Working from home: what is your carbon footprint?



This story was originally published on RNZ.co.nz and is republished with permission.

When working from home, the demand for energy in homes increased by 8 percent as office life became more digital.

While not having physical meetings to dial in may mean fewer cars on the road, is it just as virtuous as we think?

Microsoft, Google, Teams, emails, Zoom, phone calls are now our work reality.

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Whether you work from the office or log in from home, Covid-19 has made the workplace more digital. Virtual conferences and meetings have moved from the boardroom to video platforms.

But does reducing CO2 emissions from travel equate to a greener world? It depends on how far you would have traveled and how long you were online.

The demand for electricity in homes is increasing as work becomes more digital, but there are warnings that the environmental impact of our online lives may require government intervention.

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The demand for electricity in homes is increasing as work becomes more digital, but there are warnings that the environmental impact of our online lives may require government intervention.

Dr. Rabih Bashroush from the University of East London worked out a one-hour Zoom conversation between two people on PCs in London with the same carbon footprint as driving two kilometers or 10 kilometers by train.

The other sting – our devices depend on energy to work all the time – and so does the content we create and watch.

To put it in perspective, Bashroush said Nine to noon he had also done some sums for the most watched video on Youtube – the number Slowly, which has been viewed 7 billion times.

“The energy consumption to watch that clip was 900 GWh, which is the energy consumption of five African countries.”

In New Zealand, much of the energy used to power our appliances is clean – 84 percent of electrical energy comes from renewable sources – but where the data we generate and consume is stored is a different story. Most of it is abroad.

For Microsoft programs – a common choice for workplaces – the data center closest to us was in Australia, where 80 percent of electricity depends on coal or natural gas.

IT systems analyst and developer Christopher Cookson said location was a big deal.

“That can make a big difference in what their emission profile is likely to be, if you have them located in a country that uses fossil fuels to generate their electricity, it will clearly be worse than anywhere that uses renewable energy sources.”

Not all tech companies would allow a choice about where the data generated on a device would go.

Microsoft allows companies to choose whether to use the closest data center, but that decision was not in the hands of many employees.

Microsoft data doesn’t need to cross Tasman fast enough – the company has announced plans to build a new data hosting center on the North Island in a bid to become a carbon negative by 2030.

Meanwhile, for those using Google, there was no choice where your data ended up, it could be anywhere in the world.

Another downside to working from home is the surge of emails required to communicate rather than speak in person.

Christopher Cookson said emails were a major culprit – and we have to think twice before clicking ‘Reply all’.

“Some servers need to be online all the time in case someone wants to get specific email, images worth a thousand words can be worth a million words in terms of how much data is needed, people are writing a document and send that as an attachment, they could have just written a message. “

Other ways people can reduce their carbon footprint are by using a phone instead of a laptop, lowering the quality of videos, and putting your screen to sleep while away from your desk.

Auckland University of Technology IT professor Jairo Gutierrez said it also helped to use audio only on video conferencing.

“When you are in a zoom conference with 40 people and you are listening to someone speaking, closing your video while listening to the other person will make a huge difference, you are talking about multiple frames per second while sitting there but nothing Doing that reduces transmissions. “

He thought the verdict didn’t yet exist on whether we should leave the office and settle in at home.

“I don’t think we have a definitive answer as to whether all of this working from home makes up for the energy used in transportation, because you’re actually contributing to the energy needed to provide all these services.”

As our dependence on digital communications will grow, experts indicated that the environmental impact of our online lives may require government intervention.

This story was originally published on RNZ.co.nz and is republished with permission.


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