions, on six cities across the US and UK with a deep dive on two major carbon contributors – London and LA. Others examined were New York City, Atlanta, Manchester and Glasgow.
Data from these cities showed the potential for huge carbon savings in other metropolises around the globe such as Hong Kong through the widespread adoption of hybrid working, which has rapidly expanded amongst white-collar workers, who are now using the available technology to work where is most convenient and they are most productive.
The potential carbon savings remain significant for UK cities with Glasgow (80 per cent), Manchester (70 per cent) and London (49 per cent) all showing potential to benefit from workers reducing their commutes and working closer to home as part of a hybrid model, something that more and more employers in Hong Kong have been following suit.
Cities in the US on the other hand showed the largest potential carbon savings when also taking transport into consideration, due to the prevalence of commuting by car, with Atlanta (90 per cent reduction) just edging out Los Angeles (87 per cent) and New York (82 per cent).
IWG’s study with Arup compared different working scenarios for white-collar workers including:
- Exclusively from city centre workspaces
- From city centre workspaces and local workspaces
- From city centre workspaces and home
- A combination of all three
The team looked at the total emissions per worker based on transport, heating, cooling, lighting, energy use and more, to understand the climate impact.
The impact of the commute
A traditional five-day commute into a city centre has the biggest carbon footprint of all. In Hong Kong in 2020, 19.7 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions came from the transport sector, the second most of any sector, only behind the electricity industry. The number of licensed private car has been continuously increasing, as of 2021, more than 70 per cent of registered vehicles in Hong Kong are private cars, which is a main contributor of emission within the transport sector.
The study found that in London, carbon emissions were reduced by 49 per cent for those mixing time between a city centre HQ and local workspace, and 43 per cent lower when splitting time between a local workspace and home, when compared to a traditional 5-day commuting pattern. The key driver in emissions reductions was distance; when workers more frequently stay near home, their emissions are lessened.
Local buildings offer carbon savings
Compared with offices in the city centre, local workspaces were found to have less emissions per square meter of floor area. Crucially, local workspaces have higher utilisation rates, and therefore, each person is responsible for less emissions than a central office location.
Employees benefit from hybrid working
Hybrid working is proving to be especially attractive for employees, with 88 per cent of workers saying flexible working was important in a new role to save money and achieve a better work/life balance. By living and working closer to home, hybrid working helps people be healthier and more productive. In a similar survey targeting job seekers in the Greater Bay Area, IWG found that 7 in 10 respondents believe hybrid working helps them better manage their working hours, which eventually improve their work-life balance and benefit their mental well-being. Not only does hybrid working provide health benefits, analysis by IWG also highlights the extent of the savings that working locally can offer hybrid workers.
Employees who have optimised their working habits like this are leading more localised lives, living and working closer to home, making them healthier and more productive. Analysis by IWG highlights the extent of the savings that working locally can offer hybrid workers. Someone based in Cambridge – which has seen a huge increase in local working over the past year – could save up to £2,931 a year by working from a Cambridge-based workspace instead of a London HQ just one day a week, with this figure increasing to £8,793 by working locally three days a week.
Mark Dixon, CEO of IWG, commented: “This new research reveals we have an extraordinary opportunity to radically reduce humanity’s negative environmental impact by encouraging the adoption of hybrid working. Five-day commuting to city centre offices has the largest carbon footprint of any working model.
“Simply spending less time in or travelling to a city centre drives a drop in emissions from buildings and vehicles alike. Allowing people to work close to home, enabling them to split their time between home and a local workplace, has the potential to reduce a worker’s work-related carbon emissions by 70 per cent.
“The single biggest change we can all make right now is to provide people with the choice to work closer to where they need to be, and with lower impact on the environment. And that’s down to all of us. The results of our research with Arup show clearly that given the right will this is within our power – right now.”
As IWG reaches its highest-ever network footprint of over 65 million sq.ft, it is committed to building its network by adding up to 1,000 locations over the next year. By adding locations closer to workers’ homes, IWG will help reduce the amount of carbon used in long commutes, as transport emissions are the biggest source of pollution in major cities. The company is on track to be carbon neutral during the course of 2023 and received an upgraded rating to AA from the MSCI.
Matthew Dillon, Director of City Economics and Planning at Arup said: “This research clearly shows that changing our behaviour is key to achieving our carbon targets. We can choose to walk and cycle, and to make more journeys by public transport. Governments must also choose to invest in these networks, and use them to secure both environmental benefits and economic growth.”
About IWG, International Workplace Group
IWG is the global operator of leading workspace providers. Our companies help millions of people and their businesses to work more productively. We do so by providing a choice of professional, inspiring and collaborative workspaces, communities and services.
IWG’s strong MSCI rating was recently upgraded to AA. The company is on course to become carbon neutral in 2023.
Digitalisation and new technologies are transforming the world of work. People want the personal productivity benefits of living and working how and where they want. Businesses want the financial and strategic benefits. Our customers are start-ups, small and medium-sized enterprises, and large multinationals. With unique business goals, people and aspirations. They want workspaces and communities to match their needs. They want choice.
Through our companies we provide that choice, and serve the whole world of work: Regus, Spaces, HQ, Signature and Basepoint. We create personal, financial and strategic value for businesses of every size. From some of the most exciting companies and well-known organisations on the planet, to individuals and the next generation of industry leaders. All of them harness the power of flexible working to increase their productivity, efficiency, agility and market proximity.