Energy efficiency: Donate part of your energy bill to the cause

If charities take simple measures to cut energy costs, they can spend more on their beneficiaries. Dr Garry Felgate, director of business delivery at the Carbon Trust, describes how organisations can start saving immediately.

As fuel prices soar and the effects of climate change become increasingly clear, the need to improve energy efficiency has never been greater. The Carbon Trust has calculated that UK businesses, including charities, spent £3.8bn on energy this summer alone, of which 15 per cent will have been wasted because of inefficient use.

Many voluntary organisations feel under pressure to keep operational costs, including energy bills, to an absolute minimum so they can focus resources on priority areas. By reducing their energy use, charities can not only release funds to put towards staff costs, campaigns and fundraising, but can also cut their carbon emissions - the leading cause of climate change.

The financial benefits of improved efficiency are clear. The Carbon Trust estimates that reducing energy use by only 20 per cent - an achievable target for most organisations - could reap thousands of pounds in savings.

In addition, a recent survey by the trust found that more than three-quarters of employees consider it important to work for an organisation that has an active policy of reducing emissions. Fewer than one-fifth of them, however, work for organisations that run programmes to help employees become more energy-efficient. The obvious conclusion is that employees have the desire to make a difference, but lack the guidance and the means to make it happen.

The good news is that voluntary organisations can quickly cut their energy bills by engaging staff and implementing a number of straightforward, low-cost or free energy measures. For example, most office equipment - the fastest-growing area of energy use - such as PCs, monitors, fax machines and printers, have energy-saving features that can reduce energy consumption significantly.

Heating and lighting are also areas in which energy savings can be made.

Heating can account for up to 60 per cent of the total energy costs of an office with no air-conditioning, and reducing the temperature by just one degree Celsius can cut an organisation's annual energy bill by 10 per cent. A further 10 per cent saving could come from implementing energy-efficiency measures that require initial investment. In our experience, the payback time for up-front spending can be as short as two or three years - after that, savings go straight to an organisation's bottom line.

Awareness programmes that engage and involve employees in making decisions, implementing measures and communicating the results are also likely to produce great results. Energy management at work is largely about developing good habits and communicating the benefits to everyone in the organisation.

If they actually see the impact of the steps they take, employees are more likely to maintain good energy-efficiency practices long after awareness programmes have finished.

Help (and money) is at hand

For those voluntary organisations wanting to take immediate steps to reduce their energy use and tackle climate change, the Carbon Trust offers a number of services. These range from energy-efficiency audits for organisations with energy bills of more than £50,000 to a free online publication library with hundreds of documents listing energy-saving steps by sector or technology.

The Carbon Trust also runs an interest-free energy loans scheme for small and medium enterprises. These loans can help businesses, including charities, save money by helping them to replace existing equipment with more energy-efficient versions.

Organisations can be awarded loans of between £5,000 and £100,000 to fund the purchase of equipment such as lighting, boilers or insulation.

To be eligible, those wishing to take out loans must be able to save at least £1,000 per year on their energy use.

TOP TIPS FOR SAVING ENERGY

Air-conditioning

- Air-conditioning can double energy costs - it can cost a typical office building £11,000 a year

- Avoid simultaneously heating and cooling an office. This can be achieved by setting the air-conditioning to come on when the temperature reaches 24 degrees C, and adjusting your heating system to switch off when it gets above 19 degrees C

- Use time switches to ensure air-conditioning is switched off outside working hours

- Don't cover vents - they need to be kept clear at all times to maximise performance

- Avoid placing 'hot' equipment, such as photocopiers, near vents, because the system will have to work harder to cool the area

Heating

- The recommended temperature for offices is about 19 or 20 degrees C

- Turning down the heating by 1 degree C can produce an annual saving of between 8 and 10 per cent on the energy bill. This is enough to save more than £170 on heating bills every year

- The energy saved by installing a condensing boiler in a typical office building is enough to reduce your annual heating bill by approximately £760

