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How to be an energy-wise business
Written by: Stephanie Hodgson | Edited by: Raechel Kelly
Becoming an energy-wise business, one that actively and regularly monitors and reduces its energy usage, is incredibly beneficial. One apparent benefit is lowering your energy bills, thus saving you money. Reducing your operational costs can then help you to price yourself more competitively, should you choose to pass the savings on to your customers. But beyond obvious financial benefits, your efforts to reduce your energy usage (and emissions) may have many knock on effects.
By adhering to government and industry best practice standards or guidelines, as a minimum, you are also building up your company reports while determining your baseline for managing and reducing energy and emissions. Doing so, you may more readily meet increasing consumer demand for ethical brands and transparency. This includes your customers for whom your business is part of their procurement strategy.
Similarly, you may be better positioned to recruit and then retain talent. Workers are increasingly drawn to companies that share their values and so minimising your energy usage and thus carbon footprint can be one way to recruit and retain employees for whom this is important.
You will also be doing your bit to limit global warming.
Lucky for you, there’s a lot you can do right now to transform your business. Whether yours is a one woman rodeo or a team of five or a newly expanded operation with a dozen locations, this guide is for you. Whether you are in the hair and beauty industry or in hospitality or in IT or in tourism, this guide is also for you. We have compiled a list of things businesses of all sizes and serving a wide variety of needs can do to minimise their energy usage and emissions:
- EDUCATE on energy and emissions
- AUDIT energy usage
- CHANGE energy provider
- Look at EQUIPMENT
- Look at LIGHTING
- Look at HVAC
- Look at FRIDGES
- Look into SOLAR
- Look at how staff TRAVELS
- ENGAGE with staff
EDUCATE on energy and emissions
We would argue that the most powerful thing you can do and that you should do first is to educate yourself and the people in your business about energy and emissions. Some of the key takeaways would be around climate change, greenhouse gas emissions and the relationship between those and business. The UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) sums these up nicely:
“What is climate change? Climate change is the greatest environmental challenge facing the world today. Rising global temperatures are bringing changes in weather patterns, rising sea levels and increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather. The effects are being felt in the UK; internationally there are severe problems for people in regions that are particularly vulnerable. Climate change is caused by the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
What are greenhouse gas emissions? The key greenhouse gas emissions are carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulphur hexafluoride. Each gas has a different capacity to cause global warming. Carbon dioxide is expected to be responsible for about two thirds of the anticipated future warming.
What causes greenhouse gas emissions? Human activities release greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere – using electricity generated from fossil fuel power stations, burning gas for heating or driving a car. Within the UK it is estimated that business activities account for about half of all emissions.”
We also recommend watching these videos:
- TED talk explainer video | Climate tracker and the Paris Agreement
- The Economist | How can business survive climate change?
- The Daily Show | What the f*** is happening with climate change?
AUDIT energy usage
To help your business understand its energy usage and where most of it is coming from, you may opt to do an audit, either via external company or else internally. You can then use the results of that audit to make key adjustments to your business to become more energy efficient. An audit will help you determine your baseline energy use and can offer a clear outline for ways to save energy
Utility company audit. Many electric utility companies offer free audits. A professional will come to your business and do a full inspection of your space to check for air leaks (eg windows and doors), insulation issues, or opportunities to install energy-efficient lighting and/or appliances. Be sure to contact your local utility company (not necessarily your energy supplier) to inquire about a free audit. If you must pay, we believe it is a worthwhile investment.
Internal audit. Involving your own staff may be a way to engage them around sustainability, in general, and energy efficiency, in particular. For this you will want to take into account the parts of your business which you either own or have control over. This means that you are only measuring energy related to your business operations.
The main activities from your business which are the most energy-intensive are probably: electricity use, business travel, company vehicles and staff commuting. You may also be interested to learn the energy costs and thus carbon footprint related to the transport of goods to and from your business and throughout your supply chain.
After auditing. Once you have created a [full] picture of your energy usage within and just outside of your business, you should monitor your energy usage regularly. This will be key for better understanding your energy usage trends, over longer periods, across seasons, across changing economic and political landscapes, and so on. This information will be powerful for making informed plans as you move your business forward.
You may also choose to report usage and emissions internally or publicly (eg for customers, suppliers, staff, future employees) on your company website or internal reporting. Doing so publicly may help to increase trust in your brand as consumers and customers (including along your supply chain and also for businesses you serve along theirs) expect transparency.
CHANGE energy provider
We see changing your energy provider as low hanging fruit, in terms of minimising the impact of your energy usage. Ask yourself, Does my current provider rely on the extraction and burning of fossil fuels? Switching is easy and these days there is no dearth of providers that solely supply renewable energy. Doing so may also open fresh marketing opportunities.
“Our offices run on renewables!”
