If there was ever something positive to take from the Covid-19 crisis, it would be that it’s offered us a glimpse into a future with low-carbon emissions.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that about 3 million people die every year from ailments caused by air pollution, and that more than 80% of people living in urban areas are exposed to air quality levels that exceed safe limits. Measurements from the European Space Agency’s Sentinel-5P satellite show that during late January and early February 2020, levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO₂) over cities and industrial areas in Asia and Europe were lower than in the same period in 2019, by as much as 40%.
Since the national lockdown began in South Africa, electricity usage has dropped by more than 7,500MW a day, which is roughly one-third of South Africa’s average daily electricity usage. This is due to the country’s energy-intensive mining and manufacturing industries, which account for about 60% of national consumption, not operating. Covid-19 has achieved what decades of climate change talks couldn’t – a significant decrease in our global emissions of carbon dioxide.
We’re looking at a decrease of up to 8% in 2020, or around 3 billion tons of CO2. This is significantly more than the decreases that followed other global recessions in the past half century or so. The 1973 and 1979 recession were responsible for a reduction of about 1 billion tons of CO2 a year; the 2009 recession trimmed 0.5billion tons.
According to Dr Andrew Venter, the Director of the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership’s operations in South Africa, working from home and less travel is likely to be a significant legacy of Covid-19, as businesses and individuals come to recognise the cost and time savings made possible by digital communication tools.
While there is no perfect solution, it is possible for us all to take a step back and look closely at where there are opportunities to better manage our time, employees and resources more sensibly and in a more sustainable way. In many instances, adopting a flexible working culture is the answer.
By its very nature, flexible working is sustainable, because it’s about re-moulding the status quo to make things more efficient. Across the world, there is a concerted effort to create sustainably built and maintained green workspaces. There is also a move towards eco-driven communities and initiatives conceived to tackle climate change on a global scale.
“Flexible and shared office spaces are revolutionising the way we work. Along with sharing space, ideas and resources, IWG (Regus and Spaces in South Africa) is constantly finding unique and innovative of ways of reducing our collective carbon footprint”, says Joanne Bushell, IWG Country lead in South Africa, the largest flexible workspace company globally.
Flexible workspace will see exponential growth in the coming years which is good news for a more sustainable future.
Flexible and shared working can assist in the environmental plight in many obvious ways:
Sharing of resources means less waste.
The most obvious contribution of flexible working spaces to protecting our planet is the core concept of sharing.
Whilst it not only saves money, it avoids the need for environmental damage done during manufacturing excessive amounts of office equipment which is almost always destined for landfills once it has served its purpose. Around 17 billion pounds of business equipment and office furniture is dumped into landfills every single year in the world.
Driving environmental initiatives
There has been a shift in the business world that has companies, from the smallest start-ups to the biggest global enterprises, are clamouring for more environmentally friendly ways of doing business. Commercial real estate owners, tenants, and brokers can’t afford to ignore the sustainability significance of the decisions they make. However, doing so will require some fundamental shifts in the way we think about space, construction, and workplace operations.
The benefits of sustainability far outweigh the costs, which has become more apparent during the pandemic than ever before.
Consider the cost of empty desks? First and foremost, putting businesses into the wrong workspaces is bad for the environment. When businesses sign traditional, long-term leases, they often get the wrong amount of space (generally, too much). As a result, they end up having unutilised space, which is a major drain on resources. All that unused space still needs to be maintained with lighting, heating, cooling, and other energy-consuming features.
The miscalculation of space also drives the demand for new construction projects, and that is hugely impactful on the environment.
Suburban workspaces shorten commute time
Rather than leasing a fixed amount of conventional office space in the centre of the city, flexible workspaces are growing in the suburbs. This means shorter commute times for employees – so they spend less time spent contributing to rat-race CO2 emissions, and more time with their loved ones. Flex space also offers the option to upscale or downscale the amount of space your company requires at different times – so you are only consuming the resources you actually need.
Eliminate unnecessary resources and waste
The first thing is to move away from long-term leases in favor of more flexible options that can adapt to a business’s changing space needs. That’s why flexible workspace platforms offer plans that can increase of decrease according to the needs of the business. This flexible approach helps eliminate unused space, reduces the total resources businesses burn through, and cuts down on relocation waste which will produce unmitigated energy savings and a potential reduction of on-site material waste.
ROI = Responsibility of Investment
In commercial real estate, or any other industry for that matter, simply chasing profit is no longer enough. Modern enterprises recognise the need to be responsible corporate citizens by making positive social and environmental impacts. They’re also seeing that being good is good for business.
The old way of doing things is a path toward economic and environmental loss. We need to adapt to a changing world and find a sustainable road toward the future. In other words, when it comes to offices, gone are the days when the enterprise doesn’t think about flex.
By stripping back inefficiencies, flexible working saves companies time, money, and resources – while impacting on the workforce and the planet
The pandemic could show us how the future might look with less air pollution, or it may just indicate the scale of the challenge ahead. At the very least, it should challenge governments and businesses to consider how things can be done differently after the pandemic, to hold on to temporary improvements in air quality. We are on the right path to a more progressive, flexible way of making our businesses thrive. And our personal lives, our budgets and our planet will thank us for it.
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