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Office life. Challenges and opportunities of resource efficiency

A typical office can turn the challenge of reducing resource use into an opportunity for cost savings with some simple actions…


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Office-based businesses are probably under less pressure to become resource efficient comparative to the manufacturing or retail sector, for example. Office environments aren’t subject to the same kind of regulations or customer pressure to be green because they don’t tend to produce large amounts of any one type of waste or use vast amounts of energy or water. Impacts are more diffuse, covering things like energy use, paper and other waste, water use and transport. But these all add up over time to make a bigger impact. The big challenge is having the drive and determination to push through changes when you’re already working hard on your core business. The big opportunity is in reducing your energy, water and waste bills.

Our research shows that companies can save as much as one per cent of annual turnover by making a few simple waste reduction measures. But there are the softer opportunities too. Savvy customers and clients are increasingly valuing companies who are being environmentally minded. Saving resources keeps you competitive by keeping up with the half of Scottish businesses already employing waste prevention and resource saving measures, and gaining an edge over the half that are not doing anything.

So where should you focus your energies? Here’s some of the low hanging fruit that can bring big rewards for the least amount of money and effort.

Smarten up on energy use

Energy use is the largest cost for any business in Scotland. Heat, specifically, accounts for about half of total energy use. Bringing this cost down doesn’t necessarily entail huge expenditure on insulation, double glazing or a fancy technological zero carbon energy device. Although it can. But that fruit is a little higher up the tree.

If you want to start saving energy tomorrow with minimal cost and minimal fuss, you can start by stopping draughts, turning down thermostats a degree or so, and using timers or optimum start controllers to make sure settings are as efficient as they can be. Such low or no cost improvements can cut energy use by up to 20 per cent.

A few simple tweaks to behaviour can also lead to substantial cuts in electricity use. Encouraging staff to switch off lights, monitors, and other electrical items when not in use, for example.

With a little bit of investment you could install light sensors in rooms to turn off unnecessary lighting. These have been shown to cut electricity costs by 30 per cent. Or daylight blinds that allow light in but direct glare away from screens. Upgrading to LEDs can also make a huge difference over CFL (compact-fluorescent lamp) bulbs and lead to immediate savings of up to 75 per cent. Not only is the light they emit brighter, they last ten times longer.

Reduce mountains of stuff

Just as the promise of wireless technology hasn’t yet delivered us from the tangle of wires, the paperless office seems as far from our grasp as ever. In the face of electronic and plastic waste, sheets of paper in the bin or shredder can seem as harmless as snowflakes. But they add up to huge volumes. The average office workers use around 45 pages of paper a day whereas workers in a resource efficient office only use 16. Over a year that’s over 16k versus under £6k. Little changes by lots of people can make a big difference.

Staff awareness campaigns to make your office efficient are a good idea. So things like only printing if really necessary, printing on both sides, using recycled paper, re-using scrap sheets, and recycling when you’ve finally run out of space on the page for more scribbles.

But it’s not only paper, 70 per cent of other office waste can be recycled. Ensure recycling bins are close to hand to help people. When Grampian Fasteners in Aberdeen provided personal recycling bins at everybody’s desk, they helped to reduce landfill waste by 60 per cent and mixed waste by 20 per cent.

When purchasing office products, we recommend following the waste hierarchy and think of the whole life cycle of products. So first, do you really need it? Is there anything you can refurbish and repair instead? If you do really need it, can you buy products that have high energy efficiency ratings and can be easily recycled? And can you make sure the packaging it comes in is minimal by asking for deliveries in re-useable boxes? Then you will have done all you can to help cut down on the world’s mountains of stuff.

Slow the flow

Some say that our planet should be called Water seeing as the wet stuff covers more area than earth. It’s also something we need to become more conscious off as freshwater supplies dwindle. The true cost of water use is higher than the supply and sewerage alone. Our water system uses quite a bit of energy to clean, process and pump the water to where it’s needed.

Average water use in a typical office is about 25 litres per day. Two thirds of this comes from the washrooms, so they’re a good place to start. Again, you can start with simple awareness measures to encourage staff to make sure taps are fully switched off and any leaks reported. If you want to take it further you could look at installing simple fixes such as infrared sensors for taps, urinals and toilet flushes. Or aerators to reduce tap flow rates.

If you have a staff kitchen make sure you buy A-rated water and energy products. And ask your staff to fill dishwashers fully, and fill kettles with only as much water is needed, before switching on.

Give green teams a go

Think about setting up a staff green team. They can learn online or join our Green Champions training days to become champions for resource efficiency. A least one person will need to take ownership and develop a clear action plan for the business. The starting point is measuring and monitoring current resource use to set benchmarks and KEPIs (Key Environmental Performance Indicators) so you can see how things progress. This could be measuring the number of paper reams used per employee per year, or energy use per m2 of your building. You can find examples of good practise figures to aim for, along with more resource saving ideas, in our ‘Green office guide’.

For free, expert support get in touch with one of our staff at 0808 808 2268 or email us at enquiries@resourceefficientscotland.com

Our support to reduce your business costs are funded by the Scottish Government and by the European Regional Development Fund through the £73 million Resource Efficiency Circular Economy Accelerator Programme.

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