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Is Working at Home or Shopping Online Really the Most Eco Friendly Option?

A part of what I love about working at home is that it’s so eco friendly. I don’t have to drive to work. Most days I don’t drive anywhere, in fact. I use some electricity around the house, but I don’t think it’s all that much.

I also enjoy shopping online when it’s practical. I don’t do much of that, as most of the shopping I do in general is for groceries. I don’t buy a lot of things, and so I don’t often have something that I can buy online.

I found this press release claiming that it’s less eco friendly to work at home or shop online very interesting. Very much so counter intuitive, and I can’t say that I entirely agree with it, even though I don’t have numbers to back me up.

Some of the trouble is that it’s hard to tell where all of the data comes from. Are they considering all factors well enough?

From the press release:

The research reveals that people who shop online must order more than 25 items otherwise the impact on the environment is likely to be worse than traditional shopping.

ItĀ also highlights that working from home can increase home energy use by as much as 30 per cent, and can lead to people moving further from the workplace, stretching urban sprawl and increasing pollution

A part of the challenge is that it doesn’t say how they’re assuming the shopping is done or how they’re calculating the carbon cost of the shipping. I hope the full report does that. It’s hard to calculate, especially when you consider that much of the carbon cost of getting a package shipped to your home would happen whether or not you bought something. That cargo plane is still going to fly, that delivery truck is very likely to go through your neighborhood to deliver a package to someone else. These aren’t things that can easily be accounted for.

On the other hand, if you’re using public transportation to go shopping, the same could be said of the carbon cost of that shopping trip. It’s near enough there either way.

The working at home bit can be really tricky. As I own my own business, of course it’s more eco friendly to run it from home. I don’t need an entirely separate office, and I don’t have any transportation costs. My computer and so forth are things I would own anyhow. I live where I do so that my husband can get to his job.

But if you’re working for someone else, there are more variables to consider. Do they have office space available for those who work part of the time at home and part at the office? Are all their workers spread out? Does this, as the report suggests, encourage them to live further from urban areas?

I have a sister who works for an entirely virtual company. They don’t have offices, and their employees are spread out across the United States. Are they more or less energy efficient than one that requires all their employees to work in offices? I know their costs are significantly less than companies that pay for office space. Is it more eco friendly? I don’t know.

The trouble with this kind of report is that the right answer is extremely variable. It depends on where you live, what you’re buying, and so forth. I don’t think there is one right answer, although anything that makes us rethink our assumptions isn’t an entirely bad thing.

2 Responses to Is Working at Home or Shopping Online Really the Most Eco Friendly Option?

  1. I have never thought of that topic, its very interesting. I guess while they were putting the report together they were thinking of plastic bag usage, box usage and other costs.