As important as it is for large businesses to do their part to protect the environment, freelancers should not overlook the impact they can also make. Not only can freelancers live sustainably in their personal lives, but by operating a business of one, you can have direct control over the sustainability of your work.
Being more environmentally focused can even help you grow your business by differentiating yourself and attracting clients who also value sustainability. You don’t have to flip your work and your life upside down to make a positive change. Every step helps, and you can start with the following:
1. Use Sustainable Web Vendors
At first glance, the internet seems like an environmentally friendly place. Working online means you can speak with someone in another country without flying across the globe, you can share documents without printing them out, and you can stream videos without needing physical copies.
Yet the internet and the many applications connected to it still depend on physical devices like servers, often held in huge data centers that can be power drains. Data centers and the devices they hold create emissions, such as by requiring electricity to operate and air conditioning to avoid overheating. By some estimates, data centers equal the emissions of the airline industry, as Cloudscene reports in a Data Economy article.
One way you can reduce your impact in this area is by switching to a sustainable web host if you have your own website for your freelance business. Better yet, if you work as a freelance developer or have some other say in your clients’ web development, you could encourage them to use a sustainable web host.
For example, Carbon Neutral Copy uses Ghost as its CMS and managed web host. Ghost is a non-profit that proclaims to be carbon neutral. The domain name was registered via GreenGeeks, which also hosts the website for our parent company, JournoContent LLC. The latter's website then operates through WordPress, so you don't have to give up functionality.
Not only is GreenGeeks cheaper than many other hosts, but it purchases three times more renewable energy credits (RECs) than it consumes. That means that using this web host helps fund more renewable energy projects.
You can compare several other sustainable web hosts to see what works best for your freelance business and figure out how you can help contribute to a greener internet.
2. Drink Sustainable Coffee
Your morning joe powers your freelance work, but the power that went into creating each cup of coffee you consume can add up to a significant environmental impact.
While nowhere near the impact of beef, for example, coffee ranks fifth among foods with the most greenhouse gas emissions per kilogram of food product, according to Our World in Data, using data from Poore, J., & Nemecek, T. (2018). In fact, coffee can lead to more emissions than meat from poultry and fish combined.
However, you don’t necessarily need to cut out coffee to be a more sustainable freelancer. Paying a little more for environmentally friendly coffee not only reduces your emissions but can also help make a social impact on the communities in which coffee is grown. At the same time, environmentally friendly coffee companies tend to produce high-quality beans, meaning you’ll be even more productive with a delicious, responsible cup of coffee.
In 2020, I started using Grounds for Change beans for many of my morning brews. This company not only offers fair trade and organic coffee, but the coffee is also Carbon-Free Certified by CarbonFund.org. That means that the company plants trees to equally offset all their carbon dioxide emissions starting from cultivating the coffee plant through to consumers heating water at home for brewing and then disposing of an empty coffee bag.
In addition to Grounds for Change, you can find many other coffee companies that offer delicious beans and allow you to fuel your mind while minimizing your environmental impact.
3. Drive Less
As a freelancer, you can take more control over your workspace and schedule so that you can drive less. At the very least, you can often schedule your commute to avoid traffic, as congestion increases emissions and decreases air quality, a study in The Science of Total Environment finds.
For example, even though I live in car-centric Los Angeles County, my freelancing enabled me to share a car with my wife for my first two years of living here. Now, I drive a hydrogen fuel cell car, and I still typically work for home, so I don't put many miles on my vehicle.
In your own freelance business, you could increase the number of days you work from home, find a coworking space within walking distance, or schedule in-person meetings that you drive to during off-peak times. Doing so will help you avoid the headache of traffic, save you money on commuting costs, and reduce your environmental impact.
4. Work on Projects Related to Sustainability
By having more control over the projects you take on and the work you create, compared to most rank-and-file employees, you can often find ways to incorporate sustainable themes into your work. For example, as a freelance writer I can create content like this very article. I can also suggest sustainability related topics to clients when working on news articles or content marketing copy. This work can then help inspire other companies and consumers to act more sustainably.
Other types of freelancers can work on sustainable projects too. Developers, for instance, can choose to align themselves with sustainable companies, especially if the work involves, say, creating a website using an environmentally friendly hosting company. You never know who your work can inspire and how that can lead to broader change.
Even though freelancers might seem to make a small environmental impact when measured on an individual basis, our actions do not exist in a vacuum. We all affect one another in some way, and the more you can do to live sustainably in both your personal and professional lives, the more we can collectively create a healthier planet.
Note: a previous version of this story was published via Medium
Disclosure: Our parent company, JournoContent LLC, has clients involved in sustainability-related areas, among others. The owner of Carbon Neutral Copy, Jacob (Jake) Safane, has investments in sustainability-related companies, among others.
As such, conflicts of interest related to these and other investments/business relationships, even if unintended, may exist at times. Please email email@example.com if you'd like further clarification on any issues.