The Pandemic Legacy: Accounting for Working-From-Home Emissions
45 Pages Posted: 3 Mar 2021 Last revised: 15 Apr 2021
Date Written: March 2, 2021
The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in millions of employees working from home (“WFH”), a development that is challenging public and private standards for reporting and reducing greenhouse gas (“GHG”) 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 simply have shifted beyond the boundary of the reporting requirement. This creates greenwashing risks—the ability to claim that corporate GHG emissions have declined when they have just shifted to non-reporting sources—and undermines incentives for corporations to induce employees to reduce emissions. The WFH transition accelerated dramatically during the COVID-19 pandemic, but it has been underway for some time and may lead to permanent shifts in the workplace for millions of employees. Using an efficiency and justice lens, this Article examines the standards regarding WFH 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 include employee WFH-related emissions in corporate emissions reports. The Article focuses on GHG emissions, but it has implications for other types of emissions as well as worker health and safety, taxation, and other fields that have been affected by the WFH transition.
Keywords: working from home, climate change, informational regulation, COVID-19, greenhouse gas reporting, reporting boundaries, private governance, law and economics
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