Micro-manage your electricity use

When simple steps can reduce a company’s carbon footprint and cuts costs, they’re more than likely to make most businesses sit up and take notice.

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1st December 2008 at 3:21 pm

In almost all of my discussions with businesses, both suppliers and consumers, the reasons to do ‘green’ things boil down to money, regulations or reputation. If they don’t improve the bottom line then they really aren’t on the radar of any but the most environmentally evangelistic organisations.

Appeals to reason might work for a short while, but we have a habit of forgetting them. “Greenhouse gases are going to destroy us, we must cut them back to 1990 levels by 2020.” Not many people, especially businesses, are driven by that sort of exhortation unless it’s somehow wrapped up with a financial penalty, which could come via regulations or simply through the rising cost of running a business.

Some companies, especially those in the public eye, want to be “seen to be green”, so they attract more business. So the argument drops back to the bottom line.

Two relatively simple things you can do are to cut travel and cut electricity use. The first can be achieved by making more use of communications technology – why have face to face meetings when many can be replaced with a phone call or a webconference? Or, for those really important transnational meetings, get into a ‘telepresence’ room. They will start springing up in hotels and serviced office buildings very soon. If they haven’t already. You save on flights, accommodation and the person’s time. (Although I must confess that I sometimes get loads of work done in the isolation of a long distance flight.)

When it comes to cutting electricity use, you can exhort people to switch machines off at the wall when they’re not in use but if the sockets are remotely inconvenient or you’re with a long Vista shut down at the end of day, you just want to leg it. Well you can buy a number of devices which make life simple for you.

(The horrible paradox about this stuff is that we’re buying more stuff with its embedded carbon footprint in order to save on more carbon emisssions. But, actually, the argument reduces down to money spent versus money saved which, if embedded carbon were accounted for properly, should end up with a net gain to both the purse and the environment.)

Bye Bye Standby is one of the companies that has made a bit of a name for itself recently for its home appliances. They are radio-controlled and each has a ‘channel’ associated with it. A central device can switch off all equipment associated with a particular channel.

Last month the company launched its professional range for businesses and it estimates that it will save “in excess of £50 per individual per year”. I guess that means office worker, but the system will work with more than just power sockets. Versions can be wired in-line to electrical feeds and also directly into appliances such as lights and air-conditioning units.

Importantly, these devices meter electricity usage and send readings the BBS Energy Manager software which gives a business detailed information about energy usage and CO2 emissions. The software can also switch equipment off. At night, for example.

Expect the household version to pay for itself in less than a year and the professional versions to take up to two years. Other versions sit between the two but that’s too much to go into here. Take a look at the company’s website if you’re interested.

I quizzed Bye Bye Standby’s managing director, Darryl Mattocks, on the vexed question of ’embedded carbon’ and he told me he’d had to come up with some figures for a local authority. Boiling it down to the household level, he suggested that each socket contains about 10kg of embedded carbon (materials, manufacturing, packaging, shipping etc) and three would typically save 198kg per annum.

By that reckoning, the carbon calculation is a no brainer, far more appealing than the financial one. But you do gain a high degree of control over your company’s energy use. And that’s no bad thing in these times of rocketing utility bills. A not insignificant side effect is that staff will be more comfortable working for a company that evidently cares about the environment. (Source: Freeform Dynamics research.)

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David Tebbutt is an award-winning columnist and feature writer who specialises on the subject of using software and technology to increase business productivity. He's an analyst with Freeform Dynamics but, in previous lives, wrote for Director magazine, Real Business and was also editor of Personal Computer World. http://freeformdynamics.com

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