Achieving zero carbon for zero cost: Why giving the green light to sustainability doesn’t need to cost the earth

Pradyumna Pandit, Mitie, Managing Director of Sustainability and Energy Services.

Images of ice sheets melting and wildfires on the news have continued to strengthen the support for sustainability initiatives, with many consumers now demanding that businesses and the Government do more to drive a ‘Green Recovery’. This movement has spread through to the business community, with some organisations tying executives’ compensation to sustainability targets and investors increasingly focused on Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance (ESG) rankings when considering their investment decisions.

With the UK officially in recession, many businesses are now facing increasing challenges when it comes to managing their properties and allocating their CAPEX budget. As a result, we’re now seeing sustainability directors and facilities managers facing the challenging task of implementing ambitious green recoveries with a small budget.

The good news for businesses in this position is that by implementing the right solutions, firms can improve their buildings’ energy efficiency and reduce carbon emissions at little to no cost. Indeed, at Mitie, we’ve designed over 150 interventions to help businesses cut their energy use. These solutions were developed as part of Plan Zero, our commitment to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2025 and to help our customers meet their own environmental ambitions. And, have saved our customers 300,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions, during financial year 19/20.

From eliminating carbon from power and transport, to eradicating non-sustainable waste and enhancing building’s energy efficiency, our Plan Zero approach considers every aspect of a business and how it can be more sustainable. However, given the central role of the building in achieving net zero carbon emissions, many of these solutions can support sustainability and facilities managers looking to improve site’s efficiency, generating important financial and carbon savings. These financial savings can then be reinvested to fund further sustainability solutions, putting a stop to the budget vs. environment dilemma.

Set realistic, achievable and stretching objectives

Before diving into the number of interventions available to improve carbon consumption, it’s important to take a step back and get a picture of the business’ energy consumption, including how much energy is being used and where. This data will provide a benchmark for setting energy and carbon saving targets and milestones against which to measure the business’ progress. Whether you plan to achieve these targets in five or 20 years, it’s important to ensure that objectives are quantifiable, achievable and realistic, but also stretching.

As reviewing the energy use of every single asset can be a tedious process, especially if the company has multiple sites across the UK, we recommend investing in a Carbon and Energy Management System (CEMS). Using a CEMS can take the load off your shoulders, as it organises energy consumption data, estimates the business’ carbon emissions and provides information in the format required by reporting guidelines.

In addition to setting and tracking objectives and completing reports, reviewing energy bills can help spot mistakes, such as additional charges that may be increasing energy costs. Indeed, during the financial year 19/20, we saved our customers over £3m just by reviewing and spotting issues in their energy bills.

Bill validation can also help identify opportunities to reduce energy consumption. For example, if bills show certain buildings are using significant amounts of energy when they’re in fact empty, it could highlight that the site needs to go into hibernation. By hibernating the building when empty – not just in the case of lockdowns, but on weekends and bank holidays too – significant energy, carbon and cost savings can be made.

Start small

Once all the objectives are set, it’s time to get on your feet and review each site to identify new opportunities to improve energy efficiency. We recommend starting small, for example by replacing all fluorescent and halogen lights with energy efficiency LEDs. These changes may seem simple; however, when scaled up across sites, they can have a big impact. Indeed, by changing all light bulbs to led and installing passive infrared sensors (PIR), which switch on the light when movement is detected, businesses can save up to 30% in their energy bills.

As financial and energy saving start adding up, businesses can reinvest these funds in bigger solutions, such as making sure all windows are double glazed, improving the building’s insulation, ensuring that heating is only switched on when needed and retrofitting or modifying equipment, such as air conditioning units, to make it more energy efficient. These initiatives can, in turn, reduce the need for heating, leading to a snowball effect of energy, carbon and cost reductions.

Businesses willing to go the extra mile in their efforts to improve energy efficiency should also consider investing in technology solutions, such as remote monitoring. When connected to sensors installed in assets, including air conditioning and boilers, remote monitoring solutions can keep track of systems in real-time and control equipment remotely. As a result, it’s possible to adjust settings, such as temperature levels, depending on specific conditions, reducing energy consumption.

These sensors can also be used to ensure that the equipment is running smoothly and to raise the alarm should it require maintenance or repair. Not only can this preventive maintenance save money from repair costs, it can also reduce carbon emissions by ensuring that assets are as energy efficiency as possible.

Most of these solutions don’t require large capital investments and can generate significant savings, which can then fund further sustainability and energy management solutions. However, for businesses unable to cover the initial investment, we also provide a ‘no saving, no fee’ approach. This means that if we don’t meet set carbon saving targets, there’s no fee to customers.

Make the switch to renewable

Beyond improving energy efficiency, businesses looking to become truly net zero must consider switching to renewable energy. With subsidy-free power purchase agreements (PPA) available to protect the business against price increases, especially during the winter, renewable energy makes financial sense and helps improve business’ sustainability credentials.

Businesses willing to take the matters in their own hands can look to generate their own renewable energy on-site, through solar panels or ground source heat pumps. As well as being the right thing by the planet, this will help protect the business against unexpected price increases and reduce their energy supply risks.

Think outside the office bubble

Every business is different, meaning that energy efficiency solutions that work for one organisation, won’t necessarily suit another. This is particularly true for companies with a smaller property footprint. For instance, at Mitie, 90% of our carbon emissions come from our fleet, requiring us think outside of the office to achieve significant carbon reductions.

As a result, we’ve focused on our fleet, committing to switch 20% of our car and small van fleet to electric vehicles by 2020 and the rest of our vehicles by 2025. With our objectives on track, we’ve now also launched our EV Fleet Transition service to use our experience and expertise to support businesses looking to switch to electric. This includes helping companies get through each stage – vehicle choice, charging infrastructure, travel policies and maintenance – of the transition process.

Transitioning to electric vehicles not only has environmental benefits, it can also bring a number of financial advantages. Indeed, looking at the whole life cost a switching to electric vehicles offers reduced maintenance, taxes and running costs compared to their petrol and diesel equivalents. In fact, EVs can often generate enough whole-life savings to cover transition costs in just four years.

While our economy may be facing troubled times and some uncertainty ahead, we believe that this should never be a barrier to striving towards a sustainable future. With the right guidance and solutions, businesses with any budget can improve their buildings’ energy efficiency and achieve ambitious net zero objectives.