Britons are the energy wasters of Europe, despite the focus on saving power at home. But what about the workplace, where most of us spend much of the day?
By Claire Heald
BBC News Magazine
At home the TV is switched off - never on standby - the light bulbs are all low-energy and the loft is newly insulated.
But the good this does is cancelled at work, where the computer is on for 10 hours a day (and on standby overnight), the aging desk lamp throws out more heat than light and the air conditioning has but two settings - permafrost and tropical. When it gets too hot, the fan goes on... and when it gets a little too arctic, there's a heater under the desk to keep the toes cosy.
And as with every desk in our office, pictured above, there is a TV. This one is turned off overnight, but many are not.
It's Energy Saving Week, and much of the advice around is on how to save power in the home. Yet many of us spend a third of our lives at work, where more often than not any good habits are undone.
SAVE ENERGY AT WORK
Turning heating down 1C saves 8-10% on bill
Monitors account for two-thirds of a computer's energy use
Using daylight cuts bills by up to 19%
Cut heating in storerooms or during holidays, weekends
Businesses produce 40% of the UK's carbon emissions, compared with 27% for households, and government figures for 2004 show 60.5m tonnes of emissions out of a national total of 152.5m.
The Carbon Trust, which helps companies cut emissions, says small and medium-sized firms spend about £6bn on energy a year, of which £1bn is just wasted. This produces 12m tonnes of carbon a year.
But with a few energy-saving measures, firms could shave up to a fifth off the average energy bill of £5,000. Experts say much can be done from the top down, involving every employee.
The key is get involved, says Lionel Tibble, a consultant who advises companies on how to cut energy waste. This is far more straight-forward in office than a factory, as each person can take steps to make their equipment usage more energy efficient.
This not only means improving technology but educating staff.
Save power every hour
In the office pictured above, Mr Tibble recommends upgrading to a low-energy lamp fitted with a low-energy bulb, which would use a third less energy.
A cord to the ceiling lights would let those not in use be turned off. And switching the TV and the computer's monitor and hard drive off - not on standby - at night would save more than half the energy used.
Could the last person to leave...
Fine in theory, but what about the factors employees cannot control, such as the air conditioning?
Lobby your boss, say environmentalists. The price of energy makes a dent in a company's bottom line. Plus, a move towards being carbon neutral is a valued marketing tool.
Ask what the energy policy is - and if there isn't one, lobby for it to be a priority. Push for an energy management audit from the Carbon Trust. Ask to turn down the heating or air-con if it is too strong.
But what about those who work in factories, where employees have less control over the settings of their equipment.
Much of it comes down to mechanical aspects - saving energy through the compressed air systems commonly used in industrial processes, and replacing motors with adjustable ones. Lighting can be replaced with modern systems that use 40% less power, and florescent tubes that last longer.
At Marshalls, a concrete and landscaping products firm in Nottinghamshire, moves are afoot to save £40,000 a year on the £250,000 energy bill by educating the workforce, insulating machines, plugging the leaks in the compressed air system and putting a timer on the heater.
And United Business Media's headquarters in the City of London held a 100-day campaign to cut energy usage after facilities manager Stephen Vause found the office used almost as much energy when the building was empty.
Every employee on every floor was encouraged to switch off gadgets, from their computer to their phone charger, when not in use. And a series of themed days encouraged energy-saving habits, such as Walk down Wednesday, when all but a few lifts were turned off, and Tropical Tuesday, when they hit the off switch on the air-con.
All of which saved 10% from the company's £32,000-a -month energy budget and 78,000 tonnes of carbon.
But like all environmental initiatives, saving energy at work will stand or fall on individual employee's willingness to take part.
"Some people were really good at going round and turning things off," says Mr Vause. "They were asking 'where's the light switch?' There was a great feel good factor and feedback. The trick now is to stop the effects dwindling and to keep it going."
How does your workplace fare? Send us your comments and pictures, using the form below.
I spent 5 years in a leaky portable building which had a heater/air-con unit on the ceiling! Electricity use per person was greater than ours at home (and that was not including the air-con).
It inspired me: I left that job for a complete career change, starting with a master's in energy-efficient buildings!
Candy Spillard, York, UK
I have to admit the company I work for is very switched on about energy saving. The car park lights are turned off during the day, and late at night only come on when someone drives in or out. We are also encouraged to turn off monitors and phone chargers at night. Recycling is also heavily promoted. We have little caddies by our desks that have 3 boxes in them, one for non-recyclable rubbish, one for paper and another one for plastics. We even compost teabags and fruit and vegetable waste!
Why can't other companies be as aware as mine?!
Daniel Peal, Farnborough
I work for a public sector organisation that wastes a huge amount of taxpayers' money on energy. There are 5,000 employees, mainly with a workstation each, and these are all left on overnight. When I asked why, I was told that "sometimes", essential upgrades take place overnight.
Carole Petts, Chatham, UK
Last winter I went to my local employment office to sign on. It was boiling hot in there, the staff were wearing sleeveless tops, summer trousers and sandals. The government needs to set an example. Most shops are just too hot. We need to get back to wearing winter clothes in winter and turn the heating down a bit to save energy.
It's terrible I'm afraid, and that's not just my office, it's the whole department. I wonder how much money the admin departments in the NHS could save by turning the PC's, lights, fans and air-con off at night? Not only would they recover the huge deficit that they keep banging on about and saving jobs but they would actually be doing some thing for the environment.
My train home takes me right past White City, London HQ of the BBC and its myriad offshoots. It doesn't matter what time of day or night I pass by, the whole of the complex is ablaze with fluorescent light.
Our company has the chillers on, on the air conditioning, but has to have the heating on because it is too cold.
Mark Sims, Guildford
The only way I can make things greener in my office is if I do it myself. I have to tell people to turn off their computers at night, I have to make them put old newspapers into the recycling box, and take scrap paper from them so it can be used again. I have to go round the office turning off the lights that everyone else leaves on.
I am sick of making so much effort to make this company greener (and save them money in the process). It is extremely hard work, and most of the time I just get laughed at because I care about the environment.
Our Corporate Social Responsibility Manager drives his car to work. He lives 20 minutes walk away, and that is a slow walk. Kind of sums it up really.
Like most people in my office, my phone charger is plugged into a socket in the floor. To switch it off I'd have to crawl under my desk. In order to make people more willing to switch these things off the switch needs to be at desk level.
Colin Mackay, Glasgow, Scotland
Every evening I can look out over the long skyline of the heart of London and every time I do I am dismayed and disgusted at the shameless waste of energy we indulge in.
Some readers may recall that there was a time when Air Raid Wardens would walk the streets commanding people to turn out their lights. Perhaps today we need Air Aid Wardens?
Andrew Rodgers, London, UK
As someone that does a lot of travelling I wonder how efficient hotels are? Most rooms have a fridge that is left on all the time with nothing in it. They also have lots of lights in a room and more often than not, the TV is on when I enter the room. There could be huge savings here from just one industry.
Alan Williamson, Clarebrand, Dumfries and Galloway
On PCs - there are two low energy alternatives. One is a laptop, and the second is a 'thin client' which is like a cut-down PC, with no hard-drive which uses around 80% less electricity and is easier and cheaper to administer. Increasingly, all the resources you need, to write, read and store documents are on a server, so decreasing the need for a hard-drive. Whilst not perfect for everyone, these are solutions worth investigating.
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