In praise of being idle

Billy MacInnes says the battle between remote work and return to office could be decided by what happens when people stay at home
Image: Alena Koval/Pexels

3 May 2024

One of my favourite words in the world today is ‘sustainability’. Not from an aesthetic point of view, I hasten to add. Definitely not. There is absolutely nothing poetic about it. It’s just not the kind of word that you would find in a poem or a song lyric. If anything, there’s something official or business-like about it.

But it’s one of those words that I never tire of hearing because every time I hear it, that means more attention is being paid to the word and what it represents. And what it represents, hopefully, is the future. And a brighter future at that.

Sustainability recognises that the future needs to be worked for because letting things continue the way they are is unsustainable.

It’s heartening to hear so many businesses emphasising sustainability in their operations. Channel businesses are no exception. While it’s likely that, for some, their ‘enthusiasm’ for environmental practices is a form of greenwashing to try and ensure they don’t lose customers that, in itself, demonstrates just how powerful sustainability has become.

In that context, it’s interesting to see recent research from Robert Walters which reported that only 21% of Irish professionals believe their workplace is sustainable and less (17%) believe their employer is doing enough to tackle climate change. Perhaps that’s being unduly harsh on employers given that most countries are struggling to meet their climate targets and the overall consensus seems to be the world is failing to reduce emissions quickly enough to limit global temperature rises to below 1.5 degrees Celsius.

There’s a disconnect here because almost half (46%) of professionals believe their employers have business-wide sustainability targets but 50% of them think their employers should do more to help tackle climate change through making their workplaces more sustainable.

From an IT perspective, you could argue that the forced implementation of remote working during the Covid-19 lockdown helped to advance the sustainability agenda quite a bit but not necessarily from the point of view of IT equipment. Remember that a lot of employees had to be equipped with laptops, for example, to be able to work from home. And those laptops had to be sourced from somewhere and delivered somewhere else.

But a large source of individual emissions was reduced because so many employees didn’t have to commute to work. So while it’s true energy usage in an employee’s home would have increased to account for the fact they were working from home, the net rate of emissions was probably still below that from driving to work every day.

Post-Covid, employers have been keen to return staff to their offices, although they have struggled to justify forcing them to do so five days a week. To that extent, remote work has become part of the working week, but not all of it. The return to work has partly been in response to companies having expensive office buildings, filled with IT equipment, sitting idle. But that’s not really what you’d like to think of as ‘sustainable’. From a strictly environmental point of view, having them sit idle is a far better outcome.

In passing, it should be noted that supporting all those laptops in lots of different houses and replacing any faulty ones could be heavier in terms of emissions expended getting to them than repairing computers that are housed in a central location.

Anyway, being able to have conversations where the word ‘sustainability’ is used is important. It becomes even more significant when conversations around many aspects of daily life and of a company’s operations include it. That includes IT. From a vendor and channel perspective, it means being aware of the environmental consequences and the sustainability of the solutions they recommend.

So get used to saying it because, despite the best efforts of the climate sceptics, sustainability is no longer a dirty word.

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