out of the workplace

By Sam Pickering, Director at Incendium

Corporate scrutiny of sustainability has seen a real focus on benchmarking and understanding building emissions, the cost to business through the supply chain and the wider, long-term cost to society.

The real estate sector consumes 40% of the world’s energy, which is a remarkable proportion of emissions. 93% of the world’s largest companies now report on their sustainability performance in recognition. But, at a time when 75% of the global workforce is now working at home, employees are now consuming “business” energy through domestic bills. How are companies going to mitigate this massive migration of energy usage and emissions to the home?


Progressive organisations are already ahead of this, looking at rolling out best practice sustainability guidelines to ensure that the initiatives introduced to the office now extend to the domestic workplace. And, some companies are now beginning to wonder whether an office building is actually more sustainable than working from home as they have more ability to maintain standards in the workplace environment.


There are other key considerations for organisations, the consequences of a world full of unused offices could be more significant than might be imagined. Without being able to access the office to track data onsite, businesses are flying blind in relation to energy usage and carbon emissions. The reality is that much of the data infrastructure reporting is not joined up enough, particularly across large portfolios, which leaves overall visibility impossible while site visits are impinged.

The massive increase in remote working will have significant ramifications for energy consumption and emissions across the workplace sector. Obviously, there is less energy consumption in an empty office and less pollution generated from transport and the supply chain. But is the buck just being passed to individual employees, and if the business isn’t able to track out of office activity, how do we know which approach is more sustainable?

In winter, for instance, a large number of workers will be pumping out central heating throughout the day to warm their homes. As well as being costly for the individuals, this may use more energy and produce a larger carbon footprint than if all employees were in one office. Will the onus fall to employers to if not fund, but certainly advise and report back on energy usage in this context and ensure that their employees are living and working in a sustainable way? There are significant ramifications if we begin to approach the issue in this way, and it shows again a significant blurring between domestic life and the office.


A recent study from WSP has highlighted that, even taking the commute into account, the workplace can be a more sustainable solution for workers in the long-term. It is my experience that more progressive businesses are already looking at this issue and folding it into their sustainability and wellness strategy for the long-term.


To help home workers, businesses could advise how to improve sustainability when working from home by sharing knowledge on energy saving techniques. That being said, energy management in individual houses is typically less sophisticated than in commercial buildings, making carbon reporting for businesses difficult.

There are other considerations. At a time of international crisis, with most offices having to close, businesses are being forced to look at their portfolio in a different light. This period will influence future CRE strategies, with the importance of injecting flexibility being highlighted now more than ever. We are going to see corporate portfolios of every size and shape than those we have seen historically.

Human behaviour has been catalogued as one of the many ”barriers” to energy reduction in buildings. Even with the rise of smart technologies, sensors, and data loggers, there needs to be a wider acceptance that human behaviour is the single greatest factor in reducing energy consumption. The property sector needs to understand and educate people in order to successfully fulfil the potential offered by new smart technologies both at work and at home. This will require a humanistic approach that can change behavioural patterns and address bad habits – a tough task but critical to the built environment’s role in addressing climate change.