Working From Home Changing Sustainability Stakes

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, our kitchen tables and guest bedrooms became makeshift offices in a matter of days. This came with an increased reliance on snacks, a greater appreciation for how darn cute our pets are, and the words “sorry, I was on mute” inserting themselves into our everyday vernacular. 

Thankfully, some of our newfound work-from-home habits are having a positive impact on the environment. So, in the spirit of finding the silver lining, we’re taking a look at the ways working from home has helped us live more sustainably in the hopes we’ll feel more environmentally empowered when we make it back to the workplace. 

Our commute

Transport is generally the third biggest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in Australia so there’s no denying our commutes have a role to play when it comes to climate change. 

From December 2019 to December 2020, transport emissions fell by 12.1 percent with lockdowns and restrictions reducing demand for the cars, planes, trains and busses we rely on to get to work.   

While many people are making the most of the extra hour or two working from home affords, the effects on the environment cannot be understated. Take this as a reminder to walk, cycle and carpool more, use public transport and only fly if absolutely necessary – like a holiday when all this is over!  

Our supplies

It’s taken a pandemic to realise just how much we impulsively and unnecessarily reach for pens, paper, printing and other office paraphernalia during the course of our regular workdays. 

Prior to the pandemic, more than 140 million pens were sold in Australia every year contributing about 700 tonnes of plastic waste to landfill. While new and improved recycling programs are on the rise, we should really think twice before we buy these products at all. 

With the stationary cupboard now more than a short stroll away, we’re learning to adapt to more sustainable – and efficient – ways of completing our administrative tasks. Software has made it possible for us to take notes, set reminders and sign documents without a highlighter, red pen, post-it note in sight. These items are often sourced from overseas markets so consuming less comes with the added bonus of reducing transport emissions as well. 

Our lunch

In 2015, one study found 74 percent of Australians were buying food or drink during the workday at least once per week, spending about $18.52 on average. 

While it’s not a great stat for the wallet, we also need to consider just how much single-use paper and plastic these treats come wrapped and packaged in. Dirty paper and cardboard cannot be recycled and only about twelve percent of plastic is recycled in Australia. 

Couple this with the energy and resources required for plastic production and its negative news all-round for our landfill sites, oceans and emissions. Thankfully, there are so many reusable coffee cups, containers, cutlery, and straws on the market now to help us turn this one around.

Our appearance 

So it turns out we don’t actually need the latest clothes, accessories and beauty products to tick off our to-do list each day!? A sad realisation for consumerism, but a great outcome for the climate! 

Thanks to working from home, the pressure to look the part while working has been momentarily eradicated. And if you’re not donning your dressing gown over your sweaty exercise tights, you’re definitely doing it wrong. 

Dressing down is not only more comfortable and less time consuming, but great for the environment since we’re decreasing our reliance on fast fashion, saving on the plastic and synthetic chemicals that come with our beauty products and using less power for things like showering hair styling. 

While there’s no saying goodbye transport, single-use products and unattainable trends forever, COVID-19 and working from home has given us the opportunity to rethink our habits and make more conscious decisions when it comes to some of the products that have become synonymous with our working days. So whatever the “now normal” looks like, let’s make sure we’re bringing some of these changes along with us.

References

Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources. (2020). National Greenhouse Gas Inventory Quarterly Update. Australian Government. Retrieved from https://www.industry.gov.au/data-and-publications/national-greenhouse-gas-inventory-quarterly-update-december-2020?fbclid=IwAR32gLNvnH6TqW3Yge-btYSu13c_z9B9pEMQfK67-o7EnMdRQAdWBo2C4zU#annual-emissions-data

McLaren, N. (2021). Plastic take-away container recycling not high priority for state governments [Blog]. Retrieved from https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-07-15/takeaway-plastic-food-containers-not-recycled-/100290044?fbclid=IwAR1rQsfY6gnY6BZvpzQ80tTR4-3cSernkYjzisnjHqXr0F44M20HAW6lrIc

TerraCycle launches used pens recycling initiative – Education Matters. (2019). Retrieved 22 August 2021, from https://www.educationmattersmag.com.au/terracycle-launches-used-pens-recycling-initiative/?fbclid=IwAR1ydW5An7JcLyVWTwChM-RrJyGFARgV9LlzLqRMKUXFwaXj7_Ek0Qx7rEo

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