Article published in Environmental Research Letters, vol. 15, n°9, (August 2020)
Information and communication technologies (ICTs) increasingly enable employees to work from home and other locations (‘teleworking’). This study explores the extent to which teleworking reduces the need to travel to work and the consequent impacts on economy-wide energy consumption. The paper provides a systematic review of the current state of knowledge of the energy impacts of teleworking. This includes the energy savings from reduced commuter travel and the indirect impacts on energy consumption associated with changes in non-work travel and home energy consumption. The aim is to identify the conditions under which teleworking leads to a net reduction in economy-wide energy consumption, and the circumstances where benefits may be outweighed by unintended impacts. The paper synthesises the results of 39 empirical studies, identified through a comprehensive search of 9000 published articles. Twenty six of the 39 studies suggest that teleworking reduces energy use, and only eight studies suggest that teleworking increases, or has a neutral impact on energy use. However, differences in the methodology, scope and assumptions of the different studies make it difficult to estimate ‘average’ energy savings. The main source of savings is the reduced distance travelled for commuting, potentially with an additional contribution from lower office energy consumption. However, the more rigorous studies that include a wider range of impacts (e.g. non-work travel or home energy use) generally find smaller savings. Despite the generally positive verdict on teleworking as an energy-saving practice, there are numerous uncertainties and ambiguities about its actual or potential benefits. These relate to the extent to which teleworking may lead to unpredictable increases in non-work travel and home energy use that may outweigh the gains from reduced work travel. The available evidence suggests that economy-wide energy savings are typically modest, and in many circumstances could be negative or non-existent.
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