However, remote-working and flexi-work arrangements are a good catalyst for paperless and organization-wide green practices that can close the COP27 gaps

As remote-working and hybrid work arrangements become commonplace, improvements in flexibility and productivity are the markers of successful implementation.

In addition to organizational productivity, flexible work arrangements can impact workers’ management of mental health. From reduced psychological and physical stress, to greater control of one’s own schedule and commuting needs, flexible work arrangements can also have significant impact on our environment, both at an individual and organizational level.

How can this be the catalyst for organizations to achieve their sustainability goals? 

Remote-working reduces carbon footprints

The built environment impacts the planet. At present, the built environment contributes to nearly 40% of global greenhouse gas emissions. In addition to spending less time in the office (thereby lowering corporate energy consumption), reduced commuting is another aspect of remote-working that can have immense benefits for the planet.

Annually in the Asia Pacific region, an estimated 0.81 acres of a forest is required to offset commuter emissions and to clean the atmosphere. If organizations were to adopt remote-working, even for just a few days a week, one can imagine the benefits that reduced commuting can have on the environment.

In other ways, businesses today are reducing carbon footprints by re-evaluating internal operations, with remote-working leading to an increased uptake in digital collaboration tools and resource-free workflows, driving sustainability measures and organizational productivity.

Simon Dale, Managing Director (Southeast Asia & Korea), Adobe

Going paperless

In offices where single-use, non-biodegradable products are often used, remote or hybrid work arrangements can help to cut down on plastic, paper, and other waste generated. 

During the height of the pandemic, Asia accounted for the highest consumption level of paper and board in 2020, with nearly 197m metric tons of paper and board. Paper waste is even more staggering when considered on an individual level. According to the carbon offset company 8 Billion Trees, a standard pine tree produces 10,000 sheets of paper. That also happens to be the number of sheets of paper the average office worker uses each year. So each year, every office worker uses the equivalent of one full tree.

Clearly, the effects of remote-working are far-reaching. Think about it — not commuting to work reduces daily auto emissions. Not being in an office means less large-scale energy usage. Lights, heat, ventilation, water, and computers are all more likely to be left on when not in use at an office than at home. Replacing physical paperwork and manual processes with technological tools reduces the use of wood, water, and subsequent waste.

The impact on sustainability by working from home could be significant. If organizations adopt a sustainable culture and supportive policies organization-wide, it multiplies the impact further.

Sustainability optimization as a global paradigm

Paperless processes are better not only for the environment, but also for the organizations’ bottom-line and workers’ productivity. As hybrid working becomes the norm for many organizations in 2023, well-integrated collaboration tools that facilitate seamless communication and allow employees to effortlessly shift between various platforms, will remain in demand. 

Besides achieving improved productivity and collaboration, workers whose employers have invested in digital solutions or who report a purpose-driven work culture report significantly higher job satisfaction and work-life balance — thereby being more likely to stay in their current job.

The tools and technology to cut down on waste and help protect the environment are readily available. But it is up to organizational leaders to set the tone and create best practices to support remote workers and sustainability initiatives.

While we all still have a long way to go on global sustainability, much research on remote/hybrid-work — for individuals and organizations — point to a positive impact on productivity and the environment. It may not happen overnight, but even one person making a conscious effort to reduce waste can keep the world a little cleaner. Reducing paperwork is a great start. The question is, how can workers and leadership teams increase the well-being of the planet and its global inhabitants in the long term?