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September 20, 2021

Analysis of Carbon Emissions Affected by COVID-19


In late March of 2020 as rates of COVID-19 transmission continued to rise across the USA, design firm Lord Aeck Sargent (LAS) restricted public access to their corporate offices and requested all employees to work from home to the maximum extent possible. LAS had almost universal acceptance of this policy leaving offices in Georgia, Michigan, North Carolina, Kentucky, Texas, and Virginia effectively empty, along with many of the other businesses in these states and throughout the world. In addition to working from home, LAS also severely restricted business travel to only those trips deemed essential and granted pre-approval by management.

Annually since 2007, LAS has estimated the carbon emissions generated by office operations, specifically office energy use and business-related rental car and air travel, and offset the associated impacts with third-party verified Renewable Energy Credits and/or Carbon Offsets. However, as the reach of the COVID-19-induced shutdown has extended beyond what was initially anticipated, we sought to understand its impact on our officeoperations-related carbon emissions. The goal of this analysis was to look beyond the typical ‘business as usual’ carbon accounting, using this disruption to better understand the key underlying factors driving operational emissions in order to provide data to prioritize improvements as we begin to transition to a post-COVID-19-era ‘new normal.’

We began by looking at the immediately apparent factors of business travel, employee commuting, and office energy use and then expanded to include home office energy use and water usage to account for potentially hidden increased emissions. The impacts were estimated using available LAS operational data and publicly available data on usage of utilities, vehicles and air travel emissions, and other typical emissions factors.

The results are surprising. The calculated carbon emissions avoided during the first six months of the COVID-19 shutdown in 2020, compared to the same six-month period in 2019, totaled 10,513 metric tons of Carbon Dioxide equivalent emissions. That is the equivalent of more than 26 million miles driven in an average passenger vehicle. Reduced air travel resulted in carbon emissions reductions that eclipsed all other impact areas; however, the percentage impacts for other categories were still significant.

Download PDF for full report.