Looking with different eyes

When it comes to meeting our environmental obligations, there is a persistent issue of perception for both businesses and individuals. When the Carbon Trust recently reported that around half of UK businesses are concerned about rising energy prices, it also had to acknowledge that many simply do not understand enough about product life cycles, their carbon footprint and what measures to take to minimise costs and protect the environment.

The issue is not limited to organisations. In a recent survey by the US National Academy of Sciences, when respondents were asked for the most effective ways to conserve energy, most mentioned basic curtailment measures such as turning off lights and driving less rather than other more wide reaching efficiencies such as installing energy saving light bulbs and appliances.

The message is taking longer to get across than most experts would like. This might be a little surprising given that most firms who address the issue intelligently and based on good information usually claim they wished they’d done it sooner. The Carbon Trust claims that even no-cost curtailment measures such as turning off computers that aren’t in use or lights in areas where they are not needed can cut related costs by 15%. Factor in proactive measures such as the use of building systems, sensors and energy saving light bulbs and businesses can see a dramatic fall in their energy consumption and hence costs. The Carbon Trust estimates that a fairly typical well-developed strategy of energy reduction can cut costs by as much as 30%.

Cutting costs

So it was disappointing last year to see how many organisations were not only unaware of their obligations under the CRC but also their opportunities to save energy and cut costs. That is perhaps why the Environment Agency announced that it would not be naming and shaming those organisations that had missed the deadline. It was a welcome move to let the deadline pass with a whimper rather than a bang, not least if you believe npower’s estimate that as many as one in five of eligible businesses hadn’t submitted the correct information and another fifth hadn’t registered at all just two weeks before the deadline.

Too much stick and not enough carrot is not necessarily the way to go about getting organisations to address their environmental commitments, especially as we emerge from the recession. That was the message that emerged from British Gas Business as the deadline passed and I agree with them fully. The CRC presents us with a huge opportunity to change the way we look at energy procurement and consumption, but it has to be done with the hearts and minds of the organisation that it affects.

Take action

Progress is certainly being made. One organisation that is promoting transparency in this regard is The Carbon Disclosure Project, a not-for-profit organization that holds the world’s largest database of corporate climate change information. The information it gathers is used to offer us all an opportunity to disclose our greenhouse gas emissions and have access to the same information about other firms.

The ultimate aim is to promote transparency in this area and encourage everybody to get involved. The CDP already has achieved some impressive results. In January it announced in its Public Procurement Report that some 262 firms that supply the public sector had managed to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions in the preceding year by a total of around 32 million tonnes a year, saving some £221 million.

There is a growing recognition of the need for openness and co-operation in the way these issues are addressed. This is the thinking behind The International Performance Measurement and Verification Protocol (IPMVP), which has already been adopted in the US to define best practice and is now being developed in the UK by a group including the British Institute of Facilities Management, CIBSE, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, the Energy Services and Technology Association, the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment and the Building Research Establishment.

The aim is to agree a standardised method of evaluating energy efficiency that would not only allow wider industry benchmarking but also ensure that both client-side organisations, and product suppliers, did not claim exaggerated or false energy efficiency savings.

These developments are welcome. Not only because of the meeting of minds it reflects within the UK’s major trade organisations for the built environment, but also as a way of countering the inevitable cynicism that comes with greenwash and bogus claims.

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