How Telecommuting Reduced Carbon Footprints at Dell, Aetna and Xerox

How Telecommuting Reduced Carbon Footprints at Dell, Aetna and Xerox

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Image credit: Jay Meistrich
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This year marks the 45th anniversary of Earth Day. In recent years, Earth Day has become more about marketing initiatives, like NBC’s Green Is Universal campaign, but it is also a reminder of the things we’re doing to benefit the environment, and how much more can be done. Companies are in a unique position to help their individual employees make a larger, long-term impact than any one individual can do alone. That’s what Xerox, Dell and Aetna have done, and their collective telecommuting efforts are benefiting the environment.

Related: 10 Tips to be a Proficient Telecommuter

Large-scale telecommuting benefits the environment.

Telecommuting has long been touted as a way to reduce carbon emissions. Its impact is immediate and large: as soon as someone stops commuting and starts working from home, she’s reduced her carbon footprint in a big way. And that reduction is amplified when entire work forces start telecommuting.

According to Global Workplace Analytics, 50 percent of the American workforce currently hold telecommute-compatible jobs. If those people worked from home half the time, it would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 54 million metric tons annually, the equivalent of taking almost 10 million cars off the road. It would also reduce annual oil consumption by 640 million barrels.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the U.S. uses approximately 19 million barrels of oil every day. If people worked from home part-time, 1.75 million of those barrels--almost 10 percent--could be eliminated.

Related: How to Calculate and Reduce Your Business's Carbon Footprint

Dell, Xerox,Aetna Use Telecommuting to Reduce Energy Consumption.

In 2012, Dell launched its “2020 Legacy of Good Plan” which, among other initiatives, pledged to make 50 percent of its workforce remote by 2020. Currently, 20 percent of Dell employees, about 20,000 people, work from home, and it’s already seeing the environmental benefits.

In 2014, Dell’s telecommuting program reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 6,700 metric tons, or the equivalent of not driving 16 million miles. As part of its “Legacy of Good Plan,” CEO Michael Dell has set this goal for its environmental impact: “By incorporating environmental sustainability into every aspect of what we do, [we’re] minimizing our collective impact on the planet.”

Xerox designed its Virtual Workforce Program to use the benefits of working from home as a means to both run a productive company and benefit the environment. Through the Virtual Workforce Program, more than 8,000 Xerox employees (11 percent of its workforce) work from home full time.

Through telecommuting, Xerox reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 40,894 metric tons, and its remote staff used 4.6 million fewer gallons of gas by not commuting. The program has been so successful that Xerox added an additional 1,000 remote positions in 2014.

“Xerox focused on environmental performance and sustainability long before it was a popular practice, in order to positively impact our operations, offerings, customers and communities,” said Diane O’Connor, vice president of Environmental, Health, Safety and Sustainability at Xerox.

At Aetna, remote work has been an option for over 20 years, and 43 percent of its current workforce have virtual work arrangements. Aetna credits telecommuting for a reduction greenhouse gas emissions by 46,700 metric tons in 2014 alone. Through telecommuting in 2014, Aetna also reduced its employees’ commutes by 127 million miles, which used 5.3 million fewer gallons of gas.

As with Xerox and Dell, Aetna showcases its telecommuting options to attract new talent. The first reason on the company’s list of “Reasons to Work at Aetna” is “easy commutes,” with the key stat that 43 percent of its employees already work from home.

Amplification of environmental impact.

The takeaway from the experiences of Dell, Aetna, and Xerox is that so much of an individual’s carbon footprint is based on when, where and how she’s required to work. By allowing employees to telecommute, these companies have found a trifecta of win-win-win situations.

The first win is for the company, because telecommuting has a number benefits through cost savings, productivity and retention. The second win is for the environment, because employer support for telecommuting amplifies any impact its individual workers might have. And the third win is, of course, for the individual workers, who are able to better balance work and life and, at the same time, positively impact the environment.

Related: 5 Ways Telecommuting Saves Employers Money