Remote-Working Energy Use & Emissions

It used to be relatively straightforward to calculate the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with your office’s/offices’ energy use. You’d just look at the gas and electricity meters and then make some basic calculations. However, it’s now 2023: remote working is commonplace, with many people working at least part of their week from home. This shifts a portion of your firm’s emissions from Scope 2 to Scope 3, taking it out of your direct control—and out of some reporting requirements—and making it much more difficult to measure, monitor and reduce. We faced exactly this problem when we decided to calculate our own energy use and emissions: our team is fully remote, with all our staff powering their own office equipment and separately lighting, heating and cooling their own workspaces. Nevertheless, we decided the effort of carrying out our own survey was worth it. We wanted to report our emissions with greater accuracy, and we wanted to understand as fully as possible the actions that might allow us to make meaningful reductions.

In this document, we consider the benefits of doing your own in-depth survey (as opposed to using readily available data) and walk you through our process and key findings. Many of these findings, as well as the action points, will also be relevant to law firms. Take a read before you embark on your own project, and if you have any questions or would like assistance, just get in touch. You can also read our full Remote-Working Energy Use and Emissions Report here, where you’ll find more of our data, results and conclusions.


In 2020, EcoAct published a methodology for calculating homeworking emissions.  Developed to support the GHG Protocol, this has been the basis for much corporate reporting and, importantly, offers users a way to approximate emissions based on minimal and readily available data. In addition to offering a way of reporting emissions without the need to carry out potentially time-consuming surveys, it also provides guidance for those who want to go into greater depth and obtain more detailed results. Inspired by the EcoAct whitepaper, we developed our own methodology to gain as deep an understanding as we could of our current position, the aim being to then be able to draft a set of policies targeted precisely at our team’s current behaviours and impacts—because with greater understanding comes greater opportunity for positive action. For this reason, we’d encourage you to take the same survey-based approach, especially if you are in the early stages of developing your own sustainability programme.

What we did

We designed a survey to gather a range of data on IT, lighting, heating and cooling. We wanted to find out both the equipment used and how much it was used, so as to remove as many assumptions from the equation as possible. Fewer assumptions, particularly regarding behaviours, leads to results that better reflect your organisation, which in turn allows you to take more effective action.

It’s important to also find out whether respondents are subscribed to green tariffs (because it’s potentially one of the easier points to influence, and because market-based reporting would result in 0 kgCO2e emissions for green tariff subscribers), their Full Time Equivalent (FTE) status, their location, the number of days they typically work from home, and whether others are also working from the same home address (you would apportion heating and cooling amongst the total). Once we had all of that, we calculated the total kWh of energy used by each individual for the four use categories, then used GHG conversion factors for the different fuels and national electricity grids involved to obtain the emissions figures. If you’re interested in the full methodology, get in touch.

What we found

The short version is that, for our international staff of 59, we calculated our total annual remote-working energy use to be nearly 119,000 kWh and the associated emissions to be over 30 tCO2e. (The long version can be found in our full report.) According to some figures, an average office-based business of the same size would use just over 60% of that energy, suggesting that a single office might be more efficient than remote working. If that office and all staff were UK-based, that lower energy use would equate to 16 tCO2e, nearly half of our total annual emissions. However, this shouldn’t be used as an argument to force anyone into an office; remote working has significant benefits outside this context.

Why do emissions drop more than energy use in the above example? It’s all about location. Despite similar per person energy use, our per person emissions in Mexico were 2.5 times those of our UK team members. In Australia they were 4 times the UK figure. This is due to the carbon intensity of the respective national electricity grids. Renewables make up a smaller percentage of the grid energy mix in Mexico and Australia than the UK.

What about commuting? This would obviously be a factor were we to have a single office that people needed to attend. For context, though, 60 people travelling 10 km each by tube into central London would produce just under 6 tCO2e annually,  so a central city location with good public transport links would very likely mean an office still had a smaller carbon footprint than remote working.

