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The environmental impact of returning to work after COVID-19

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It would be negligent to say that COVID-19 hasn’t impacted every organisation in the world in one way or another. From a business perspective, we often pay more attention to how the pandemic has impacted our organisations rather than how it has affected the wider world, including the environmental impact COVID-19 has had over the past few months.

As of late March, BBC had stated that New York had a 50% drop in levels of pollution, in China, emissions fell 25% at the start of the year, and the proportion of days with “good quality air” was up 11.4% compared with the same time last year in 337 cities across China. Undoubtedly, these trends are expected to have followed a similar suit globally.

However, we’re now in a period where organisations are beginning to return to their place of work, and that made us think… How will this impact the environment and what can we do to keep our carbon footprint to a minimum?

As there is currently no solid data to back this up, we can’t provide exact statistics as to how returning to work will affect the environment. Instead, we’ll explore some considerations and how they might impact it.

Public Transport

In the UK, the government advice at this time is to work from home where possible, but to still attend work if it’s not possible to work from home. As the amount of people returning to work begins to increase, so will the demand for public transport services, which is expected to have a substantial impact on the environment due to the increase in carbon emissions.

Though in some circumstances this is unavoidable, employers can still promote walking and cycling to work in order to reduce emissions. Providing employees with a place to lock up their bikes is a good way to encourage cycling.

Car Pooling

Pre-coronavirus, car pooling was a more environmentally friendly alternative to employees taking their own motor vehicles to work each day. However, unless your employees are from the same household, this is now not possible.

Quite simply, our recommendations are to work from home where possible, or walk/cycle to work. In the coming months, we expect to see more advice from the government on commuting to work, so keep an eye out on the website for any updates.


With many organisations working from home, printing has almost become obsolete - which, in turn, is expected to have decreased the amount of waste that we produce substantially.

However, with organisations slowing starting to return to their place of work, we are going to see the rate of printing pick back up again. In fact, we may even see a spike in the rate of printing, as organisations will be using signage to make employees aware of new safety measures and COVID-19 guidance upon returning to work.

On the contrary, printing paperwork and other documentation should still be avoided where possible, particularly when sharing these documents with others. By having multiple people handle the documents, you are increasing the likelihood of spreading bacteria. Hopefully, this is enough to discourage organisations from printing where it’s not needed.

General waste

According to Envirowise, bad waste practices are costing the UK industry at least £15 billion each year. What’s worse is that approximately 70% of office waste is recyclable, but on average only 7.5% reaches a recycling facility.

And although being at home means employees will still be producing waste, we believe employees will be less likely to produce as much waste at home than they would at work. And again, the bulk of this will be recyclable.

A simple solution for reducing your carbon footprint, whether you work from home or an office, is to check to see if what you're throwing away is recyclable or not. You might be surprised at how much rubbish can be recycled!

How iHASCO can help your organisation

Here at iHASCO, we offer Online Environmental Awareness Training that is designed for the use of all levels of employees. This training is suitable for employees working both at home and in the workplace. 

Whilst helping your organisation show commitment towards The Environmental Protection Act 1990, the 45-minute course helps users to understand how they can reduce their carbon footprint as an individual, as well as giving them an understanding of the impact that workplaces have on the environment.

You can claim a no-obligation free trial to this IOSH Approved course today!

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