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Working from home can reduce pollution in Barcelona by up to 10%, new study says

UAB research based on air quality models and links 40% of nitrogen dioxide levels to commuting


22 September 2021 10:40 AM


ACN | Barcelona

Working from home has the potential to reduce pollution in Barcelona by up to 10%, according to a new study carried out by the Institute of Environmental Science and Technology of the Autonomous University of Barcelona (ICTA-UAB). 

Remote working for two, three, and four days a week would reduce nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels by 4%, 8%, and 10% respectively. 

NO2 is the main pollutant that comes from traffic, and 40% of personal vehicle traffic is related to commuting, according to the study.

The study was based on an air quality model coupled with readings from the Air Pollution Monitoring and Forecasting Network of the Barcelona Metropolitan Area during the lockdown.

Three different scenarios

Researchers looked at three different potential scenarios when working out the levels of pollution that would be avoided if working from home was continued into the future. 

The first scenario proposes allowing workers to remain at home two days a week, which would reduce traffic-related pollution by 5% and, with them, NO2 levels by 4%. 

This scenario would result in a 12.5% drop in road users commuting to work if 20% of workers in the services sector took advantage of this option.

The second scenario looked at three days of remote working per week, which would reduce emissions by 10% and NO2 levels by 8%, lowering work-related travel by 25%. To achieve this, 30% of workers in the service sector would need to comply.

Finally, a third scenario sees traffic emissions drop by 15% and, consequently, NO2 levels by 10%. In this case, 40% of employees in the services sector should work four days a week, thus reducing their travel by 37.5%.

Reduction in personal travel

Researchers also looked at other possibilities where personal and work-related travel would be reduced in addition to some amount of working from home. To study this, researchers aimed to replicate behaviours seen during the stricter lockdown stages of the pandemic. 

They concluded that a 45% reduction in the use of private vehicles for business trips, emissions could be reduced by 25%. 

This scenario would be achieved with a four-day remote working week and a 15% reduction in other work-related travel. Likewise, online education would prevent 20% of private vehicle use and reduce shopping driving by 30%.

Alba Badia, ICTA-UAB researcher and the main author of the study, believes that this scenario is viable when pollution levels are very high, and recalls that significant levels of emissions can be avoided by maximizing remote working and reducing other travel.


  • Barcelona's Sagrada Família surrounded by smog on July 1, 2019 (Nazaret Romero/ACN)

  • Barcelona's Sagrada Família surrounded by smog on July 1, 2019 (Nazaret Romero/ACN)