A year on from the first UK lockdown, we’ve found that one in two people working from home have turned coronavirus restrictions into an opportunity to be more environmentally friendly.
Now that it’s no longer our employers switching off the lights or turning down the heating, homeworkers have been making their own, more sustainable choices.
But as hope builds that lockdown restrictions will soon begin to ease, it’s clear many of us will be looking at a more hybrid mix of office and home working into the long-term future.
Some employers will offer workers more flexible hours including working from home, at least some of the time.
When we surveyed members of the public about their plans for post-lockdown home working, nine in ten of those trying to be more sustainable at home told us they’d like to continue their efforts after lockdown restrictions end.
Related: Our guides to shopping sustainably
Eco-friendly home-working habits
We asked workers how their habits have changed due to working from home over the past 12 months, when it comes to energy and water use.
56% said they were heating their homes more often or for longer, 47% used more water at home, 40% were doing more cooking at home and 39% were using TVs, game consoles and laptops more.
All this means bigger utility bills and, unless you use 100% renewable energy, more carbon emissions.
During the first lockdown last year, the UK’s overall energy use dropped as businesses closed. But home energy use increased by as much as a third during the middle of the day.
For a switch to hybrid home/office working to be sustainable, homeworking must have no more impact on the planet than going to work. Here are our top tips for keeping a handle on your impact and your utility bills:
Top tips for eco-friendly homeworking
Currently, the most effective ways to cut your carbon footprint at home are to:
- Reduce your energy use by insulating your home better, and installing energy efficient heating with smart heating controls (you may be able to get a grant to help with some of these costs);
- Choose a renewable energy tariff. Head to our guide to how to choose the best energy company if you’re thinking of switching provider.
If you can’t do those right now, there are plenty of simple but effective actions that cost little or nothing, and can save you money when working from home.
1. Heat your home efficiently while keeping warm
Heating and hot water make up more than half the typical household fuel bill in the UK. Working at home all day means we’re likely to need more heating, but there are ways to stay warm while saving money and protecting the environment.
- Take control of your heating with timers, room thermostats and thermostatic radiator valves (TRVs). If you work in the same room all day, there’s no need to heat the whole house: switch off the central heating and use a portable heater during working hours instead.
- Turn down the temperature. Turning the thermostat down by one degree can save £60 and 310kg of carbon dioxide a year for a typical household. The Energy Saving Trust recommends that room thermostats should be set to the lowest comfortable temperature, typically between 18 and 21 degrees Celsius.
- Wear appropriate clothing to stay cosy. Aim to keep your core warm with layers of clothing and, if it’s very cold, try a hot water bottle or electric heated blanket.
- Remember to get up from your desk and move around. As well as being good for your body and mind more generally, taking breaks for gentle exercise will get the blood pumping and keep you warm.
- Draught-proof your home. Draughts can make you feel chilly even when the room is adequately heated, so fill gaps around windows and door frames, hang lined curtains or blinds, and use a draught excluder along the bottom of the door. If you have bare floorboards, seal the gaps, and add a thick rug or two.
2. Eat well to save energy and reduce waste
UK households waste 4.5 million tonnes of food every year and, while some food packaging can be easily recycled, many plastics and mixed materials will end up in landfill or being incinerated.
Now more of us are eating three meals a day at home, not to mention drinking endless tea and coffee, it’s more important than ever to reduce food and packaging waste.
- Plan meals in advance, including workday lunches, and make a shopping list so it’s easier to buy just what you need and avoid throwing out uneaten food.
- Cook for more than one meal at a time. Batch cooking makes the most effective use of the oven or hob, and you can chill or freeze portions for speedy meals later.
- Use alternative appliances, such as a slow cooker, pressure cooker or microwave where appropriate, as they use less energy than an oven.
- Turn leftovers into lunch. When you’re working from home, a small portion of leftovers that might have gone to waste makes an ideal quick lunch.
- Fill the dishwasher to capacity and use the eco setting. If washing up by hand, use a bowl and do it once a day, rather than after every meal, to save water and energy.
- Switch off standby. The fridge and freezer have to be on 24/7, but microwaves, dishwashers, washing machines and ovens can all be turned off at the mains.
- Don’t overfill the kettle when making hot drinks; boil just as much water as you need or fill a flask to last all day.
- Choose plastic-free tea bags and, if you use coffee pods, find out which coffee pod brands are the most eco-friendly.
3. Tame your technology use and remember to turn it off
UK internet use doubled in 2020, and our survey found that 39% of us were using electronic devices such as TVs, game consoles and laptops more often now than in pre-pandemic life.
- Always turn off standby or switch off at the wall when not in use. If sockets are hard to reach or you’re likely to forget, use timer switches or plug-in remote-controlled sockets to turn off laptops and printers, TVs, and game consoles overnight.
- Replace inefficient lighting with LED light bulbs and turn off lights when not needed.
- Limit screen time. Video streaming, emails and online searches all have a carbon footprint, so giving your eyes a rest will also save energy.
- When buying or replacing electronic items, look for energy-efficient models and use their eco settings.
- Go paperless. If you do need to print, make sure supplies such as paper, ink cartridges and toner are recycled and recyclable.
Other ways to boost your sustainability at home
Here are some more great tips from the homeworkers in our survey who have found new ways to improve their sustainability over the last year:
- Dry washing on the line: If you have outdoor space (even a balcony) dry washing outdoors rather than tumble drying. Because you’re at home, you can keep an eye on the weather and bring it inside if necessary.
- Choose when to run appliances: If you have solar panels you can make use of the ‘free’ electricity during daylight hours to run the washing machine, dishwasher, vacuum etc. that you might otherwise have done during the evening.
- Shop locally: Small, local shops may have shorter opening hours than supermarkets, but it’s easier to make them part of your regular shopping routine when you work from home. Reclaim your commuting time and pop to your nearest bakery, greengrocer or refill store to buy goods with little or no plastic packaging.
- Join local community groups to share, swap or donate just about anything from books to laptops and phones, and from food to furniture and tools. Reusing, repurposing and upcycling saves valuable resources from going to waste, and it’s easier to connect with neighbours when you’re working from home.
The results are based on an online survey of 1,217 UK workers conducted between 29 January and 2 February 2021. Data have been weighted to be representative of the UK population (aged 18+) and filtered to include only those who work.