When you begin to look at renewable energy for your business, REGOs often come up so they are worth mentioning here. The Renewable Energy Guarantees of Origin scheme lets consumers know exactly how much electricity from a supplier comes from renewable sources. One energy provider may say they ‘use renewables’ but this may only mean a fraction of how they source energy. Learn more about REGOs here.
Look at EQUIPMENT
One great way to save energy is to consider the equipment used by your business. For this section, as well as the next three (lighting, HVAC, fridges), you may want to take a physical tour of your premises. Guessing at the desk will only get you so far! And when you are auditing your equipment, lighting, HVAC and fridges, it is important to consider both what you use and how you use it.
What equipment to use. Choose energy efficient equipment, where possible. An example is finding Energy Star certified computers, monitors, printers, fax machines and copiers that power down after a user-specified period of inactivity. We caution you to acquire energy-saving business equipment only when old equipment is no longer serving its purpose. Also, be sure to recycle your e-waste properly!
Did you know that laptops consume less energy than standard desktop computers? By some estimates that is 90% less. The same goes for printers: inkjet printers consume up to 90% less energy than laser printers. And be sure to purchase an appropriately sized copier for your business needs. Anti stand-by power strips and smart plugs are also worthwhile investments in terms of energy saving.
How to use your equipment. Have you heard about ‘phantom energy’? This is energy that is still being used by equipment that remains plugged in but not in use. Phantom energy is a huge and completely avoidable waste. You can combat this by programming your equipment (mainly laptops) to standby or hibernation and lunchtime and breaks. You should also be completely powering down your equipment when closing for the day. Some appliances can be switched off entirely overnight without interfering with next day operations. Using power strips can make this job easier.
Look at LIGHTING
There are many ways to improve your energy score by looking at your lighting situation. First, consider whether you can take advantage of natural sunlight in your workspace or building. There may be no need for artificial lighting at certain times of day, especially if the building is situated in a sunny spot. Sun tubes or tunnels effectively channel natural sunlight so you may consider such an investment.
Here’s a checklist of other energy-saving lighting tips:
- Clean dusty diffusers and lamps regularly, every 6-12 months.
- Turn off lights when not needed.
- Turn off signs and other lights that are not needed for security or safety.
- Swap out incandescent lamps for compact fluorescent lamps.
- Swap out incandescent or fluorescent exit signs for long-lasting, low-energy LED exit signs.
- Remove excess fluorescent lights and install reflectors.
- Buy lighting fixtures that have a dimmer that allows you to manually adjust intensity.
- Install motion detectors for frequently unoccupied areas (eg. restrooms, copy rooms).
- Rewire restroom fans to operate with the lights.
- Install energy management system (EMS) technology to control lighting systems automatically.
- Install independent lighting in each area of your business.
Look at HVAC
We hadn’t thought about HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning) much before writing this article but now it is the largest section! This may be something new to you, too, and something definitely worth learning more about. We believe that making changes to better conserve heating or cooling and eliminate heating or cooling loss as well as regular HVAC maintenance may have some of the greatest impacts on your energy bills.
To conserve heating or cooling. Here is a checklist to help you with this:
- Install blinds or solar screen shades to keep your workplace cool.
- Install reflective window film or awnings on all south-west facing windows.
- Paint the outside of your building white.
- Plant trees to block winds or provide shade.
- Close shades or blinds early morning and late evening to reduce heat gain from the sun.
- Close doors to the outside to contain air conditioning.
- When possible, turn the air conditioning off for the last hour of each work day.
- Keep room area temperatures at 18°C during winter and 25°C during summer.
- Keep your space one degree lower in the winter and one degree higher in the summers. (This can result in an energy savings of up to 10%!)
- Install timers or programmable thermostats to maximise efficiency of your air conditioning.
- Install locking covers on your thermostats to prevent people from tampering
- Clean condenser coils and replace filters regularly. (A dirty filter reduces air flow and makes the system work hard, which in turn wastes energy. Clean filters also protect the system by preventing dust and dirt from entering the system, which could lead to expensive maintenance costs.)
- Consider installing adjustable speed drives. (Your air conditioning system has fans that move air throughout the building. You can reduce the cost of operating these fans by installing adjustable speed drives that can change the speed of the fan motors to match the amount of air that is needed.)
To eliminate heating or cooling loss. Another easy way to save energy at work is to look for the places heat or air conditioning can escape. There’s no point in paying to heat or cool the outdoors! Check that your ceiling, wall and floor insulation firstly exist and secondly will do the best possible job. Be sure that your water heaters and their supply pipes are well insulated. Lastly, pressurise your ducts to test for leakage.
Maintain your HVAC equipment. Regular maintenance of your HVAC equipment will secure these investments while making sure they work their magic. For most equipment and systems, annual maintenance is the standard. Be sure to also check your ducts and pipe insulation for damage.
