Want to Help Stop Climate Change? Start Working Remotely

In November representatives from 200 countries will gather in Paris to hash out a plan of action to reduce climate change. Some see this as a ‘last chance’ for action as the the amount of human produced CO2 in our atmosphere is on the rise. Population growth, deforestation and increased consumption of fossil fuels are all to blame.

Eric at the Falls - smallerFor many modern companies with a social conscience working in a distributed way is well aligned with reducing environmental impact. Eric Bieller argues that working remotely could be an important factor in reducing climate change and makes a call for companies to seriously think about changing the way they work.

Eric is the co-founder of Speak, a tool that provides instant communication and presence for remote teams. His team’s goal is to enable a future where the office is no longer a necessity and people are free to work from anywhere in the world. You can find Eric on Twitter (@ericbieller).


Over the last century, motor vehicles have become commonplace in our society, becoming a hefty contributor to this increase in CO2 emissions.

Increase in registered vehicles on the road since 1975

Increase in registered vehicles on the road since 1975
(IHS Global Insight and Wells Fargo Securities, LLC)


Increase in CO2 emissions since over the last century
(Source: http://www.epa.gov/)

In fact, transportation is estimated to account for as much as 31% of human emissions.

Meanwhile, deforestation has reduced the planet’s ability to filter CO2 out of the atmosphere.

Continuing on this path could mean devastating consequences for future generations, including rising global temperatures and shrinking of polar ice.

And while the financial crisis of 2008 may have reduced car ownership, subsequently reducing the amount of human produced CO2 in the atmosphere, in the last few years this number has started to creep back up towards pre 2008 levels.

Unfortunately there is no single solution to this problem. If we are going to solve climate change and help dial back CO2 emissions, we’re going to need to attack the problem from multiple angles, starting with our reliance on motor vehicles.

The death of the commute

One of the biggest reasons for increased car ownership, and the subsequent rise in CO2 emissions, is that commuting has become commonplace over the last century.

Cars have made it possible to live in the suburbs but work in the city center. And while this has afforded many people the freedom to live and work where they want, it has also made commuting a way of life for our culture.

In fact, a commuter spends an average of one work week in traffic over the course of a year.

All this time adds up to literally tons of extra CO2 building up in the atmosphere. This also adds up to years of collective productivity that is being lost as we sit in traffic on our way to work.

Ditch the commute and start working remotely

Knowledge workers are in an especially unique position to ditch the commute and start working remotely, as their jobs can typically be done from anywhere. The only requirements are a solid internet connection and the right tools.

In fact, several large remote teams have managed to build extremely successful products, despite being separated by distance and time zones:

Automattic has created a celebrated culture of remote work, with hundreds of employees scattered across 28 countries.

Github is another great success story, with approximately 75% of their employees working remotely.

Buffer has also managed to build a fun and unique culture by embracing remote work.

Taking real steps toward working remotely

I’m not saying that your entire workforce should become remote tomorrow. After all, you can’t just flip a switch and suddenly have a happy and productive remote team.

But why not dip your toes in the water by allowing employees work from home one or two days out of the week? Even a modest remote work policy can give workers a greater sense of freedom and lead to increased productivity. It’ll also show them that you trust them to be autonomous and self managing.

These are certainly small steps, but on a global scale this can really add up! Every minute spent working instead of commuting equates to less CO2 being pumped into the atmosphere and more time spent being productive.


Climate change is a serious matter that’s going to call for serious action if we’re to solve it. But this means that society’s old habits are going to have to change.

Technology has made it possible for us to stay connected to each other even when we’re working on opposite sides of the planet. We’re no longer shackled to the office and doomed to spend hours of our lives stuck in traffic. But it’s up to us to make a change. It’s time for us to cut our ties to this old way of life and start embracing the future of work.

What do you think? Can working remotely make a serious dent in reducing climate change? Let us know in the comments section below!


Tweeting about Joint Home Working

Most of us who have a partner would probably have to admit that they get on our nerves (at least) some of the time. So imagine working in the same house as them, or even in the same room as them! More people are starting to work from home and there is an increasing number of families where both partners work from home in some capacity. Sounds like fun doesn’t it!

