How green is homeworking?

More of us are turning our backs on the daily commute and working from home all or part of the time. In fact, according to ONS statistics some 4.2 million of us work from home at least half the week.

It makes sense if you can. No bus or tube ride, you can stay in your PJs all day if you chose and work the hours you want within reason. But how good is it for the environment and your bank balance?

On the surface it looks great – no commute, so no polluting cars or buses. But you will use more energy from being at home, with computers, phone lights and often the heating being used. But, according to the Open Work Energy Measurement Project conducted by US firm Sun Microsystems (now known as Oracle) a few years ago, the average worker’s carbon footprint is made up of 98% of their commute and around 1.7% actually running their computer equipment. And home office computers use half as much power as office ones. In the study its employees saved on fuel costs and wear and tear from not driving their cars into work, and reclaimed two and a half weeks of their life, in non-commuting time, by working from home for half the week over a year.

But the flip side of course is that it’s you paying the energy and phone bills and not your boss, so it is a case of deciding whether the money saved not commuting cancels out the extra energy bills. Don’t forget money saved by not buying expensive coffees and sandwiches while in the office though!

If you’re working from home, there are ways to reduce your carbon footprint as a homeworker:

  • Get your lighting right. Use natural daylight rather than lamps wherever possible. If you do need to turn on the lights then install energy efficient lightbulbs. If the weather’s good, and you’ve a laptop, go and work in the garden or local park – saving on electricity and getting you a tan at the same time.
  • Turn equipment off when not in use so it is not using energy on standby. Get a smart power strip which stops devices drawing energy when not in use. Turn electrical items off at the plug, not just the on/off button.
  • Grab a blanket rather than turning on the heating when you get cold.
  • Use your landline before your mobile, as it uses a third less energy to make a call. If you use your mobile, texting is more energy efficient than calling.
  • Ditch the desktop computer and get a laptop, which uses significantly less electricity.
  • Think before you print – saves on paper and ink costs as well as electricity.
  • Consider solar panels, as you’ll actually be in during daylight hours to use the energy you’ve produced.

On a financial note, if you’re not self-employed and your boss wants you to work from home on a regular basis, either part or full time, you can ask for your expenses to be covered.

The taxman says your employer can pay you £4 a week tax free (or £18 per month if you’re paid monthly) if you regularly work from home, without you having to keep records. This should cover the extra energy and water bills. If your expenses are higher you can be paid more – provided the extra costs can be proved – and you may have to keep records. Your boss may also pay to set up your home office and supply any office stationery such as printer ink and paper.

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