Working from home may be hurting the environment


For a lot of people in these COVID times, the morning commute has developed into its own new routine — fighting traffic down the hallway and into the home office.

A recent United Nations report found that an expected 7% drop in emissions this year —  a result of way less commuting by car and truck —will have an insignificant effect on the overall global warming trend.

So while this new way of life may be producing fewer greenhouse gasses, is it really helping the planet?

Mike Berners-Lee, author of “How Bad Are Bananas? The Carbon Footprint of Everything” told CBS News’ Mark Phillips working from home can actually hurt the planet in unexpected ways.

“If you’re home with the heating on, which it wouldn’t otherwise have to be, then that’s not so good,” he pointed out.

Massive banks of computers across the country are storing and processing data from text messages, zoom and emails being sent while working from home.

If so many more people are emailing and receiving emails, if so many more people are streaming, and if the cloud becomes that much bigger and requires that much more storage, isn’t that creating an energy-hungry infrastructure? 

An email may use less than 2% of the energy needed to deliver a paper letter, but Berners-Lee said the sheer number of emails being sent every single day adds up.

Berners-Lee, a leading researcher on carbon footprinting, said it’s believed that increased use of digital technology is leaving its mark on the world’s carbon footprint.

“We estimate the whole of information communication technology is probably responsible for somewhere between 2% and 4% of the whole world’s carbon footprint. And that’s a big deal and it’s becoming a bigger deal,” he said.

While the environmental impact of the pandemic has yet to be truly assessed, Berners-Lee said there are some solutions that can be used right now — such as asking, “Do I really need to send this email?”

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