Top 12 Eco-Friendly Tips for Efficient Remote Work

Top 12 Eco-Friendly Tips for Efficient Remote Work

Working from home can have benefits that extend far beyond convenience and flexibility. Researchers from Microsoft and Cornell University recently found that it’s possible for remote workers to slash their carbon footprints by up to 58%.

But the study also notes that maximizing the environmental benefits of working from home requires more than just cutting out your daily commute. This article outlines eco-friendly lifestyle changes that can be seamlessly integrated into your remote work setup and daily routines.

Why sustainable work matters

While the Industrial Revolution may have ushered in a whole new level of efficiency, many innovations came at a steep environmental cost. Over the last few centuries, elevated greenhouse gas emissions have contributed to consistently rising land and ocean surface temperatures all over the globe.

The last decade has produced some of the warmest years in recorded history, as rising global temperatures wreak havoc on Earth’s natural ecosystem. As arctic ice melts, sea levels continue to rise and natural disasters increase in number and severity.

Remote workers are uniquely positioned to adopt small eco-friendly lifestyle changes that can add up to a huge overall impact. We unpack the benefits of playing your part in a greener tomorrow:

  • Reduced environmental impact. Individual efforts can make a difference. Researchers estimate that the average U.S. citizen produces a carbon footprint of up to 16 tons of greenhouse gas.
  • Conservation of natural resources. Research from the U.S. Energy Information Association (EIA) reveals that while the U.S. makes up just 4% of the Earth’s population, it’s responsible for 16% of its energy consumption. Making an effort to reduce energy usage can go a long way toward conserving natural resources.
  • Healthier living. An eco-friendly lifestyle can result in cleaner air and less waste. Studies show that 17% of food produced globally is wasted, resulting in more food scarcity and greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Economic benefits. Sustainability even helps the economy. The global adoption of certain sustainable practices could save $26 trillion by 2030.

Our commitment to an eco-friendly future

At Upwork, we’re dedicated to reducing our own environmental footprint and enabling others to do the same. We’ve been operating on a carbon-neutral basis since 2019 and have reduced our Scope 1 and 2 emissions to nearly zero.

Our remote work model helps clients find the right talent for their needs without contributing to increased travel and commute-related pollution. We’re also proud to connect clients everywhere with independent sustainability and climate science experts and consultants.

As part of our efforts to promote environmental transparency, we welcome you to look over our latest Climate Change Response and Impact Report.

Eco-friendly tips for working remotely

Eager to learn how you can help the planet while working from home? We’ve got you covered with a collection of tips on sustainable remote work habits and lifestyle choices:

  1. Use natural light
  2. Power down and unplug equipment when not in use
  3. Go paperless
  4. Use energy-efficient lighting
  5. Adjust your thermostat
  6. Reduce, reuse, recycle
  7. Green your web conferencing
  8. Select eco-friendly office supplies
  9. Encourage air circulation
  10. Find ways to use renewable energy
  11. Buy sustainable foods
  12. Promote a sustainable mindset

1. Use natural light

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, lighting accounts for around 7% of residential and commercial electrical consumption each year. Remote employees are in a prime position to cut down on energy consumption (and electrical bills) by simply choosing a workspace with plenty of natural light.

This solution is so effective that it’s resulted in a green architecture trend called “daylighting.” This involves designing new buildings according to cardinal directions to let in sunlight without excess heat, reducing the need for artificial lighting.

Some homeowners even install solar tubes, which channel more natural light into their homes during the daytime. While a solar tube and professional installation can cost around $1,000, the investment may qualify for a tax credit and can help save on electricity in the long run.

2. Power down and unplug equipment when not in use

Simply powering down your computer and other electronic devices may not be cutting down as much energy use as you think.

The U.S. Department of Energy warns that home office appliances like computers, laptops, printers, and fax machines may classify as “energy vampires”—appliances that continue to suck power from electrical outlets even after being turned off. The agency warns that energy vampires alone may be costing you anywhere from an extra $100-$200 a year in electricity costs.

Stopping energy vampires in their tracks is as easy as unplugging devices you aren’t using or installing smart plugs. Smart plugs allow you to stop energy flow from a connected outlet remotely using a phone app or even an Alexa voice command.

3. Go paperless

According to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) data, each American uses an average of over 700 pounds of paper annually. The good news is that there are now plenty of sustainable practices that can help you cut back on paper use, such as:

  • Paperless notebooks. Digital notebooks like Rocketbook make it easy to take notes by hand and upload them to the cloud service of your choice.
  • Digital signatures. Services like Adobe’s e-signatures and DocuSign let you sign forms and contracts electronically without printing.
  • Use tree-free paper. If you do need to print documents, opt for tree-free paper. It’s made from sugarcane waste fiber, bamboo, cotton and other components to offset the carbon dioxide that traditional paper manufacturing emits.
  • Use tree-free toilet paper. Now that your home and office bathrooms are one and the same, investing in tree-free toilet paper counts as an office upgrade, too. Caboo and Amazon Aware toilet paper are both earth-friendly options made from bamboo.

4. Use energy-efficient lighting

Whether it’s a rainy day or you’re burning the midnight oil, you may not always be able to rely on sunlight while working from home. When you need to use light bulbs, replacing the incandescent bulbs in your workspace with Energy Star-certified LED lights is an effective way to save energy.

According to Energy Star, if every American replaced a single light bulb with an Energy Star-certified alternative, greenhouse carbon emissions could be reduced by 7 billion pounds a year. Energy Star bulbs can also decrease energy bills by using up to 90% less energy and producing less heat than traditional bulbs.

5. Adjust your thermostat

The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that you can save up to 10% on home heating and cooling each year by decreasing your thermostat settings by 7°-10°F for eight hours each day.

