A window of opportunity? Decarbonising buildings as part of a green economic recovery

With many of our public sector buildings currently empty as staff work from home, is now the time to implement energy efficiency measures to enable and sustain a ‘green recovery’?

Here, Liam Gillard, Programme Manager at Salix Finance, a Government-funded organisation which works to improve energy efficiency and reduce carbon emissions across the public sector, explores the need to tackle climate change amid the ongoing pandemic, and explains why we should make the most of vacant buildings by investing in energy improvements that will help rebuild the country in a more environmentally friendly way.

While the pandemic understandably continues to be at the forefront of everyone’s minds, it is vital that tackling climate change remains a top priority for businesses and organisations across the country.

The UK has already committed to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050, and recently announced ambitious new targets to reduce emissions by 68%, compared to 1990 levels, by 20301 – goals that can only be achieved if we act now.

The UK is also set to host one of the largest international climate change summits – the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) – for the first time in November 2021 so it is important that we lead by example.

As part of an economic recovery from the pandemic, climate-led investments will play a key role in helping to rebuild the nation and its economy post-COVID-19. A ‘green economic recovery’ will encourage innovation within green industries, stimulating job creation while helping to shape a more environmentally friendly future for us all.

Successfully achieving a green recovery will require a collaborative effort to be taken across all sectors of society, including the public sector, and every organisation will need to play its part.

One way that organisations can tackle climate change and contribute towards the national green recovery, is by investing in energy efficiency technologies that will significantly reduce their energy consumption and carbon footprint. Doing so will enable them to support the emerging green sectors, supporting growth and further boosting the economy.

As well as helping to improve buildings and the environmental landscape, investing in energy efficiency projects has significant financial benefits for the organisations involved, something that is particularly beneficial right now, as businesses look for ways to make cost savings in such an uncertain economic climate.

Reduced energy consumption results in lower energy bills, and financial savings can be made on maintenance due to the longer lifespans and improved reliability of new technologies. Making such savings allows organisations to invest money in other important resources as well as become more resilient.

Simple measures, such as lighting upgrades and adding insulation or heating controls, can achieve substantial energy and financial savings. Organisations can save thousands of pounds a year through such investments.

An example of this is Wrexham County Borough Council, who worked in partnership with Freedom Leisure and Salix to invest over £115,000, upgrading the lighting in its sports areas to more energy efficient LEDs. The project allowed the council to save an estimated £17,662 a year as well as deliver on decarbonisation, reducing its carbon emissions by approximately 36.92 tonnes per annum.

Emma Williams, Senior Energy Efficiency Officer for Wrexham Council, said: “It’s great news that new LED lights have been installed across our leisure facilities; the users of the facilities have already noticed a great improvement. We hope the substantial investment to improve the dual-use sport centres will continue to improve the energy efficiency of our buildings and support our work in delivering decarbonisation.” 

With millions of employees currently working from home and many offices and buildings remaining empty, there has never been a better time to invest in such upgrades, avoiding staff disruption while helping to make cost-savings.

The case for investing in energy efficiency has its benefits, however for many organisations, investing in upgrades may not seem like a viable option right now given the current financial climate. Despite the pandemic, funding options are currently available to help invest in such technologies. These include interest-free loans from Salix, which organisations pay back over several years from the savings they have made on energy bills.

Since 2004, Salix has invested £971 million in energy efficiency projects across public sector organisations in the UK, resulting in estimated savings of over £203m and 867,000 tonnes of carbon a year2. Funding is available for both large-scale and small-scale projects and covers over 100 technologies, including LED lighting, building energy management systems and renewables.

Upgrading old, inefficient lighting to modern LED alternatives can be a good start for many organisations looking to implement energy saving measures as it’s one of the most effective ways to reduce consumption. Similarly, adding motion sensors, to ensure lighting is only used when required, can help to further maximise savings. Renewables such as solar panels and heat pumps can also be viable options to help businesses future proof their buildings.

When it comes to tackling energy efficiency, it’s important to take a holistic approach – this can be done by looking at the scope of work and investing in multiple improvements at the same time rather than focusing on one technology type. Doing this can vastly increase financial and carbon savings as well as improve the building environment for its users. 

As the world works to recover from the pandemic, and with the ongoing threat of climate change, supporting green industries has never been more important. On an individual level, investing in energy efficiency projects can help organisations to become more resilient, while also contributing to a greener future for us all.

For more information on how to apply for funding or to get in touch with a member of staff please visit www.salixfinance.co.uk or email  info@salixfinance.co.uk

1 https://www.gov.uk/government/news/uk-sets-ambitious-new-climate-target-ahead-of-un-summit

2 https://www.salixfinance.co.uk/about-us