For some reason the topic recently came up on my Twitter stream. Quite a few of my Twitterati explained that they and their partner both work from home and that relatively little has been written about it so far.

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So how do they make it work? Having a good working environment is important.

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Are they sat in the same room or are they lucky enough to have the luxury of a room each?

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I had a taste of working in this way back in 2011 when my husband was made redundant. We made sure we sat in different rooms, but I did find that we settled into traditional roles a little too easily…I ended up cooking lunch and did most of the tea and coffee making. Maybe I just drink more tea?!

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But tea and coffee seems to be central to the discussion…

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So what about if you have no-one to share your remote working space – do you feel left out?

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I’m just hoping someone is going to write me a guest blog post about it all…

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iHubbub have written a post entitled Home Working With Your Partner that looks at some of these issues in more depth.

Best Practices for Event Amplification Report

Things have been a little hectic around here and I managed to forget to mention the Best Practices for Event Amplification Report which has recently been released. The report, written by Kirsty Pitkin and Paul Shabajee is a deliverable for the Greening Events II project and I was originally down as an author, unfortunately other commitments have since got in the way.

The report has some really useful content. It begins with an introduction to the current event spectrum (three key areas: hybrid, virtual and amplified events). Each area is explained and the benefits and challenges of each considered.

The Event Spectrum

Case study accounts from the three areas are also presented. The event’s position on the event spectrum is identified, and areas like level of engagement, environmental benefits and financial cost considered.

The report concludes with a series of practical briefing documents to help event organisers rethink their own events and make use of amplified and hybrid event models. These include:

  • Event Decision Template
  • Event Amplification Planning Template
  • Risk Analysis Checklist
  • Participant Perspectives document
  • Toolkit – with information on available tools
  • Evaluation and Metrics suggestions

In the appendices there is also some information on the environmental and sustainability impacts of events: carbon foot printing of transport, remote attendance, event amplification etc. Here a proviso is given that “while it seems that the emissions for remote attendees are very much lower than for physical attendees because of transport related emissions alone…this is not necessarily the case.” Reasons for this include offsetting of the savings, displacement of travel, stimulation of other activities etc. I’ve explored some of these ideas before in Home working and the Rebound Effect.

The report concludes by saying:

Further study is required to assess the long term impact of amplified events and their influence on delegate behaviour patterns to identify the full potential of amplified and hybrid events to reduce the carbon impact of events within the education sector. However, evolving best practice and experimentation by a wider diversity of events will help to establish an evidence base for this further study and expose more event organisers, speakers and participants to new ways of working that could provide an effective alternative to event travel.

Watch this space…

London Green Hackathon

Is your New Year’s resolution to do something good in 2012?

Why not go along to the London Green Hackathon at University College London, 28 – 29 January 2012. They are offering a weekend of hacking on climate change, sustainability, energy and carbon emissions.

The free tickets went really fast but 50 more have now become available, so don’t waste any time!

Meet great developers and sustainability experts as we help out our planet with some innovative hacks. Come along, solve problems, and invent new ideas and applications that help address climate change.

The events are part of a European series of Greenhackathons organised by AMEE, who aggregate and automate access to the world’s environmental and energy information.

You can follow the event on Twitter on @ameedev and @greenhackathon and see who is attending on Lanyrd.

Alternatives to Travel – a Call for Evidence

The Department for Trade have recently released an open consultation on Alternatives to Travel – a Call for Evidence. Those with insights they’d like to share can fill in a questionnaire.

This Call for Evidence is published in order to assist with the development of longer term alternatives to travel strategy. It is a follow up to the Local Transport White Paper Creating Growth, Cutting Carbon which was launched in January this year and set out the Government’s vision for a local sustainable transport system that supports the economy and reduces carbon emissions.

The guidelines paper that accompanies the questionnaire gives a number of definition of alternatives to travel and they include:

  1. Home working and remote working;
  2. Flexible working and staggered hours (in order to reduce travel during peak periods);
  3. Teleconferencing and videoconferencing;
  4. Any other alternatives to travel which can help reduce work-related travel.

