Is Working from Home Sustainable?

Is Working from Home Sustainable?
18th June 2021 samantha
In Uncategorised

The simple answer is no – which may come as a surprise to our clients.  Morley Riches & Ablewhite consequently are moving to new premises.

The last year has enabled us to take a closer look at our effect on the environment and how to best serve our clients.  You would think a zero commute, and no office energy consumption would suggest working from home to be the most sustainable solution. But the answer to impact isn’t that simple.

With car engines running, office heaters pumping – work as we know it has a substantial carbon footprint. Shouldn’t we ditch the drive to our Colchester office and trade it in for the commute from bed to computer?

It may seem intuitive to believe working from home is universally better for the environment year round. Sustainability, after all, relies on a reduction in emissions, much of which come from petrol/diesel powered engines in commuter cars and the massive amount of energy consumed by office buildings. Working remotely would seem to solve many of these problems: zero commute, and fewer seats to heat and cool in offices.  In addition, we are already planting trees in our tree grove in Scotland and our meadows in Suffolk to offset our carbon footprint.

However, this may not be case – or not exactly.

Research from WSP UK, a London-based consulting firm specialising in engineering, shows remote work in the UK may only be more environmentally friendly in the summer. Examining the carbon output of 200 UK-based workers across different locations, researchers found the environmental impact of remote work was higher in the winter due to the need to heat individual workers’ buildings versus one office building.

“Energy management in buildings is generally more sophisticated than at individual homes,” says David Symons, Future Ready Lead and Director of Sustainability at WSP UK. Because each individual remote worker keeps the heating on and tends to heat the entire house, working in a single office building ends up having a lower impact – even with the commute added in.

In the summer, however, working from home makes environmental sense because consumption of energy is far lower than in the winter. “We don’t have air con in the UK, so as a result it’s much more carbon efficient to work from home in the summer because you haven’t got heating,” says Symons.

Global variables

The question of work-from-home sustainability, however, is an onion: there are far more layers to the answer than one study of UK workers can provide.

Chief among these is that energy consumption patterns around the world are incredibly varied. For instance, in Norway, more than 40% of vehicles sold in 2019 were electric – an increase of a third over the prior year. The impact of commutes in Norway, and throughout the Nordic countries, is far lower than other parts of the world that are still highly reliant on petrol, such as the UK and US. And many major cities that consume substantial energy don’t rely on cars for commuting, but rather public transport. Each of these individual elements shifts the calculus for when working from home is more sustainable in each city, region or country.

Then there’s air conditioning, which is a major variable.

In the UK we are not there yet with electric vehicles and recharging points, particularly in our rural communities.  The homes of Partners and staff at Morley Riches & Ablewhite are in a variety of locations in Essex and Suffolk.  Designing an answer to the above conundrum of a year round approach that has a positive effect on the environment is important to us.

Another deliberation is how to best serve our clients.  2020/2021 has seen an increase in instructions for Morley Riches & Ablewhite and unsurprisingly the less time spent commuting is extra time we can spend on client instructions.  For Peter Riches and Amelia Valentin that was approximately 20 hours a week commuting and refuelling.  That’s 940 hours a year – not an insignificant figure for just two of us!  Zoom and Teams meetings also decreases the need for travelling and particularly the need to commute to London for our various Crown Estate instructions.  More hours to devote to our clients and less impact on the environment – a win/win situation.

The solution

Two of our partners and some staff live in a similar area in Suffolk so work was put in place to renovate an office in Peter Riches and Sam Morley’s barn to enable them to work together in a Covid safe environment.  The work was minimal as the barn is a new build and just required some flooring and heating.    The commute for Pete and Sam is now 50 paces from home to office!

The Colchester office needed more thought as although for the majority of time the Suffolk location would be utilised for some it wasn’t a solution for everyone to work together or for our Essex colleagues.  To that end confidential negotiations have been taking place on a prestigious office close to our current Kings Court premises.  Accordingly, we are  marketing our Colchester office which will we feel will easily let in the current climate.  For further details please contact Jon Ablewhite who is undertaking the marketing of 4 Kings Court.

So exciting times for Morley Riches & Ablewhite.  Watch this space for news on where our Colchester office will be relocating in the coming months.


Samantha Morley


Morley Riches & Ablewhite

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