How to make your commercial buildings more energy efficient

A study by the Green Alliance found that businesses are responsible for a quarter of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions. While some of these are caused by business processes, a large percentage are caused by the buildings themselves. When this is considered alongside the recently released IPCC report, which highlights the urgency with which we need to act to prevent a climate disaster, it’s clear that making changes in this sector can have a significant impact on reducing overall emissions.

It sounds like a big task, but the good news is that energy is one of the most controllable overheads in commercial buildings so there are plenty of areas in which to make positive changes. Energy managers should look to implement a mix of both short and long-term energy saving strategies to help reduce their carbon emissions. Low cost ‘quick wins’ can immediately improve energy use, while long term solutions can provide lasting impacts and long-term cost savings.

The following suggestions highlight areas which are often overlooked but where considerable energy savings can be made.

Lighting

Decent light levels play a key part in providing a pleasant and productive working environment for staff but with lighting accounting for 20% of energy consumption in the UK, it can amount to a significant chunk of energy bills. Thankfully, it’s one of the most straightforward and affordable things to replace. Simply switching your light bulbs to LEDs can instantly reduce your lighting energy use by up to 80%. 

While it’s undeniable LED bulbs are more expensive than their traditional counterparts, the cost is coming down as they become more popular. They have a longer lifespan too; while a standard fluorescent bulb has a lifetime of up to 12,000 hours, the equivalent LED bulb can last up to 75,000 hours, making them more cost effective in the long term. When combined with daylight sensors, occupancy sensors and programmable light switches, the potential energy savings increase even more.

Temperature

Heating accounts for 20-40% of energy costs in a typical office environment, so there are opportunities to make significant savings. Gather feedback from employees about the workplace temperature – it’s a subject people tend to have strong feelings about – to help highlight areas that are persistently too hot or draughty. Then investigate these problem areas to see if there are any maintenance issues which, when sorted, can make cost savings, reduce emissions and leave you with happier employees too!

Of course, in order to meet the UK’s Net Zero 2050 target, we need to make more radical changes than simply keeping up with office maintenance. It’s only by embracing new heating technologies that we will reduce heat emissions by the 95% target. CO2 heat pumps are a green alternative to traditional heating systems as they use electricity to extract heat from the air, ground or water in the local environment at efficiencies of around 300%. They are even more efficient when they can use waste heat from cooling systems and are the key to unlocking Net Zero. A recent report from The Carbon Trust estimates that heat pumps have the potential to deliver CO2 savings of 60-70% compared to conventional eclectic heating, with this increasing to 90-100% as the grid decarbonises in the coming decades. They’re a great option for commercial businesses as they are the most scalable solution on the market right now, meaning they can be adapted for commercial buildings of any size.

Electricity

The easiest and most straightforward way to make instant electricity savings in commercial premises is to switch appliances off. Research suggests that, in a business with 100 employees, £4,500 is added to the energy bill each year if each employee leaves their computer monitor switched on. However, this can be reduced to less than £1,000 by switching off monitors, not to mention the effect this has on reducing the carbon footprint of the building.

Simple, affordable solutions such as programmable timers or remote energy switches can be utilised to help control energy wastage in the building.. However, it’s important to also recognise the positive impact of human behaviour change. There are lots of small ways staff waste energy every day, and they soon add up. Help your staff to nurture good energy habits and encourage thoughtful behaviours within the business by implementing switch-off policies. Educating employees on the impact their actions are having on both the company and the climate can have lasting positive impacts in both the workplace and their own homes too. 

Conclusion

Making your commercial building more energy efficient is more straightforward with new builds, where sustainable options can be included from the outset, but there are many changes that can be made to help existing buildings maximise their energy efficiency. While the initial costs of undertaking energy efficiency projects in the commercial sector may seem high, the long-term benefits are exceptional. Energy efficient buildings can deliver significant financial savings, and of course, the overall positive impact on the environment is priceless.

About the Author

Tim Rook is Chief Markets Officer at Clade Engineering, the UK’s leading designer, manufacturer and installer of large scale CO2 heat pumps.