If you are interested in submitting evidence then you need to fill in the questionnaire and submit it by 31st May 2011.

The Open Source way to save Energy at Home

Thanks to Glyn Moody (who writes some great pieces on ‘open source, open genomics, open content’ – as he puts it) I came across this post in the Ecologist entitled Could open source technologies help us solve climate change? from earlier this year.

One of the more interesting suggestions for us remote workers is Home Camp, a home hacking, automation and green technology community.

I’m not a developer and don’t really do any hacking but the potential results of the project will be worth watching.

Stealing a chunk from the Ecologist article:

“Based in the UK, and enabled by technologies like the Arduino, an open source electronics prototyping platform, members of the Homecamp community take energy monitoring devices like Current Cost, and install them in their homes.

By connecting devices to internet and mobile technologies, Homecampers are able to demonstrate such innovations as lights that switch off when a room is empty, or publishing their energy consumption online so that houses can compete for the lowest usage.

Homecamp projects are completed in the spare time of technologists and software engineers, and are fuelled by the enthusiasm of pushing technical boundaries and demonstrating achievements to their peers. Without the open data protocols of the internet, and the adoption of them by companies like Current Cost (which was the first to enable the connection of an energy monitoring device to the internet), Homecamp would not have been possible.

James Governor is co-founder of Redmonk, a company described as ‘the first open source analyst company’, and the author of the Greenmonk blog. An enthusiastic supporter of Homecamp and related initiatives, he believes that the principle of ‘hacking’ is key to finding the right technical solutions to climate change:

‘We need to experiment, and share ideas, in order to develop grassroots approaches to reducing home energy consumption. Without open source there arguably would be no Homecamp.

‘It’s not just the source code that needs to be open, however: “open data” is just as important – sharing information leads to better outcomes, because we’re talking about social change. Hacking climate data, creating mashups (new ways of visualising information) will be key to personal energy footprint reduction.'”

Offline the community aspect has taken the form of a number of unconference events where developers meet up and code. “Think smart meters, monitoring and graphing energy usage“. The second event had an OpenSim event running alongside for virtual participation and to demo the RealWorld and VirtualWorld modelling and automation that the community has been doing.

The site also has a interesting blog with links to other related projects such as 21st Century Living Project, a collaboration between the Universities of Surrey and Plymouth, Homebase, the Eden Project and Acona, watching how 100 families can sort out their energy issues.

Election Mayhem 3: Green Issues

Tomorrow (if you haven’t already taken the postal vote option) you’ll hopefully be taking yourself down to your local polling station.

For many it feels like we could be at important a turning point politically. Personally, who to vote for in this election has been the easiest choice so far since I first got to officially mark down my X in 1992. My choice has been made on a number of different fronts: the economy and the current job situation, education and the potential school life my children will have, plans for national security and more.

However for me probably the biggest issue is how the different parties propose to deal with the climate change chaos that we are about to face.

The Ask the Climate Question coalition organised a debate between Ed Miliband, Greg Clark, Simon Hughes and Darren Johnson. The event also featured video blogs from the leaders Brown, Cameron and Clegg available in the Independent.

Last Monday was the election agenda’s ‘Climate Change Day’ and the three main parties published their green’ manifestos:

To sum up:

Liberal Democrats

  • Set target for a zero-carbon UK, but allow 10% of emissions to be offset overseas.
  • Spend £3.1bn in the first year on a green jobs stimulus which will lead to 100,000 jobs.
  • Tax planes, not passengers, to discourage empty flights, and tax short-haul flights more if trains or coaches are available.
  • A road-pricing scheme, making motorists pay for their use, offset by scrapping the vehicle excise duty tax disc.
  • Tax financial transactions and aviation and shipping emissions to help poorer countries moderate and adapt to climate change.
  • Rule out a new generation of nuclear power on the grounds of expense – a “big hole” in electricity generation, says Labour.
  • Scrap the new Infrastructure Planning Commission and return decision-making to local people – risks delays to renewable energy projects.
  • Commit the UK to a target of 40% emissions cut by 2020, breaking step with the EU.
  • Cut rail fares and make Network Rail refund one-third of ticket cost if rail replacement bus services are used.
  • £400 eco cashback scheme for new double glazing, boilers or solar panels.
  • Double woodland by 2005 and policies to “increase tranquillity” in the countryside.
  • Prevent “garden-grabbing” development by designating them as greenfield sites.


