Hybrid Work Is Valuable to the Planet’s Future. Here’s Why. 

reprints


As the world’s eyes this November turn toward the COP27 summit — the United Nations Climate Change Conference — warnings continue to reverberate about the increasing dangers of the climate crisis. 

According to the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, “Every tenth of a degree counts.” The world is heading toward 2 to 3 degrees Celsius of global warming; and, to maintain livable conditions on Earth, we must do everything possible to prevent crossing crucial tipping points. 

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As world leaders gather, there are indications that the changing work habits of millions around the world mean the days could be numbered for one of the greatest drivers of global warming: the daily commute.

Record fall in fossil C02 emissions 

Since 2002, I’ve been an advocate for what’s now widely called “hybrid working.” For most people, that means working at home or in a workspace close to where they live. What it certainly doesn’t mean is being forced to travel for hours every day in a polluting vehicle to a city-center office where nobody wants (or needs) to be. The uptake of hybrid working was obviously accelerated by the global pandemic — and nobody who saw and smelt the clarity of the air during lockdown can doubt the cleansing effect of what effectively amounted to a ban on all unnecessary driving.

According to Future Earth’s Global Carbon Project, the 2020 lockdowns caused CO2 emissions to fall by an estimated 2.4 billion tons. This was a record drop, with the largest share of the global decrease coming from reduced transport emissions. 

An important step forward

As those figures suggest, it’s almost impossible to over-emphasize how dramatically hybrid work drives reductions in fossil fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions. It also empowers companies to reduce their carbon footprint by downsizing their office property into advanced, environmentally efficient shared workspaces. 

These are some of the reasons why I’m coming to see the offer of flexible working as an essential aspect of every employer’s approach to sustainability — and I’m talking about more than just the carbon footprint. Adopting the hybrid model enables companies to make progress under six of the United Nations’ 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs). 

I’ve already touched on Nos. 7 (clean energy) and 13 (climate action). Perhaps it is equally significant when it comes to SDG No. 3: good health and well-being. Fewer stressful commutes and a generally healthier lifestyle are key byproducts of working at an office that’s reachable on foot or by bike. SDG No. 5 — gender equality — is also highly relevant, as hybrid working offers the potential for a more equitable sharing of family responsibilities.

By enabling workers to work where they’ll be most effective, the hybrid model also has a role to play in boosting productivity and hence economic growth (SDG No. 8). And its positive impact on sustainable cities and communities (SDG No. 11) is one of the most important gains it offers, as workers spend more time and money close to where they actually live.

Positive self-interest

Besides the very real sustainability advantages of the hybrid model, there are also clear elements of positive self-interest for the companies that adopt it. High among these is its sheer cost-efficiency, making it redundant for companies to tie themselves into inflexible and expensive long-term contracts on city-center properties.

Nearly as powerful is the positive impact on employee attitudes that a strong record on sustainability can have. Recent research by IWG shows that Gen Z places high importance on having an employer that shares their values, with a company’s track record on environmental responsibility coming up as the second most important factor in deciding where to work (just behind racial and LGBTQ equity). 

These findings highlight how sustainability issues coincide with positive self-interest. Basically, if you want your pick of the best up-and-coming employees, get your sustainability house in order. Given that more than half of Gen Z believes it’s important to have an employer that takes its environmental responsibilities seriously and 50 percent report they’d leave if their employer backtracked on environmental promises, this is a vital business issue. 

I’m not saying that hybrid working is the total answer to the challenges facing the planet – far from it. But it is a powerful engine of improvement, delivering strong financial, productivity and employee-retention benefits, as well as essential environmental and other SDG-related gains. 

This is why we at IWG are increasing our network of flexible workspaces by more than 1,000 centers over the next year, with the great majority in small towns and other places people actually want to live and work. Of course, this too is about positive self-interest. But at the same time we’re also bringing many thousands of businesses easy access to a powerful means of reducing their carbon footprint.

Mark Dixon is the CEO of IWG, a flex workplace provider and operator.