A new large-scale study published in the journal Urban Sustainability has found that working from home (“teleworking”) four days a week could reduce the levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2), the main pollutant related to traffic emissions, by ten percent, and the overall level of traffic-related air pollution by 15 percent.
Scientists at the Institute of Environmental Science and Technology of the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (ICTA-UAB) analyzed the data obtained from an air quality model during the COVID-19 lockdown from Barcelona in the spring of 2020 and discovered that reduced mobility was correlated with a sharp decline in air pollution.
Using this data and taking into account the fact that 85 percent of the labor force in Barcelona belongs to the service sector and 40 percent of all vehicle transit is work related, the scientists modelled three possible socio-labor scenarios: teleworking two, three, or four days a week. They found that in the first scenario, traffic-related emissions would be reduced by five percent and NO2 levels by four percent; in the second one, emissions would decline by ten percent and NO2 levels by eight percent; and in the third, the overall levels of traffic-related air pollution would drop by 15 percent and NO2 levels by ten percent.
In addition to teleworking, the researchers also took into account the possibility to reduce personal and occupational mobility, and concluded that a 45 percent reduction in private vehicle use would help traffic emissions decline by 25 percent. Since over the past five years, the concentrations of NO2 have repeatedly exceeded the maximum permissible values in Barcelona and its metropolitan area, probably causing thousands of premature deaths, scientists claim that teleworking should be prioritized and promoted as a highly effective contribution towards reducing urban air pollution.
“The application of this last scenario [with four days of teleworking per week] could be viable and realistic during periods of high pollution, as it is simply based on the maximization of teleworking and the reduction of other work-related travel and shopping,” the study’s lead author, Alba Badia, concluded.