In Paul Hawken’s Drawdown book, telepresence is discussed as a way for companies and organizations to conduct business across geographical borders using sophisticated telecommunications hardware and software to simulate the actual presence of colleagues in the office. These technologies can carry a hefty price tag and may be financially out of reach for smaller businesses. However, more inexpensive teleconferencing software such as Skype™ has made the concept of working from home a reality for millions of Americans who were formerly required to commute to an office.

Remote working offers savings for employees (reduced commuting costs), savings for employers (reduced need for office space with the ability for desk sharing, reduced sick leave), and the environmental benefits associated with reducing or eliminating the daily drive.

Another benefit of working from home: fewer absences for school closures and family sick days


Here are three scenarios where telepresence and telecommuting result in significant environmental benefit and cost savings:


Flying for a Meeting

To use a real world example, I once flew to Honolulu, Hawaii from Orlando, Florida to attend a design status meeting for a LEED® registered project. The other parties in attendance included the MEP engineer (also from Florida), as well as the local architect, civil engineer, and owner’s representative. The contract specified that the LEED consultant must attend one meeting in person. This requirement wound up costing the client roughly $900 in airfare, $750 in lodging, and $300 in meals ($1,950). Since the LEED certification strategy had already been determined and documentation was under way, the total time spent reviewing the LEED documentation status in this meeting was only two hours. Compare that to the cost of a Skype subscription ($35.88/year for unlimited calling in the United States) and a webcam/microphone combo ($24.99), and you can begin to see the opportunity for savings. Add in the personnel costs of flying a mechanical engineer from Florida to Honolulu (28 hours round trip at $32/hour), and that’s another $896 that the client could have avoided.

Considering how cost is a major factor in deciding whether or not to pursue LEED certification, bringing these costs up to clients in preliminary meetings can go a long way in advancing the sustainable technologies installed in a building (i.e. the savings from using a Skype charrette could offset the price of including a solar water heater).

Air travel is an expensive way of doing business!

Flying for a Conference

Another common reason for business air travel is annual conferences, particularly those required for professional continuing education. Let’s use the ASHRAE annual conference for example. In 2018, the ASHRAE annual conference is being held in Houston, Texas. For one employee of Alto Sustainability to travel from our headquarters in southern Oregon to this conference, the travel costs include an estimated $500 for airfare, $1,000 in lodging, and $300 in meals. Add in the early bird registration rate of $535 for members, and this is a total cost of $2,335 (before accounting for any incidental expenses such as local public transportation).

Now compare this to the ASHRAE Virtual Conferences also available: $249 for ASHRAE members, including all of the professional development hours (PDHs) and LEED AP credits available. The online content (synced audio and PowerPoint presentations, plus downloadable podcasts) is also available online for 18 months after the conference has taken place. By choosing to attend the Virtual Conference, our company can save an estimated $2,086 per employee! That’s one-seventh of the gross cost of our rooftop solar array, or 5 years of carbon offsets for our entire business!

4.3 kW photovoltaic array at Alto Sustainability’s office

Commuting to the Office

The best-selling car in America in 2017 was the Honda Civic, with an EPA estimated combined fuel economy of 32 MPG. By working from home one day a week, you could go from driving five days to four, or a 20% reduction in work miles driven. That is equivalent to increasing your car’s fuel economy by 25% (or up to 40 MPG)! The 2017 Honda Accord Hybrid gets an EPA estimated combined fuel economy of 48 MPG, for about $10,865 more than the 2017 Honda Civic. Instead of spending a large sum upgrading to a hybrid vehicle, consider asking your boss to allow telecommuting one day a week. Considering that one in five Americans are already working from home, this proposition may be one of the simplest ways to lower your carbon footprint.

Commute-free since 2013

If you find yourself in a position where you MUST travel by air for work, consider purchasing a carbon offset for your air travel. For example, the round-trip flight from southern Oregon to Houston for the ASHRAE annual conference would cost only $14.15 to off-set the 1.4146 metric tons of CO2 generated.


Actions You Can Take Today:

  • Calculate how much you’re spending on gasoline and tolls to commute to work and back each day, and how much it would cost you to upgrade your current car to a more fuel-efficient model
  • Arrange a meeting with your boss/manager to discuss the option of working remotely once a week in an effort to reduce your company’s carbon footprint and your personal expenses (“It’s like a bonus of $10,000!”)
  • For your next conference, evaluate the cost difference between attending and purchasing the conference proceedings, and ask yourself if you really need to attend again this year in person
  • If you schedule internal meetings for your company requiring air travel (for example quarterly department manager meetings), arrange for the next meeting to take place virtually. Think of all the money saved from reducing the travel time for highly compensated employees.


Related LEED® v4 Credits:

  • LEED EBOM, LTc Alternative Transportation (3-15 pts)