A sustainable new normal: Implementing a green recovery that doesn’t cost the earth, writes Pradyumna Pandit managing director of sustainability and energy services at Mitie.
One of the unintended impacts of the national coronavirus lockdown this year was that it gave our environment a break.
As businesses and consumers adjust to life in this ‘new normal’, it’s clear that implementing a ‘green recovery’ is vital to ensuring that these environmental benefits are here to stay.
However, there is a key question that still needs to be addressed: how can businesses drive their net-zero programmes when the long-term financial impact of COVID is still uncertain and budgets are tight?
Contrary to popular belief, achieving stretching sustainability objectives doesn’t need to break the bank.
With the right guidance and solutions, businesses can put initiatives in place to improve their sites’ energy efficiency and reduce their carbon footprint.
Supporting a green recovery and the fight against climate change is high on the agenda for many businesses, including Mitie.
That’s why this year we launched ‘Plan Zero’, our commitment to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2025 and to help our customers meet their own sustainability ambitions. We think there are three key steps businesses can take in their efforts to achieve ‘zero carbon for zero cost’ in commercial buildings.
1. Get the numbers right
The lockdown changed the way most businesses operate, with many companies now using their buildings and energy differently from 12 months ago.
To make sure initiatives and targets are working from an accurate base, the first step to kick-off a net-zero programme should be a full review of the business’ energy usage and carbon emissions.
This data will provide the benchmark for realistic, but stretching, net-zero targets as well as key milestones to be measured against.
We recommend businesses invest in a Carbon and Energy Management System (CEMS) to take the strain out of collecting and analysing carbon emissions data.
As well as helping monitor energy usage, a CEMS has the added benefit of taking the hassle out of regular emissions reporting, by presenting data in the correct format for reporting guidelines.
Once all the data is available, it’s time to start setting those net-zero objectives and milestones.
We advise customers to create a balance in setting targets that are quantifiable, achievable and realistic, but also stretching. These objectives may be five, 10, or 20 years away, so while businesses won’t have all the solutions just yet, it’s important to have that ambition in place from the outset.
2. Create a snowball effect
Once the objectives are set, it’s time to implement a comprehensive review of every site or building to identify opportunities to save energy, reduce carbon and minimise costs.
With the economy facing a lot of uncertainty, many businesses may be wary about committing to large investments. This is why choosing the right solutions, that reduce carbon emissions and that can be implemented at low or no cost is key.
These solutions can range from getting into the seemingly simple habit of ensuring the heating is on at the right times to retrofitting or modifying equipment, such as air conditioning units, to make it more energy-efficient.
Investing in more complex technology solutions, such as remote monitoring, is beneficial for reducing energy and carbon emissions even in buildings that are closed or have low occupancy.
By installing sensors in assets such as heating and lighting, businesses can easily control equipment remotely. Assets can then be turned off when sites are empty, for example on weekends and bank holidays, or in the case of an unexpected lockdown, to cut energy bills.
Sensors can also be used in more complex locations, including computer server rooms, where systems need to be running 24/7.
By collecting real-time data, such as a temperature, through the building management systems (BMS), it is possible to remotely adjust site’s equipment to meet specific temperature levels – or any other requirements – while reducing energy consumption.
These monitoring solutions can also track if the equipment is running smoothly and can raise alarm should anything require maintenance or a repair. This preventive maintenance can reduce repair costs while ensuring that systems are using energy efficiently, reducing carbon emissions.
At Mitie, we have around 150 solutions that we can use to increase energy and carbon saving. Our priority for customers is to plan out the programme with these initiatives put in place in a certain order, so that any savings can be reinvested to fund further solutions to reduce carbon emissions.
This leads to a snowball effect of energy, carbon and cost, reductions. When implementing these initiatives, we also follow a ‘no saving, no fee’ approach, meaning that if we don’t meet set carbon saving targets, there is no fee to customers.
3. Get serious about saving carbon
Once the basics are covered and the building estate is optimised, it’s time to take it to the next level. Switching to renewable energy is key for companies that are serious about becoming truly net-zero.
With sharp reductions in renewable energy costs over the last years, using renewable energy makes financial sense too. Indeed, by entering into a subsidy-free power purchase agreement (PPA), businesses can secure long-term renewable energy deals to protect themselves against price increases, which are common during the winter, while improving their sustainability credentials.
Monitoring energy consumption is as important as the energy source itself.
By taking the time to review bills, it’s possible to spot mistakes, such as additional charges, and identify new opportunities to reduce energy.
For instance, a bill showing an office building that’s using a high amount of energy at night may suggest that the heating and lights are not being switched off even when the building is empty or that the site BMS needs to be tweaked.
Businesses willing to go the extra mile can move away from fossil fuels and start generating their own renewable energy on-site, through solar panels or ground source heat pumps.
This has the added benefit of reducing energy supply risks and protecting the business against potential price increases.
With transportation responsible for much of the UK’s CO2 emissions, switching to electric vehicles (EVs) is key for businesses to reach their sustainability targets.
Businesses that transition to an electric fleet cannot only cut carbon emissions but also increase financial savings from maintenance, fuel and taxes. These whole-life savings are often enough to cover the transition costs in just four years.
Ensuring buildings are as energy efficient as possible is an important step in achieving net-zero, but, of course, there are many other aspects that need to be considered if a business is going to be truly sustainable.
We’ve taken this into account with the three pillars of our Plan Zero commitment: Eliminating carbon emissions from power and transport; Eradicating non-sustainable waste and Enhancing inefficient buildings to meet the highest environmental standards.
This includes embracing the circular economy and removing single-use materials, with support from experts at Mitie Waste, as well as working with Mitie Landscapes to improve biodiversity at our sites, through initiatives such as ‘green walls’, wherever possible.
There’s no time like the present
With many workplaces coming in and out of hibernation, now is the opportunity to embed sustainability into the ‘new normal’.
By implementing the right solutions, even businesses with very limited budgets can implement and achieve ambitious net-zero strategy to support the fight against climate change. And, with a focus on solutions that can generate enough cost savings to pay the investment in just a few years, there really isn’t a better time to hit the gas on net-zero strategies.
Photo Credit – Pixabay