Cutting the commute, and the carbonPembina Institute research investigates the potential climate benefits of working from home

June 22, 2021

Nighttime scene of downtown skyscrapers with several empty offices (lights off)

As offices stayed empty during the pandemic, did this radical change in work culture drive a decrease in Canada's greenhouse gas emissions? Photo: CHUTTERSNAP on Unsplash.

CALGARY — In March 2020, Canadian downtowns went dark and millions of people began working from home, creating an unprecedented opportunity to study the effects of such a sudden and widespread culture shift. One of the questions raised — is there a potential climate benefit from less commuting, more teleworking — is the subject of Connecting Canada on the Road to 2030, a report released today by the Pembina Institute.

This preliminary research examines the potential for reduction in greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) from decreased personal and public transportation, as well as the GHG impacts of greater use of the internet, with the potential for rising carbon costs from data transmission and home usage of digital tools. It also looks at opportunities, from downsized offices to the advantages of a cleaner electricity grid, that can maximize the potential climate benefits of increased teleworking.

A deeper investigation and analysis of the unique effect of the pandemic on work habits could reveal a significant emissions benefit, and a potential reassessment of the climate costs of traditional corporate structures. This would include setting goals around reducing the carbon footprint of Canada’s information and communications technology sector, and further examining the economic and climate benefits of decentralizing our workforce.


“Studies done in 2020, an unusual year for workers of all types, show that GHG emissions went down in the transportation sector, and they didn’t go up significantly in the home, for heating, electricity, and digital usage. That tells us that there could be a real climate benefit from more teleworking, even after the pandemic subsides and things start to go back to normal.” 

— Binnu Jeyakumar, Director of clean energy, Pembina Institute

Quick facts 

  • In 2020, the most significant reductions in GHG emissions globally came from the ground transport sector, at 2.1%.
  • The transportation sector is Canada’s second-largest emitter, at 25.5% of all emissions in 2019.
  • According to Statistics Canada, 27% of working Canadians were teleworking in late August, 2020.


Download a copy of Connecting Canada on the road to 2030.


Jill Sawyer
Senior communications lead, Pembina Institute


Our perspectives to your inbox.

The Pembina Institute endeavors to maintain your privacy and protect the confidentiality of any personal information that you may give us. We do not sell, share, rent or otherwise disseminate personal information. Read our full privacy policy.