Why was the energy use figure so high? Simply put, heating. Nearly 78% of our total energy use can be attributed to our staff heating their respective home offices. That’s despite 34% using no heating at all during working hours. Heating a single office rather than tens of separate homes would, it appears, be more energy efficient. Of note is that 13% of respondents use heat pumps, which are at least three times more efficient than a standard gas boiler. We found that a KiddAitken employee using a heat pump averages less than 1,340 kWh/year, while an employee using gas central heating averages over 3,500 kWh/year.

What we’ll do

Bear in mind that these are things that any law firm with remote-working staff might also want to consider. It’s highly likely that our challenges will be similar. Of course, we’d encourage you to do your own survey. Not only is it a great way to understand and quantify one of your significant Scope 3 areas, but it’s an opportunity to begin engaging with team members across the firm. You’ll then have plenty of data on which to base the energy use policies of your ESG programme.

Based on our findings, we need to focus on reducing the energy used for heating. However, since every member of the team makes their own decisions about how and how much they heat their own home, this will be no easy feat. We plan to investigate ways to incentivise, perhaps through awareness raising or through financial incentives, the switch from traditional heating systems to heat pumps. Heat pumps are 300-400% efficient, compared with less than 100% for a standard gas boiler. That means they can produce 3-4 kW of heat for every 1 kW of electricity consumed. That they also use electricity rather than gas means that, if combined with a national electricity grid skewed towards renewables, they could also have a significant impact on our emissions reduction efforts.

The problem with the above policy is that it is almost certainly dependent upon home ownership. Tenants are unlikely to have the power to make decisions on heating systems. The accompanying policy of incentivising home insulation improvement would be subject to the same obstacle. Insulation is important, as average modern homes still lose around nine times the heat of Passive Houses, which can be considered the gold standard.  Any progress towards the Passive House standard should be encouraged, as it is likely to have a significant impact on energy use.

We’re also looking into incentivising green energy tariffs. 81% of our team are not subscribed to, or do not know if they are subscribed to, a green tariff. It’s therefore potentially a high impact policy. Being subscribed to a genuine green tariff means being provided with 100% renewable energy by the supplier, the supplier directly purchasing or generating a sufficient amount to supply all subscribers. The benefit is that as the number of consumers subscribed to green tariffs grows, so does demand for renewable energy, which accelerates the industry’s transition. Whilst it could be argued that this does not equate to zero emissions—it does not when using standard location-based reporting methods (consumer electricity is ultimately still derived from the national grid, whose carbon intensity is reflected in the national grid emissions factor)—a market-based methodology would result in zero emissions for all staff subscribed to green tariffs. Combining location and market-based reporting would allow you to calculate your avoided emissions.

There are other areas worth acting on beyond heating, but they are unlikely to have significant impact, given that IT use and lighting account for only 8% of our energy use. For example, incandescent bulbs are still used by some of our team; LED alternatives should be encouraged. And although workstation set-up (i.e. number of monitors, computer type) is a personal choice, we should ensure that whenever new equipment is purchased it is done so with energy efficiency as a factor.


So, there we have it. Based on our findings, when it comes to remote working, heat pumps and insulation are the factors most likely to influence energy reductions, and thereby emissions. Although green tariffs won’t reduce energy use, they do hold significant potential to cut market-based emissions while also contributing to the green energy transition. There are other policies to pursue, such as LED lighting and energy efficient IT equipment, but these are likely to be far less impactful. For example, we found that it would only save 1% of our total remote-working energy use to replace our team’s remaining incandescent bulbs with LED equivalents. Any knowledge-sharing efforts concerning energy efficiency are also likely to contribute to reductions.

If you’ve been interested to read our findings, get in touch. Or give our full report a read if you’d like to see more of the data and explanation. Having been through the process of calculating our own remote-working energy use and emissions, we’ve learnt a lot and would be glad to help guide your firm through the survey and analysis process. An understanding of your energy use, emissions and the influencing factors is a key part in shaping your sustainability or broader ESG policies. Importantly, anything you can do to help reduce your firm’s remote-working energy use is also going to benefit your staff through lower energy bills.