Working from home (WFH) has the potential to reduce carbon emissions associated with commuting and office space. However, these reductions must be balanced against an expected increase in emissions from heating and other energy use at home. As a result, the net impact has been unclear, and findings from other countries are not easily transferrable to Scotland due to differences in local housing stock and commuting behaviour.
Home working has increased sharply as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and for many people home working is expected to play an increased part of their working behaviour in the future, even if only for part of the working week. This report assesses the impact of home working on Scottish greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by analysing:
- the Scottish-specific emissions impact of home working; and
- the drivers in personal emissions increases and decreases from a switch to home working.
Working from home leads to a reduction in commuting and office emissions and an increase in home emissions. How these emission changes balance out for an individual defines their emissions impact from home working.
The analysis has found that if post-pandemic trends result in a higher proportion of people working from home across all types of houses and commuting behaviours, the overall impact on emissions will be small:
- A 0.6% reduction in buildings and transport emissions if a mix of people with different house types, and heating and commuting behaviours work from home
- A 0.6% increase in buildings and transport emissions if whole houses are heated all winter for home workers and office space remains open
- A 2.0% reduction in buildings and transport emissions if only the home office areas of homes are heated, office sizes are reduced to reflected reduced demand, and working from home proves more popular with car commuters
- Domestic heating is a large emission source which can offset much of the transport emissions savings of home working. Limiting domestic heating emissions through the rollout of smart heating systems, which only heat occupied areas of the house, would deliver the single biggest emission benefit from home working.
- The lowest emission future is one where people commuting short to medium distances do so by public and active travel and continue to commute to the office, while people who commute long distance shift to working from home.
- The lowest emission working behaviour is a short commute to work in an energy efficient office. Changes to the Scottish National Planning Framework to support localism and the 20-minute neighbourhood concept could also look to support local shared office space to encourage the lowest emission working behaviour.
- Larger properties with oil heating represent the worst place to work from home in terms of emissions. Targeting these properties for early decarbonisation can help to ensure working from home reduces emissions.
- People who see an emissions saving from working from home today will also see a benefit in 2030. This means messaging around good working from home practices will remain relevant over time.