Remote work can provide plenty of advantages—flexibility for families, no commute, increased productivity—but it also comes with some downsides, like higher home energy use and no more free coffee or other office perks. Now, businesses can offer clean energy as a work-from-home benefit, and even subsidize those higher monthly bills, through a new program from renewable energy platform Arcadia.
Arcadia connects residents in all 50 states to renewable energy whether they live in a home or apartment, and whether they want to tap into community solar or get renewable energy certificates. With the COVID-19 pandemic keeping people in their homes, Arcadia has seen its members’ energy use go up. Looking at the top 13 metro areas in the country over the last 12 months, the company has seen energy use increases from 2% in Seattle to 15% in New York City. According to the California Public Utilities Commission, residential electricity use in the state is up 15% to 20% now that people are home all day with their lights on, computer plugged in, and air conditioner running.
The nationwide switch to remote work has been praised as a positive for the climate—and it’s true that there are fewer people commuting and less office energy consumption—but that increase in home energy use for workers technically affects a company’s carbon footprint. Arcadia CEO Kiran Bhatraju says companies have been asking for ways to provide clean energy as a benefit to their employees even before the pandemic, as part of their sustainability initiatives. The coronavirus crisis accelerated that need, especially as more energy use means higher bills. Residents in those top 13 metro areas can expect their bills to go up $2 to $37 per month from staying at home, per Arcadia’s research.
“In the past, companies thought about coffee and kombucha and things like that in the office, but they should be thinking about their employees’ sustainability and footprint,” Bhatraju says. “This is really a way for a company to say, ‘Hey, we know you’re spending more money at home to do your work through your power bill, we know your footprint is growing and your emissions are growing.'”
Those companies can partner with Arcadia to buy clean energy for their employees who are at home. When a company joins this program, employees will have access to their own Arcadia account, which provides bill information and impact tracking. Companies can choose to cover the cost of renewable energy certificates or can directly subsidize their employees’ energy bills—just the clean energy difference, or a higher amount that actually lowers their workers’ energy cost. That employer will also have access to sustainability reports through the Arcadia platform, which they can use when reporting Scope 3 emissions—those emissions that, according to the GHG Protocol, are an indirect result of a company’s activities—or assessing internal sustainability goals.
McDonald’s, SkySpecs, and CustomerFirst Renewables are already partnering with Arcadia to bring this perk to their employees, and the company is in talks with banks, consulting firms, and other businesses across the Fortune 500 about the benefits program, Bhatraju says. As remote work continues—more than a third of Americans who’ve had to switch to remote work say they want to continue to work from home even after stay-at-home restrictions are lifted—he thinks businesses will be reassessing their own carbon footprints, and considering how to provide environmental benefits to their workers. “With this permanent shift, companies are going to start thinking more about sustainability, work-life balance, and helping people who are working from home manage their home environments,” he says.