Sustainability: Dr Will Thomas of UCS on how to cut your business’s energy costs

Dr Will Thomas, course leader for the MSc in sustainable business at University Campus Suffolk

Dr Will Thomas, course leader for the MSc in sustainable business at University Campus Suffolk - Credit: Archant

Dr Will Thomas, course leader for MSc Sustainable Business for the School of Business, Leadership and Enterprise at University Campus Suffolk, looks at what firms can do to help themselves by saving energy.

How can businesses reduce the impact of soaring energy costs to enable them to grow in a sustainable way?

As bills for both domestic and commercial customers continue to rise, energy bills risk becoming a limiting factor on economic recovery. Work completed by the Department for Energy and Climate Change suggests real term increases of up to 20% by 2020 and 40% by 2030 in commercial energy bills. For those businesses trying to find ways to stay competitive in a global marketplace the impact of these increases could be dramatic. As prices continue to rise, we also see increasing uncertainty in the cost and supply of energy making it more difficult for organisations to plan and commit to expansion.

For any business looking to sustain or expand their current operations, the efficient use of energy (and other resources such as water and waste) is becoming ever more important. Across Suffolk, a number of businesses have already sought support for improving their resource efficiency through projects such as Low Carbon Champions. These projects work with businesses to help them understand their use of energy and to identify ways in which they can reduce consumption. Businesses benefit through lower utility bills and communities benefit through environmental improvements.

The systematic management of energy offers businesses of all sizes the chance to reduce bills and to become more competitive. Many organisations are looking at the implementation of management systems as a way to achieve this. Such a system has already been defined by international standard to support the control of energy consumption (ISO 50001). This approach requires organisations to adopt a plan-do-check-act cycle in order to understand and manage their energy more efficiently.

The first stage in this process is to secure senior management buy-in to the energy-saving ambition; this provides a mandate for change and for the use of resources to plan, implement and check actions taken to reduce consumption. The planning stage involves both an audit of energy use and identification and prioritisation of energy-saving actions. Some actions will require changes of behaviour such as turning lights off in unused rooms or encouraging the greater use of virtual meetings. Other actions will require significant investment and might include the purchase of more efficient heating and cooling systems, new plant and machinery or investment in IT systems. There may also be implementation costs relating to training of staff and to monitoring and reporting mechanisms.

As energy-savings actions are implemented, the monitoring of the impact that this has on the energy use of the organisation is important for ensuring that the cost-savings are being realised. Good evidence of savings is an excellent way of helping maintain the support of senior management and can also feed into future planning to determine further actions to drive down energy consumption.

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Organisations are increasingly seeking to systematise their understanding of energy consumption. For those given responsibility for delivering changes and cost-savings, the task is both one of understanding the technical challenges and opportunities and leading and managing change within their organisation. Whilst the ‘soft skills’ of leadership are easily underplayed they are crucial for securing the engagement of senior managers and from more junior staff. Taking on the task of delivering energy savings requires acting as a ‘change agent’: someone who can balance the technical understanding, rhetoric and incentivisation in order to secure support for the project.

Sustained energy savings and an improved understanding of energy consumption are increasingly important for organisations of all sizes. In a period of energy-price rises and volatility this can help organisations become more sustainable and to become more competitive at home and abroad.

University Campus Suffolk launches its new MSc Sustainable Business in September. The course will equip students with the balance of specific knowledge and leadership skills required to deliver more sustainable businesses and to exploit new opportunities for growth.

: : MSc Sustainable Business is one of a new suite of masters courses launching in the School of Business, Leadership and Enterprise this year.