  • Introduce an Emissions Performance Standard to set a legal limit on the emissions from power stations.
  • Deliver a 10 per cent cut in central government carbon emissions within 12 months of coming to office.
  • Create four carbon capture and storage equipped power plants;
  • Deliver an offshore electricity grid and establish at least two Marine Energy Parks.
  • Allow communities that host renewable energy projects like wind farms to keep the additional business rates they generate for six years.
  • Provide incentives for smaller-scale energy generation.
  • Putt in place supply guarantees in the gas and electricity markets – ensuring that sufficient electricity generating capacity is maintained and setting an obligation on gas suppliers to ensure that supplies are in place throughout the year.
  • Reform the Climate Change Levy to provide a floor price for carbon, delivering the right climate for investment.
  • Transform electricity networks with ‘smart grid’ and ‘smart meter’ technology.
  • Clear the way for new nuclear power stations – provided they receive no public subsidy.
  • Create a ‘Green Deal’, giving every home up to £6,500 worth of energy improvement measures – paid for out of the savings made on fuel bills.
  • Ensure that every energy bill provides information on how to move to the cheapest tariff offered by their supplier and how their energy usage compares to similar households.
  • Reform the Post Office Card Account to give up to 4 million people access to lower tariffs.


  • Use industrial policy, which has seen wind turbine and electric car makers invest in the UK, to create 400,000 green jobs by 2015.
  • Use “active government” – ie intervention – in markets to deliver a low-carbon energy sector.
  • Up to £5,000 discount for electric cars and 100,000 charging points by 2015.
  • Reduce aviation emissions to 2005 levels by 2050.
  • Ban all recyclable and biodegradable waste from landfill.
  • Back a third runway at Heathrow, but rule out any other new runway until 2015.
  • Back new coal power stations without requiring that all their carbon emissions are captured and stored.
  • £100 extra towards energy bills for those over 75.
  • Prosecution for a car owner if litter is thrown from it, plus seizure of cars used for fly-tipping.
  • Treble the number of secure bicycle parking spaces at railway stations.
  • Ban wild animals in circuses and maintain the fox-hunting ban.

The Reality

The three main parties have much to say on climate issues. I haven’t mentioned other parties in these posts but it seems wrong to not mention the natural party of choice for many environmentalists, the Green Party, who have green policy at the heart of their manifesto.

Who you vote for, whether it be a strategic vote to keep another party out or a heart felt vote, potentially has the power to change the UK. Whatever you do use your vote wisely, but most of all use your vote.

High petrol prices to drive remote working take-up

Mark Heraghty, managing director of Virgin Media Business has written a brief guest blog post for us on how a Virgin Media Business survey has shown that commuters could save thousands by working from home once a week. Mark Heraghty was appointed as Managing Director for Virgin Media Business in June 2009. He leads the Business Division’s senior management team with direct responsibilities for the leadership of sales, marketing, product management and customer operations in the UK business market with a focus on spearheading growth. Mark has been involved with the telecommunications industry for the last 17 years, previously as CEO UK and Europe for Cable and Wireless and more recently with Reliance Globalcom, where he was President EMEA, with regional responsibility for the former FLAG Telecom and Vanco businesses that Reliance acquired in 2004 and 2008.


The average petrol price skyrocketed to £1.20 per litre last weekend, thanks to a combination of rocketing oil prices and Alistair Darling’s extra 1.2p fuel duty. Luckily for commuters, Virgin Media Business has found that people enduring the average commute of 19 miles could save £16 by ditching the car and working from home once a week. This tots up to more than £3,800 a year.

