Being energy conscious needn’t cost the earth

In many people’s minds, green and low-carbon initiatives typically have a price premium attached to them. There is perceived to be a cost penalty involved in being environmentally friendly.

However, as far as energy management is concerned, the opposite is true. Using expensive energy as efficiently as possible, reducing wastage and emissions – these activities necessarily save money for the organisations that commit to them.

Take restaurant brand Nando’s, for example. In 2010, they used just over 110 gigawatt-hours of energy in 119 restaurants. Nearly four years later, having implemented a range of energy management strategies across their business, the number of restaurants stands at 330, but overall energy consumption across the much larger portfolio of sites has gone up by less than 25 per cent.

The UK government and the European Commission often refer to energy savings of 20 per cent being achievable through cost-effective energy-efficiency measures, with associated reductions in carbon emissions. The experience of ESTA members and their end-user clients suggests that much higher savings are routinely available.

But with the government introducing mandatory energy auditing for larger businesses from next year, through the Energy Saving Opportunity Scheme (ESOS), it is no longer something that can be ignored.

The promise of financial savings, greater business efficiency and a better environmental record is motivating more and more people to take action

The energy efficiency message is getting through, though. The promise of financial savings, greater business efficiency and a better environmental record is motivating more and more people to take action. Yet, there are still many businesses (and homeowners for that matter) who are not taking advantage of the opportunities available.

Research into this apparent contradiction has identified some of the barriers that businesses, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises, face. Two of the major hurdles are access to knowledge and access to finance.

Knowing what is available and how to integrate energy-saving techniques and technologies into business operations can be difficult. The trick is in working out which of them will make the most impact and how to build a continuing, effective programme. Here, industry associations such as ESTA can point people in the right direction.

The international standard for energy management, ISO 50001, based on the same framework as the established ISO 14001 and ISO 9000 series, enables managers to build a long-term strategic programme. The use of additional external expertise in specific areas can also pay dividends.

Access to finance is a further stumbling block. In difficult economic circumstances, businesses will think twice before investing any capital funds, especially in what may be seen as non-core activities. However, many energy-efficiency improvements require little or no expenditure. Firms should at least look seriously at these as a priority before considering the business benefits of larger-scale investment.

There are government incentives, such as the Green Deal, which allow the installation of performance-improvement measures without initial funding from the business. There are also contract energy management firms that will offer performance level contracts, which include equipment upgrades. And there are other funding options in between – energy efficiency generally involves low-risk, rapid-payback measures, which are attractive to funding bodies.

In short, energy management is good for business, good for the environment and good for the UK’s energy security. It makes perfect sense.