Not up for readjusting your thermostat multiple times a day? Consider investing in a programmable thermostat that can put your routine on auto-pilot.

Better yet, check out Energy Star-certified smart thermostats, which many energy providers even offer rebates for purchasing. These thermostats can automatically program themselves to conserve energy in a way that works with your daily routine.

6. Reduce, reuse, recycle

Working from home offers plenty of options for eco-friendly initiatives, one of which is recycling. The EPA breaks down which products can be recycled and can even help you find recycling programs near you.

But the best way to reduce waste is to avoid creating it in the first place. Invest in reusable water bottles and consider stocking your home office space with used furniture. Purchasing second-hand products is cheaper, and reuse also helps conserve natural resources while preventing perfectly good products from ending up in landfills.

Reuse initiatives even help fight climate change by cutting down on the greenhouse gases and energy required to create and distribute new products. The next time you need a new office chair or desk, check out used options on Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace first.

7. Green your web conferencing

Video conferencing has helped reduce fossil fuel usage by removing the need to commute or travel to in-person meetings. But did you know that audio-only web conferencing is a great way to save even more energy?

Some researchers estimate that if even a quarter of all annual Zoom meetings went audio-only, it’d have the same environmental impact as planting 2 million trees. That said, there will be times when off-camera may not be appropriate.

In these instances, resist the urge to set up energy-sucking lighting to perfect your background. Zoom offers plenty of free virtual backgrounds that can be easily used to transform your backdrop into any setting you like.

8. Select eco-friendly office supplies

Finding eco-friendly office supplies is more accessible now than ever. Office Depot offers a range of products with eco-friendly certifications to guide your choices toward greener options. Similarly, online marketplaces like Amazon feature many items crafted from recycled or sustainable materials.

A few eco-friendly choices to search for include:

  • Ballpoint pens crafted from bamboo
  • Pencils manufactured without wood, using recycled components instead
  • Staplers made with recycled materials
  • Biodegradable or compostable shipping bags
  • Bamboo monitor risers

It’s worth exploring eco-friendly alternatives when shopping for office supplies or equipment. The variety and quality of these sustainable products might surprise you.

9. Encourage air circulation

When it comes to energy-saving climate control solutions, start by simply opening up your windows to enjoy cool breezes and better air quality. But what about winter or summer when outside air isn’t welcome?

A high-quality fan can offer a cheaper, more energy-efficient alternative to air-conditioning. Thermal curtains can also be a game-changing solution that works year-round.

During the summer, thermal curtains can bar solar heat from entering through your windows and raising indoor temperatures. They'll promote heat retention when the weather turns cold by keeping cold air from sneaking into your home.

10.  Find ways to use renewable energy

As the world moves toward renewable energy resources, some remote workers integrate solutions like solar panels or geothermal heat pumps into their home office setups. Options like these offer plenty of environmental benefits, not to mention potential long-term cost savings and tax benefits.

You can also use portable solar chargers to power devices like your cell phone or tablet from anywhere. Many products that use renewable energy are targeted at campers or outdoor enthusiasts, but you can also creatively weave them into your home office setup.

11. Buy sustainable foods

According to EPA research, enough food is wasted each year to cover a piece of farmland the size of California and New York state combined. To make matters worse, the agency estimates that nearly 60% of all landfill methane emissions can be traced back to rotting food products.

Choosing locally sourced, plant-based foods for your work-from-home meals can reduce your carbon footprint while also improving your well-being.

Rather than storing your leftovers in plastic containers, invest in eco-friendly alternatives made from glass, bamboo, or airtight stainless steel. Much like reusable water bottles, these containers may be a bit more expensive, but they last far longer.

12. Promote a sustainable mindset

Working remotely doesn’t always mean working alone. If you run a remote business, try to encourage eco-friendly practices among colleagues or remote employees.

Simply sharing the benefits you’ve enjoyed from energy-efficient practices can help inspire others to do the same. Some employers also offer incentives for using energy-friendly technology or offer company-sponsored access to free public transportation or community workspaces.

Feel free to mention in job postings how remote work policies have helped your company reduce its carbon footprint. Eco-friendly policies can be a powerful recruitment tool, especially when hiring like-minded talent.

Find remote work on Upwork

If you’re committed to sustaining the positive environmental impacts of remote work, Upwork is here to help. Our talent marketplace offers opportunities for independent professionals from a wide range of backgrounds and industries.

Whether you’ve been working from home for some time or are considering transitioning to remote work, feel free to check out Upwork’s many opportunities.

If you’re considering hiring remote independent talent, sign up for a free Upwork client account. We’ve got you covered whether you’re seeking talent to help with your daily operations or are interested in connecting with sustainability experts who can help your company map out a more eco-friendly future.

Hire sustainably

If you’re aiming for a more sustainable way of hiring, Upwork's the place to be. Setting up a company account there lets you tap into a vast network of remote professionals. This isn’t just about finding top-notch talent; it’s also a smart move toward a more eco-friendly way of working.

Posting your project on Upwork connects you with people ready to work remotely. This approach is a win-win: it expands your team’s capabilities while cutting down on the environmental impact that comes with traditional office setups.

Ready to make a change? Start by creating your company account and posting your job on Upwork. It’s a step toward hiring sustainably and embracing a greener business model.


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Top 12 Eco-Friendly Tips for Efficient Remote Work
The Upwork Team

Upwork is the world’s work marketplace that connects businesses with independent talent from across the globe. We serve everyone from one-person startups to large, Fortune 100 enterprises with a powerful, trust-driven platform that enables companies and talent to work together in new ways that unlock their potential.

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