Digital nomads seek sun, sea and sustainability as remote work booms

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Sitting outside a café in the heart of Lisbon, Victor Soto was busy devising sales strategies for a company based nearly 3,000 km (1,864 miles) in Slovakia.

The COVID-19 pandemic is what prompted the 33-year-old British-Peruvian to become a so-called “digital nomad”.

“The lifestyle gives me a lot of choice and freedom,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. Soto made the decision to only work for companies that offer fully remote work to satisfy his passion for travel, he explained.

Soto is now also part of a growing trend among digital nomads seeking a less hectic pace of life.

These new “slomads” still travel the world taking their work with them, but choose to spend more time in one place – some to enjoy a richer cultural experience while others are driven by a desire to be more eco-conscious.

Remote and flexible working has exploded since the lifting of coronavirus lockdowns around the world, supported by big companies from AirBnB to Twitter and a growing number of countries issuing digital nomad visas that allow people to stay and work until at two years old.

The typical profile of a digital nomad is changing, as island-hopping 20-somethings are joined by online workers in their 30s and 40s traveling with partners and children, according to reports. experts and researchers.

But concerns are growing about their impact on the environment.

While data on the carbon footprint of digital nomads is sparse, slomads strive to fly less, stay in sustainable housing, and invest in or contribute to green projects.
However, climate activists remain unconvinced, saying the social phenomenon still depends on air travel, which produces up to 3% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

“I think we feel a bit guilty because the main problem with this way of life is theft,” said Emmanuel Guisset, a former digital nomad who is now managing director of Outsite, which offers spaces cohabitation for people, including remote workers.

TO SLOW DOWN

Before the pandemic, the stereotype of a digital nomad was a freelancer in his twenties bouncing between sunny locations wearing nothing but shorts, flip-flops and a laptop.

Now, more and more people are combining work and travel later in life – often staying in one place longer to benefit from cheaper rents and better appreciate and contribute to local culture.

A poll published in May by independent marketplace Fiverr and travel guide publisher Lonely Planet showed that a third of nomads surveyed moved every one to three months, while 55% liked to work in the same place and move after three month or more.

Americans make up the majority of digital nomads. A 2021 study by Upwork of the habits of hiring managers estimated that 36.2 million U.S. citizens would be working remotely by 2025, an 87% increase from pre-pandemic levels.

Tourist hotspots have been quick to embrace digital nomads and see the growing trend of staying in one place longer as a way to recoup losses from pandemic shutdowns.

Destinations such as Aruba, Barbados, Cape Verde, Croatia, Estonia, Indonesia, Malta and Norway have created digital nomad visas, allowing people to stay put and work until two years.

Accommodation rental company AirBnB saw a 90% increase in long-term bookings in Portugal last year compared to 2019, which it says reflects more and more people taking advantage of the opportunity to work and live from anywhere.

Still, digital nomads admit there’s still a lot of theft involved, especially since the easing of COVID-19 restrictions, though experts say it’s hard to pinpoint the part of nomads’ theft compared to tourism and business passengers.

Denise Auclair, business aviation expert with the European clean transport campaign group, Transport and Environment (T&E), said there was “a golden opportunity” to continue the reduced level of travel from business observed during the pandemic and to reduce unnecessary thefts.

But she asked if companies account for the carbon footprint of employees working as digital nomads in their annual emissions reports.

Outside’s Guisset said nomads are increasingly turning to carbon offsets, whereby people seek to offset their climate impact by funding projects that reduce emissions through activities such as tree planting.

Some environmental groups, however, have called these carbon credit programs “window dressing.”

“It gives people the wrong impression of flying green, when there are so many problems,” said Dewi Zloch, aviation expert at Greenpeace Netherlands.

She pointed to research done for the European Commission in 2017 that carbon offset schemes do not provide real, measurable emission reductions.

SUSTAINABLE LIFESTYLE

The remote work boom caused by the pandemic, meanwhile, has encouraged the creation of co-living and working spaces, some of which are trying to put green ideas into practice.

When Outside began with its co-housing property in California, the company planted a tree for every booking made in locations ranging from the Andes to Indonesia.

Traditional Dream Factory, a co-living space in Portugal’s vast rural Alentejo region, which plans to launch in the summer of 2023, is trying something more ambitious.

Co-founder Samuel Delesque said the goal is to create a community of like-minded digital nomads, engineers, artists and crypto entrepreneurs who will also regenerate the earth.

The organization has already started covering deforested areas with nitrogen-fixing crops and has planted hundreds of trees.
She also plans to insulate her homes and create pools and natural showers to save water and become self-sufficient.

A former software engineer and digital nomad, Delesque plans to expand into countries like South Africa and the United States.

Taking care of the environment is at the heart of his project, said the Franco-Danish entrepreneur.

“If we fail to align economic values ​​with (the)ecology, then we are truly doomed as a species,” he added.
Source: Reuters (Reporting by Joanna Gill; Editing by Kieran Guilbert and Megan Rowling. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which covers the lives of people around the world struggling to live freely or fairly. Visit http ://news.trust.org)

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