By Bronagh Loughlin
We are watching our world break down. Our oceans are filling up with plastic, our air is being polluted each day and all the while animals are becoming extinct and sea levels are rising. The effects of climate change are very real, from droughts to fires to storms and much more.
The COVID-19 pandemic led to a lockdown that saw most people in the world having to remain in their homes without any kind of social activity.
Many were conducting their work from home, something they had never imagined having to do before. Although the COVID-19 pandemic was a frightening and upsetting period, this time of slowing down and working from home showed that we can alter our current systems.
We learned that normal is only normal because that is what we say is normal. COVID-19 has brought about a new normal that we are currently living in. It also revealed to us that our systems are not immovable and that there are opportunities for us to make our world and business lives more sustainable.
The key to all this is embracing the new world of work. Many studies into the new world of work suggest that working from home has an incredibly positive effect on reducing greenhouse gases. The most significant reason for this being that we are massively reducing the number of people who are commuting to work.
The sustainability effects from working from home definitely appear to be considerable. Depending on the percentage of employees driving to work, working from home enables a great reduction in the use of fossil fuels and the emission of harmful substances.
In addition, working from home also reduces the number of square feet of office space required and if the business also switches to introducing the likes of flexible workplace concepts, it saves money.
Before the pandemic in Ireland, only 14% of the Irish workforce was working from home, according to the economic, social and research institute. This number is surprisingly low when you consider the number of jobs that can be conducted at home and do not require employees to travel into the office.
This kind of remote work that we are experiencing during the COVID-19 pandemic has often been proposed by policymakers in Ireland before. This is because they believe it could be a solution to the growing and unsustainable problem of transport emissions and mobility patterns.
However, so far, remote work as an alternative to working in the office place has failed to reach its entire potential, continuing to be marginalised by businesses and lacking appropriate guidelines and regulations until now.
The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that you can trust your employees to carry out their work from their home. That they will continue to meet their targets and deadlines without being present in the office.
For the sake of the environment and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, we should consider embracing this new model of working. We can either embrace this by having all employees work from home and doing regular Zoom or Google meetings to check in.
Alternatively, we can change to a model whereby employees work part-time at home and part-time in the office space. This is a small step that can greatly help your business to be more sustainable in terms of transport emissions, air pollution and fossil fuels.
Just because working in an office is deemed normal in our eyes does not mean we have to jump back to working in this way when we get out of the COVID-19 pandemic.
We need to use this pandemic to pave the way to our new normal and embrace the opportunities the pandemic puts forth to make our business models more sustainable and resilient to the external shocks of climate change.
There truly is no planet B. If we do not attempt to reverse the damage we have already caused to our Earth, we will be out of luck and out of our home. The time to adopt change and embrace new realities is now. We need to build back better from COVID-19 with sustainability and the environment in mind.
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