The daily drive to work can be a real bugbear for commuters and in many cases it’s totally unnecessary. Advances in technology mean that most workers can now do their job equally well, if not better, from home. The fact that staff could save money, while enjoying a better work/life balance is really the icing on the cake.

However, it’s not just employees that could benefit. As less office space is required, businesses can reduce overheads by moving to smaller offices with lower rents. Advances in technology mean that it’s now easier than ever to facilitate remote working. Often all that staff need to work remotely is a laptop and a home broadband connection. This, combined with secure access to a Virtual Private Network and a phone, gives staff all they need to operate as a team, regardless of their location. Tools such as Unified Communications and Instant Messaging can make it even simpler for colleagues to communicate. With businesses of all sizes looking to drive savings at the moment, I wouldn’t be surprised if more employers started to encourage staff to work remotely.

A few facts:

The average commuter drives 19 miles a day according to research by liftshare.com.

Petrol prices are based on an average of 120p and added to local parking fees. Local parking fees were estimated by finding the average of five city-centre car parks for each town. Petrol costs were discerned by working on the premise that the average car with a 2.0 litre engine will travel 10 miles to the litre.

Note that cities surveyed included Birmingham, Bristol, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester and Reading.

Home working and the Rebound Effect

Ever heard of the rebound effect? I wasn’t aware of the term until a colleague of mine, Paul Shabajee, mentioned it.

Paul is currently working on Greening Events, a new JISC project exploring how event organisers can effectively balance the need to minimise the sustainability footprint of an event with the need for organisations and individuals to still get the most from the events. Sounds familiar? Yes, it touches on many of the ideas we had for our Green ICT bid. I’m just glad some work has been funded in this area. I hope to work more with Paul in the future and will be twisting his arm to write a few blog posts for Ramblings.

Wikipedia defines the rebound effect, also known as the take-back effect or Jevons Paradox, when used in conservation and energy economics as “the behavioral or other systemic responses to the introduction of new technologies, or other measures taken to reduce resource use. These responses tend to offset the beneficial effects of the new technology or other measures taken.

A more modern analysis of this phenomenon is the Khazzoom–Brookes postulate theory which argues that increased energy efficiency paradoxically tends to lead to increased energy consumption.

The rebound effect was first proposed by William Stanley Jevons, an English economist and logician of the 19th century.

In his 1865 book The Coal Question Jevons theorized that improving the efficiency at which energy was produced would reduce energy costs and as a result increase rather than decrease energy use and consumption of coal. Time has proved him correct and the rebound effect is one area of climate change theory that remains uncontroversial.

A useful analogy is provided by Green Living tips.

A good example of a type of rebound effect that many of us could relate to is low fat ice cream. Since it is low fat, we’re tempted to eat more – just a little, because it’s OK as we’re still consuming less fat than we would from full cream ice cream. However, what we forget is that most low-fat ice cream is chock full of sugar; not to mention through eating more that means more raw products are used, more packaging and so forth.

Paul and I had a interesting chat about the rebound effect and working from home. Here’s a few thoughts:

  • Working from home means I use the car less. I tend to stay in my house during my working day, maybe with a short trip to the local shops. This can leave me feeling a little stir crazy and on my days off I feel the need to get out-and-about so often end up driving more.
  • Occasionally I’ll drive somewhere in my lunch-hour, something I probably wouldn’t have done had I been parked in a work car-park.
  • Being green and not driving as much means that I feel I have the right to leave my heating on all day (this isn’t always the case but has been for much of this winter!)
  • It’s quite possible that an institution feels it is doing “its bit” by employing remote workers and so allows itself a little slack in other areas.
  • Working from home can save some people a huge amount of time. The time saved may allow them to take new trips.
  • Now I have my PC set up at home I tend to work more, I use my PC more, I use my printer more and I use my modem more. They are all electrical items I would previously have had switched off in the evenings.
  • For some people working from home may mean that others have to make further trips to visit them, trips that wouldn’t have had to take place if the other person worked in the main office.
  • The use of video conferencing and amplified conference technologies may well mean that more people now ‘attend’ and have meetings. They often represent extra meetings rather than ones that replace meetings people would need to travel to. ICT use is increasing all the time.
  • People need to ‘travel’ (by this I mean a change in surroundings) a certain amount for their own personal sanity. Saving ourselves time by better travel systems just means that we travel further. Apparently average travel time has not changed for at least 30 years and remains constant at an hour a day. The Myth of Travel Time Saving explores this idea further.