Keep in mind the age of your equipment, as well. The US Department of Energy says that “today's best air conditioners use 30% to 50% less energy to produce the same amount of cooling as air conditioners made in the mid 1970s. Even if your air conditioner is only 10 years old, you may save 20% to 40% of your cooling energy costs by replacing it with a newer, more efficient model.”
Look at FRIDGES
Fridges consume a lot of energy, even energy efficient ones. Here are a few tips on how you can keep your business’ fridge(s) working as energy efficiently as possible.
- Keep fridges reasonably full and make sure there is enough room for cold air to circulate.
- Position fridges in a location that is well-ventilated and not exposed to direct sunlight or heat from other equipment.
- Perform scheduled maintenance on fridges.
- Keep evaporator coils clean and free of ice build-up.
- Adjust door latches and replace worn door seals.
- Observe any unusual noises your fridge makes. (These may indicate a problem that will need to be fixed.)
- Install automatic door-closers and strip curtains on walk-in freezers or coolers (eg for restaurants).
Look into SOLAR
Nowadays it is less expensive to install solar photovoltaics and this is an immediately effective way to minimise your energy footprint. With the installation of batteries, you can store energy that can be used for later consumption or else you can sell back excess energy to the national grid.
Though it is an investment, your solar panels will eventually pay for themselves and then you will be left with reduced (if not eliminated) electricity costs. You also may benefit from tax benefits. This investment, too, is ultimately your business hedging against future electricity prices which are sure to only rise. Your business running on solar energy is yet another marketing opportunity as it sends a visible statement to your consumer base.
Look at how staff TRAVELS
How your staff travels has an impact on your overall energy output. Think about a remote office that most of the workforce has to drive their own car to reach versus a centrally-located, inner-city workspace that is easily accessed by bus, metro and bicycle.
As a starting point, we recommend you encourage your employees to use public transportation. You may choose to offer benefits to them for using public transportation. If you’re paying for parking spaces for employees, it might be more cost-effective to offer a benefit in which you pay for a monthly bus pass, metro card, or whatever is applicable than to pay for a parking spot. For those with inescapable parking lots, you can install electric vehicle recharging points.
You may also promote car sharing among employees.
Company vehicles, too, will have an impact not just on your energy footprint but also your overhead costs. By purchasing energy-efficient company vehicles, you will save on petrol or diesel. Or better yet, invest in a fully electric fleet. This will be in your best interest as governments look to restrict the sale of [non-electric] cars earlier and earlier. You could also ‘fuel’ this fleet with your own in-house renewable energy.
ENGAGE with staff
When staff see you investing in energy-efficient appliances, devices and office equipment, they take notice. Your procurement and maintenance choices can cause a workplace culture shift in an energy-efficient direction. We appreciate that it can take some time to create that new culture or even to see that shift in your staff’s work lives. You can be proactive in this area and here are a few ideas.
Consider awarding your staff for their energy saving efforts. You can invest in energy-focused bonus programs as well. Do you have an employee of the month award? Perhaps a new criteria for this could be around being a good workplace environmental steward.
Your accounting department may also have a role to play. They may set a monthly energy output budget. This has the power to influence your business’ power expenditure. For example, if you set a monthly budget of X pounds strictly for your energy consumption bill, you are more likely to take steps to not go over that budget limit.
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About the author
Stephanie Hodgson heads Green Salon Collective’s Research and Development department. She has been freelance writing and researching circular economy strategies for business for the past three years and currently works with us to manage research projects, especially those focusing on salon hair waste.
About the series
This article is part of a series on Holistic Sustainability which looks at less understood aspects of sustainability including water and energy (written by Stephanie Hodgson), money (written by Raechel Kelly) and diversity and inclusivity (written by Alix Bizet).
References and further reading
- Constellation article, Overcoming Obstacles to Becoming More Energy Efficient
- Constellation article, How to Lower Your Small Business Electricity Bill
- UK DEFRA publication, Small business user guide: Guidance on how to measure and report your greenhouse gas emissions
- UK DEFRA publication, 2012 Guidelines to Defra / DECC's GHG Conversion Factors for Company Reporting
- Buildings article, 7 Strategies To Make Your Business More Energy Efficient
- Business Queensland article, Tips for saving energy in your business
- Blue and Green Tomorrow’s article, 23 Simple Steps You Can Take to Make Your Business Energy Efficient
- YouTube video, The state of the climate crisis | Climate Action Tracker
- YouTube video, How can business survive climate change? | The Economist
- YouTube video, What the F**k Is Happening with Climate Change? | The Daily Show
- OFGEM article, Renewable Energy Guarantees of Origin (REGO)
- Energy Star article, Heating and Cooling Maintenance Checklist
- Energy.gov article, Energy Saver: Central air conditioning