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Home    |   Print Edition   |   The Pandemic Legacy: Accounting for Working-from-Home Emissions

The Pandemic Legacy: Accounting for Working-from-Home Emissions

May 12, 2022

Michael P. Vandenbergh, Sharon Shewmake

Volume 48 (2021) - Issue 3

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in millions of employees working
from home, a development that is challenging public and private standards for
reporting and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Under these standards,
corporations disclose the emissions from large buildings and the power plants
that supply them with energy, but most do not report other types of emissions.
When employees shift from working at an office to working at home, the
corporate emissions appear to have decreased even though they have simply
shifted beyond the boundary of the reporting requirement. This move creates
greenwashing risks—the ability to claim that corporate greenhouse gas
emissions have declined when they have just shifted to non-reporting sources—
and undermines incentives for corporations to induce employees to reduce
emissions. Although the working-from-home transition has been underway for
some time, it accelerated dramatically during the COVID-19 pandemic, and it
may lead to permanent shifts in the workplace for millions of employees. Using
an efficiency and justice lens, this Article examines the standards regarding
working-from-home emissions and concludes that undercounting could occur,
could unfairly burden workers, and could increase net emissions. The Article
proposes changes in emissions reporting standards to address these concerns,
including amending or interpreting the standards to require employers to
account for employee working-from-home-related emissions in corporate
emissions reports. The Article focuses on greenhouse gas emissions, but it has
implications for other types of emissions, worker health and safety, taxation, and
other fields that have been affected by the working-from-home transition.