When businesses and schools shut down in Los Angeles a year ago for the pandemic, the city’s smoggy skies cleared and rush hour traffic disappeared. Pollution also shrank in other cities. It seemed like a sign of how much climate emissions and air pollution could drop if companies decided to let more employees work from home permanently.
But the benefits aren’t quite that simple. A new calculator lets companies plug in different scenarios in a handful of cities—San Francisco, New York, Houston, London, and Toronto—and see how changes to people’s work patterns and commutes might impact overall emissions.
Unsurprisingly, commutes do matter: In a 500-person office in Houston, for example, if almost everyone who normally drives alone to work suddenly begins working from home, workplace emissions could drop 58%, and the company’s total emissions might fall by 9%. But the details make a difference.