Energy efficient and environmentally friendly office

If you’re busy running a business, energy efficiency and the environment might not be top of your list of priorities. While you will likely know the purchase cost of your equipment, when an electricity bill arrives, do you know how much of that bill is attributed to the computers, printers, lighting or the fridge? And do you know the impact that has on the environment? Chances are the answer is ‘no’, but if you did know the proportions you spent on powering your business devices – everything from computers and printers to fridges, freezers and kettles – you would probably think more about energy efficiency when it’s time to buy your next computer.

There are two main sources of energy advice: ratings guides and audits. All white goods have an EU energy efficiency label that tells you how efficient a device is (with the most efficient appliances rated A+++ and the least efficient rated D). Websites such as the Carbon Trust and US Energy Star tell you how much energy a typical device will use and how energy usage directly impacts upon the environment. However, there’s no substitute for an actual measurement. To get an indication of exactly how much you’re spending on energy you need to do an energy audit that looks at all of your energy-using devices and measures their usage.

Energy Ratings guide

In general, when choosing computing equipment (desktops, printers and monitors) look for the US Energy Star rating. This means the device generally uses 20–30% less energy than required by federal standards in the United States and those standards are reviewed every few years. With desktops, look for power supplies that are rated with 80Plus. This rating means the power supplies are at least 80% efficient with a wide range of workloads (20%, 50% and 100%) and hence will reduce costs (most power supplies are only rated 65–70% efficient).

The most efficient monitors use LEDs for the backlight and this can make quite a significant saving. Standard flat-screen monitors are reasonably economical and will use anywhere between 20-50 Watts. However, a good power-efficient LED monitor will be rated at just 20 Watts and cost just a few pounds a year to run. Most printers are idle for the majority of the day so it’s essential that you choose a printer with a low-power sleep mode, preferably with an automatic shut-off and sleep mode that can be set by you, the user.

Recycling old devices

If you do need to replace your old devices, you should ideally try and recycle the equipment. Many of the latest desktops and monitors are designed to be easily dismantled and parts are labelled to help recycling. Look for the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive (WEEE Directive) logo on devices.

Energy audit advice

To complete an energy audit you can either call in an expert or buy one of the many devices available to measure your energy use. If you opt to do the job yourself, take the time to read up on energy usage first, as there are a few potential areas where you could trip up, particularly when measuring devices such as printers and computers. Their energy usage alters depending on the jobs they’re running so, for example, computers use more energy when they’re doing number crunching tasks, and laser printers will use more energy when they’re printing. If your device has a sleep mode, measure this too: you’ll be surprised at the amount of energy a device can use in a low-power sleep mode.

Once you’ve measured every device, you need to calculate their consumption in kilowatt-hours (kh). It’s most effective to calculate yearly usage – that way you can really get an idea of how much a device costs to run. For example, an item costing £2 a week in energy usage might sound reasonable, however, the calculation of £104 over a year is a little more thought provoking.

To calculate the consumption of an electrical appliance in kWh you will need your electrical appliances’ usage in watts, the number of hours that the appliance is in use per day and the number of days per year when the appliance is in use. Once you have these figures to hand, apply them to the following formula:

[hours] x [days] x ([watts] / 1,000) = number of kWh.

So, if your device uses 6 watts and is on 7 hours a day for 250 days a year, your kWh calculation will be: [7] x [250] x ([6] / 1,000) = 10.5 kWh.

While this calculation provides you with direct energy costs, there are other indirect costs that will not be on the list and also need factoring in. One of the indirect costs is cooling. Computers use energy and produce heat as a by-product. In the winter, this probably reduces your heating bills but in the summer it can add to your energy bills from the additional costs incurred to power air conditioning units.

Unfortunately, if you identify a high-usage device, there’s very little you can do to reduce the power consumption other than replace it or ensure that it’s switched off when not in use. Replacing the heavy energy users will, however, save you money in the long run. Plus, if the equipment is still functioning, you may be able to recoup some of the costs through selling the device.

Most electrical devices supply energy consumption figures – white goods such as fridges and freezers also give efficiency ratings – so when you’re choosing a new device check these figures first. The best place to look is on the product data sheet or on the manufacturer’s website. With desktops and monitors, the data sheet will quote three figures for usage – typical usage, maximum usage and a power-saving usage. Remember that the smaller the number, the better the power saving. While the power save mode is useful, the important figure is the typical usage figure.

Hints and tips on saving energy and helping the environment

  1. Check the energy ratings for each device. Large kitchen appliances will have an EU energy efficiency label and the most energy efficient computer devices will have a US Energy Star rating.
  2. Switch everything off at night
    Get your staff into the habit of switching off all non-essential devices when they leave for the day. Devices should be switched off at the mains rather than into low power mode.
  3. Convert to LEDs and low-energy lighting
    If your office has halogen downlighters or desk lamps replace the halogen lamps with LEDs – you get the same light but they use a fraction of the energy. Likewise, replace all standard bulbs with low-energy bulbs; they last longer and consume less energy.
  4. Fit smart thermostats
    Smart thermostats constantly monitor your office temperature and can learn exactly when to switch your heating on and off, which regulates the temperature and saves costs.
  5. Replace desktops with laptops
    Desktops are the workhorses of most businesses, however, they consume a lot of power and in many offices they can be replaced by laptops. These use less power and have the added benefit of being portable.
  6. Work from home
    Not everyone needs to be in the office 9–5/5 days a week. Giving employees flexibility around working from home can have the joint benefits of helping with their work-life balance and saving your business energy.
  7. Encourage staff to recycle
    Get your staff to separate their waste – hold competitions to see who is least wasteful and offer monthly prizes for your greenest employee.
  8. Print on both sides
    Duplex printers cost slightly more but if your business is a heavy user of printers then you’ll save money.
  9. Choose rechargeable batteries
    There’s no reason not to use rechargeable batteries – the latest batteries are powerful enough to use in any device, can be used hundreds of times and they even stay charged for up to six months when not in use.