If you only do one thing this week … carry out an eco survey

The secret to a more energy-efficient business is less complicated than you think – and starts with a simple eco survey.

Eco surveys monitor the cost of energy use. Photograph: Sipa Press/Rex Features

Eco surveys monitor the cost of energy use. Photograph: Sipa Press/Rex Features

The eco message is everywhere, constantly extolling us to be greener, like some nagging spouse. Climate change will bring catastrophe if you just sit there doing nothing, you know. Turn out the lights. Recycle. Do this. Do that.

But, while most big businesses employ environment managers to take care of these things, for those running small businesses, or for the self-employed, it can all be too much. There just isn’t time to do everything. Where do you start? The trick is to pinpoint areas of unnecessary usage. You need to do an eco survey.

This may sound complicated and time-consuming but there is plenty of help available to make it easier and it will save you lots of wasted effort in the long run. Also, cutting energy use effectively may save you money.

An eco survey can take many forms. The most affordable – but most cumbersome – method is to chart your energy usage by taking regular readings from your meter or getting your supplier to provide a detailed bill showing consumption at regular intervals.

Once you have your figures, the Carbon Trust advises that you plot them on a chart, compare your energy usage with your business activities and investigate any suspicious areas. Does your energy graph show high usage during quiet periods for your business? Perhaps one particular piece of equipment that uses lots of energy is being left on. Get out your magnifying glass and track the culprit down.

Keeping a record is also useful for monitoring the effectiveness of any efficiency changes you make by allowing you to compare before and after graphs. Eco auditor Donnachadh McCarthy says that keeping tabs on your progress will motivate you to carry out the changes identified by a survey.

“Accountants say you pay attention to what you measure,” he says. “Seeing the stark figures brings home the effects of your efforts and encourages you to keep improving things. I try to get people to measure everything.”

One simple option for measuring your energy usage is a wireless eco monitor, such as the Efergy Elite, which costs £39.95. These are portable, simple to install and give you real-time electricity readings. In my home office, as I type this, it says I’m using only 2p of electricity an hour – that’s powering my laptop, a clock, the fridge downstairs and a phone charging. But when I turn the electric heater on, it leaps up to 32p an hour. Turning the heater down low reduces this to 16p an hour.

So, within a few seconds, I can already deduce that putting on an extra jumper and some woolly socks and turning the heater off, or down, will make a huge difference.

These monitors will record daily, weekly and monthly statistics, so you can work out if your energy usage is going up or down over time. You can also set an alarm to go off every time your energy usage exceeds a certain amount – at which point you can run around like a henchman in a Bond villain’s lair attempting to shut things down.

The Energy Saving Trust claims these eco monitors can help you save, on average, between 5% and 15% of your energy consumption. McCarthy says other measuring devices, such as a good old-fashioned thermometer, can be equally as effective.

“I went into one company that had just installed a new eco-heating system and within two minutes saved them 50% on their heating bill. I simply pulled out my thermometer and it read 24C. That was 5C more than it needed to be.”

Of course, being green is not just about saving energy. A full eco survey should look at every aspect of your business. One option is to call in the professionals. An eco consultant such as McCarthy will spend a day or two assessing your firm’s environmental impact and produce a report detailing where you can improve and save money, and will make return visits to ensure the survey is being followed up.

For a small business, an eco survey is likely to cost about £500 a day for an initial survey, and then about £250 for return visits.

If this is beyond your means, the Carbon Trust produces a wide range of “walk around checklists” tailored to different industries. You can use these to assess everything from the efficiency of radiators to the use of fridges in restaurants.

However, these can miss major factors, such as transport emissions, so to do the job properly you need to take a very broad view of your business and every part of its operation.

Until you know where the main problems lie, any attempt at going green is largely guesswork. Once you’ve done an effective eco survey and established your carbon footprint you may find a few targeted changes can make a big difference, both to your costs and your impact on the environment.

SOURCE: guardian.co.uk

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