A blog post in last year’s Guardian entitled Does teleworking really cut emissions? suggests that home working isn’t the quick fix many would like us to believe it is. I personally believe it has a big role to play in reducing carbon emissions (and so do many others – too many to list here). It could potentially be a big chunk of a climate carbon wedge. The key is that we are aware of the rebound effect so we can minimise its impact.

I’d be interested to hear what other people think.

Greening Events

Last week the snow sort of took over and I didn’t get a chance to talk about the bid we submitted late last year to the JISC Greening ICT call. Brian Kelly has done a good job of explaining more about our proposal on his blog (It was a GREEAT proposal!!), so I won’t go into too much detail. The project was given the name GREEAT (GReening Events through Event Amplification Technologies). This wasn’t my number one choice of name, it had seemed to me that Greening Events was a better indication of what the project was to be about, but sometimes the need for an acronym outweighs prudence ;-).

The idea for the project stems from my remote worker work and our work at the Institutional Web Management workshop. Over the last few years we’ve tried to make it more relevant to virtual attendees, for example through the use of streaming and Twitter.

Unfortunately we failed to win the bid. The markers explained that they were not impressed with the “amount of ‘greenness’ in the proposal” which landed it outside the scope of the programme.

This was a fair comment really. Personally I felt our hearts were in the right place but lack of time meant that we failed to be clear about what the project would entail. Part of the reason for this was that we weren’t entirely sure ourselves. It seemed slightly like a Phd question in that sometimes you aren’t fully sure of the question till you’ve found the answer. I think there are so many possibilities and things that could enable events to become greener that we didn’t know where to start and possibly concentrated too much on our previous work. You live and learn.

In reflection greening events is very much like any other attempts to be more environmentally responsible – the three Rs apply: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Here are my thoughts on how to get started.

People go to events (workshops, conferences, seminars, meet-ups etc.) and there is great value in them doing so. However attending and running an event has a big environmental impact by both the hosts and the attendees (venue energy use, food, materials, waste, travel etc.) Both the hosts and the attendees have a responsibility to reduce this impact.

The key ways they can do this are through the consideration of the following:

  • Is there a real need for this event?
  • Could it be run virtually?
  • Can people attend virtually if they chose (streaming etc.) and are they supported to do so?
  • What technologies could support virtual attendance (webinars, video conferencing etc.)?
  • Is the venue itself working towards being greener?
  • Is the venue well located to avoid unnecessary travel, i.e. can attendees get to the event using public transport?
  • Can materials created for the event be kept to a minimum?
  • Can communication be kept greener (through online and mobile methods)?
  • What about catering, local transport?
  • Can the resources from the event be distributed as widely as possible and reused to increase their value (amplified conferencing)?
  • Can the environmental impact of the event be measured?
  • Is there a way to benchmark/scale/value events based on their efforts?
  • What about offsetting?

Further investigation of the substance of these questions and ways to help other institutions answer them would have been the meat of our project.

Since working on the proposal I’ve found the following document entitled Greening events – Green Meeting Guide created by the International Training Centre. They offer some really useful advice on how to make your event as green as possible.

As they say:

A green event is one designed, organised and implemented in a way that minimises negative environmental impacts and leaves a positive legacy for the host community.

Naturally the need to make your event sustainable is only going to increase. The 2012 Olympics is a real test-bed for this area and it will be interesting to see what ideas they come up with.

Greening events is an exciting field and many of the possibilities are technology based. Higher Education still has a long way to go to make sure it’s ticking all the right boxes. As the funding downturn in the public sector takes hold over 2010-11 this is likely to have a big impact on events. Making them streamlined, greener and more remote delegate-friendly will be par for the course. It would be grrreeeeat if UKOLN could get the chance to do further work in this area in the future.