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Leading the way to a sustainable future

By focusing government investment, procurement, and operating practices on energy-efficient buildings, products, and services, the public sector can create a strong, sustained, buyer-led shift in the market toward energy efficiency, says Richard Rugg

Climate change is now recognised as one of the greatest challenges facing governments, businesses and individuals across the globe so much so that, last year, the UK became the first country in the world to legally set targets for reducing carbon emissions.

With the introduction of the climate change bill, the UK now has a target of reducing its carbon emissions by 34% by 2020 – a bold commitment that will require a high level of action if it is to be achieved.

The public sector is increasingly recognised as having a leading contribution to make in the UK’s move towards low carbon energy and is currently responsible for around 5% of the UK’s total carbon emissions. In the face of rising energy costs, many organisations are already beginning to investigate how they can utilise their resources to generate renewable energy and at the same time fight climate change.

However, despite a strong desire from the public sector to consider renewable energy, to date such projects make up less than 0.1% of the UK’s current total renewable capacity.

Changing legislation is also driving the necessity for change and the public sector needs to respond to the government’s commitment to meet its statutory targets to reduce carbon emissions. The government’s carbon reduction commitment will require public sector organisations to accurately measure their carbon emissions which will result in financial rewards for high performers and financial penalties for those who fail to reduce their energy consumption. As such, there has never been a more important time for the public sector to consider its environmental impact.

With just a few simple steps, public sector organisations across the UK can save considerable amounts of money annually and they don’t need to invest in expensive new technologies to lower energy costs and reduce carbon emissions.

Here are some things that can be done today and, potentially, result in a 10% reduction of overall energy use.

Switch off equipment when it’s not in use
Office equipment accounts for around 15% of all the electrical energy used in UK offices - a single computer and monitor left on 24 hours a day will cost over £50 a year. Switching it off out of hours and enabling standby features could reduce this to £15 a year each and prolong the lifespan of equipment

Heating, ventilation and air conditioning
Air conditioning can increase a building’s energy costs by 100% so make sure your heaters and air conditioning units aren’t fighting each other – having them switched on at the same time is simply a waste of money

Lighting accounts for around 20 – 40% of total electricity costs in most organisations. Try to maximise your use of natural daylight and switch off unnecessary lighting. Another good idea is to label light switches to help staff only use those lights necessary for their work area and switch all light fittings to energy saving bulbs

Measure how much energy is being used
Unless you know what you’re paying, you won’t know what impact the changes make. Keep track of your bills, and how they change when you introduce our energy-saving tips

Speak to your colleagues about saving energy
You need to lead by example but it’s also important to make it a team effort. Ask employees where they think energy is being wasted and encourage them to think about how they can all use less.

A great example of these actions being put into practice is Islington Council who, with the help of the Carbon Trust’s local authority carbon management programme, were able to identify priority actions that will reduce its carbon footprint by 8.5% - or over 7,000 tonnes of CO2 by 2010. These actions include an awareness campaign aimed at staff and schools, saving £43,000 and 196 tonnes of emissions each year, and improved thermal performance of council buildings to save £105,000 and 3,280 tonnes of CO2.

Climate change poses a real threat to our future and that is something that most people have now come to accept but preventing climate change presents real challenges for many public sector organisations across the UK today.

There has never been greater pressure to lead by example in meeting evolving legislation to reduce carbon emissions and make good use of public spend. It is possible for the government sector’s buying power and example to others to generate broader demand for energy-efficient products and services, creating entry markets for domestic suppliers and stimulating competition in providing high-efficiency products and services.

Cutting carbon emissions as part of the fight against climate change should be a key priority for all public sector organisations. Many organisations are already realising the cost savings available by improving energy efficiency but if the public sector is to play a key role in the fight against climate change, then it is vital that steps are taken to improve energy management.

Richard Rugg is head of public sector at the Carbon Trust

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