How to run a greener office

Phil Muncaster

Thursday 22 June 2017

We take a look at what companies across Europe can do to improve energy efficiency, reducing overheads and improving CSR in the process.

Did you know that lowering the room temperature by just 1°C can cut energy use in a typical office by eight per cent? That would provide enough power to print over 40 million sheets of A4 paper, according to the Carbon Trust. That’s not all. Office equipment accounts for 15 per cent of all electrical energy used in the UK alone, and by managing it more effectively, firms can reduce their energy consumption by up to 70 per cent.

From PCs to microwaves, vending machines to air conditioning units, there are plenty of opportunities to run a greener office.

Good for business

There are obvious environmental benefits of going green. Any organisation that regards itself as socially responsible should be interested for this reason alone. It can also be good for your employees. Staff can benefit from “improved air quality and protection from external noise provided by energy-efficient windows” according to the European Commission.

The bottom line is that it just makes good business sense. McDonald’s saved 70 per cent on its annual lighting bill by moving to low-energy LEDs, for example. What business owner wouldn’t want to reduce their energy costs, improve their CSR credentials and create a more pleasant working environment for their employees?

With the mountain of e-waste being piled ever higher, Europe needs to find economically viable ways to recover electronic components and discover ways to repurpose old electronics. It’s in everybody’s interest to support any available initiatives.

The key is to develop a plan with achievable goals and then stick to it. To be clear, this is no time for ‘greenwashing’, which runs the risk of alienating your staff – the very people you rely on to effect change.

How to be more energy efficient

From IT equipment to heating, lighting and building upgrades, there are many ways businesses can become more energy efficient:

– Upgrade your equipment: Technology is constantly being refreshed. Look out for ENERGY STAR – a European Union initiative designed to provide easy-to-understand labelling for the most energy-efficient models. Switching to cloud computing platforms for much of your IT could generate significant energy savings. In most cases, you’ll effectively outsource the running of servers and associated infrastructure to a trusted third party.

– Develop a policy for office equipment: A comprehensive green office policy will help galvanise efforts and provide a clear set of guidelines for all employees to follow. IT and HR should be heavily involved in this, such as by ensuring all PCs have standby enabled by default.

– Consider ISO 14001: This is the internationally recognised environmental standard, which could help formalise your plans as you develop them.

– Heating and cooling: This accounts for half of the EU’s energy consumption and 84 per cent is currently generated from fossil fuels, so it’s a good place to focus efforts. Weather stripping and caulking can reduce heat loss from windows and doors. Experts also suggest setting thermostats at no higher than 21°C when occupied and 16°C when unoccupied. Heating and cooling points should be set to 2–3°C apart so the AC unit doesn’t turn on and off too often.

– Maintain equipment: This seems like a no-brainer, but your office equipment will work more efficiently and last longer if it’s maintained. Cleaning fans and filters regularly will maximise efficiency.

– Reduce the volume of equipment: Another quick win. If you reduce the number of printers in the office, forcing more users to share, energy costs will decrease.

– Switch lighting: Energy-efficient options, such as compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) or LED bulbs, use 75 per cent less energy than standard incandescent bulbs.

– Raise awareness: Communicate your green policy clearly and often. Consider installing thermometers and policy posters in public areas. The Carbon Trust has a selection of stickers and posters to download.

– Extend efficiencies beyond the office: Car-pooling schemes, for example, can help reduce your employees’ carbon footprint, while offsite meetings can be minimised through conference-call technology.

Leading by example

The EU is leading efforts in Europe to minimise energy consumption, with a 20 per cent energy savings target by 2020, which it claims is equivalent to switching off 400 power stations. Some firms are already leading from the front with standout energy-efficiency policies.

At the top end, computing giant IBM has run an energy-conservation and management programme since the 1970s. Its products and homegrown services, such as big data analytics, are being used to help it become even more energy efficient. In 2014 it reduced or avoided the consumption of 404,000 mega-watt hours of energy and saved $37.4 million in the process.

Closer to home, Tesco says it will source all its electricity from renewables by 2030. It has already invested over £700m in becoming more energy efficient. As a result, the retail giant has slashed emissions by 41 per cent per square foot of its estate, generating £200 million in annual energy savings.

Then there’s IKEA, which has more than 700,000 solar panels powering its stores. The Swedish furniture-maker has been so successful with solar that it plans to sell the panels to customers.

These may be extreme examples, but they highlight just how far energy efficiency can take us. On a smaller scale, businesses can make a huge difference to their bottom line and reputation through a few simple steps. Over to you.

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