- Adjust your thermostat to ensure the heating doesn't rise above the ideal temperature. Discourage staff from turning up the temperature by installing a tamper-proof cover

- Install a seven-day time-control switch on your boiler and set it according to your working hours

- You can reduce heat loss by almost 90 per cent by insulating a standard roof

- Ensure thermostats are set correctly and located out of draughts or extreme temperatures

Lighting

- Make use of natural daylight where possible - it costs nothing and can reduce lighting bills by up to 19 per cent. Artificial lighting can account for between 15 and 20 per cent of a building's energy bill

- A fluorescent tube uses 500 times more energy if left on for 15 minutes than the energy needed to restart the tube

- Replacing 38mm fluorescent tubes with 26mm ones will save up to 9 per cent on your electricity bill

- Replacing 10 standard bulbs with low-energy bulbs saves enough carbon dioxide to fill at least 1,300 one-litre bottles and more than £60 a year

- Make use of individual lights, such as desk lamps, where natural daylight is not sufficient

- Reduce lighting in areas that don't need bright light, such as corridors

- Encourage staff to turn off lights when not needed

Office equipment

- A computer left on constantly costs about £37 a year. If switched off at night and at weekends, however, this can be reduced to £10 a year, saving the amount of energy needed to make 34,900 cups of tea

- Always switch monitors off when they are not in use. They account for almost half of a computer's energy use

- A simple seven-day timer on shared equipment, such as printers, vending machines and water coolers, will ensure they are not left on overnight and at weekends. Timers are relatively cheap to buy and can save up to 70 per cent on energy costs

Checklist

- Allocate responsibility to a member of staff or a small team that can drive forward energy measures

- Check heating and cooling controls to ensure they are set at the appropriate temperatures

- Prepare a list of good housekeeping measures and put them up around the office to remind staff

- Compile an energy checklist by walking around the office at different times of day. Note where energy savings can be made

- Motivate staff to take energy-saving measures by raising awareness with Carbon Trust information

- Check your meters regularly to see how much electricity, gas and oil is being used, and check that bills relate to actual, not estimated, use

CASE STUDY - MOSSLEY COMMUNITY CENTRE

A loan taken out by a community centre in Greater Manchester has helped it reduce its energy bills by thousands of pounds.

The Mossley Community Centre is a registered charity that houses more than 10 different community organisations. The building is more than 125 years old and consists of nine rooms covering approximately 625 square metres. Mossley Community Centre recently launched a new environmental garden project, adjacent to the centre, consisting of three gardens that are open to the public.

The centre was incurring energy costs of nearly £5,000 a year, much of it being spent on running an inefficient third-generation boiler that was more than 30 years old. Eager to find a way to reduce this cost, the organisation applied for an interest-free loan from the Carbon Trust to install a more energy-efficient zoned heating system.

The cost of the project was approximately £19,500, but more than a third of this was covered by a Carbon Trust loan of £7,025. The new equipment will help reduce the charity's yearly energy bills by more than £1,400, and it will also cut carbon emissions by nearly four tonnes a year.

Marjorie Nield, manager of Mossley Community Centre, says: "After many years of rooms being too hot or too cold, we are now reaping the benefits of a more effective, efficient and environmentally friendly system.

"As fossil fuel costs rise and supplies diminish, it is important that we try our utmost to be energy-efficient. Without the Carbon Trust loan, the replacement of the community centre boiler would not have been possible, and energy and money would have been lost."

- In 2005/06, the Carbon Trust helped businesses and organisations identify 3.9 million tonnes of annual carbon dioxide savings - enough to fill the new Wembley stadium approximately 500 times. Potential annual cost savings identified totalled £390m. The amount of carbon dioxide saved is an increase of almost 40 per cent on 2004/05 figures, which indicates that, as climate change moves up the public agenda, more and more organisations, including charities, are taking steps to tackle the issue. Any charity organisation interested in reducing its energy use can visit the Carbon Trust website www.carbontrust.co.uk/energy, where there are useful fact sheets and action plans, or call the free helpline on 0800 085 2005 for expert advice.

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