Oxygen House is a special building and business, but no matter how much we do we always know that we could be doing more. We recognise that making small changes can make a real, tangible difference. Regardless of time, budget and headcount, all businesses can reduce their energy usage, and it doesn’t stop the moment you leave the office at the end of the day.
Oxygen House is an innovative building spanning c.5000 sq. metres. When it was built in 2011, sustainability and reducing our carbon footprint were front of mind. Oxygen House achieved a BREEAM Excellent certification at its opening in 2012 and is an EPC B rated building which benefits from both roof and ground mounted solar photovoltaic (PV) panels. Some of the windows automatically open when the building is too hot, and close when it’s cool. We collect rainwater and store it in tanks beneath our car park so it can be used to flush our toilets, and we grow vegetables and herbs on site to accompany our staff lunches. Electric vehicle charging points are installed for staff to use and green travel incentives are in place to encourage walking, running, cycling, public transport to reduce energy waste and air pollution.
Being sustainable and creating an ecological balance shouldn’t just refer to plastic usage or food wastage, it also means taking measurable, informed steps to reducing your energy usage. At Oxygen House, we are fortunate enough to have several sustainable features in place to help us reduce our energy usage such as solar panels, air source heat pumps and an energy dashboard to help monitor energy use and improve efficiency. But you needn’t spend a fortune to make a valuable impact on the environment and the way you use energy.
Don’t let your energy go out the window
In July 2019, we undertook a trial to measure the effect that turning off the building’s air conditioning could have on our energy usage. We used 2016 as a baseline to compare our findings, as the average temperature that year was moderate in comparison to the hot summers we experienced in the following years, and which seem to be increasing year on year. For one week prior to the trial we recorded our energy usage as normal, and again the week following the two-week trial to compare not only year on year, but a more detailed comparison of week on week. We were delighted at the end of the trial to learn that our energy consumption fell by c.25% when compared to the same period in 2016. We even had a handful of staff who asked if we could leave the air conditioning off following the trial, as they preferred having the fresh air from the open windows, which we were happy to oblige with!
Something as simple as reducing the amount of time air conditioning is on and encouraging staff to open a window had a noticeable effect on our energy consumption.
We have been working closely with City Science to create an energy dashboard (EEI platform) which allows us to see where energy is being used in the building. Lighting, power for computers and technology, catering appliances, heating and hot water are all visible and measurable on a visual platform. We can even track when and where energy is being used and make informed decisions on how we can reduce or improve our energy usage within the building.
The EEI dashboard clearly shows a reduction in energy usage at the weekends which peaks again during the week. If we drill down into this we can see exactly what time of day energy usage kicks in and where, and therefore identify anomalies. We can then take action to reduce energy consumption further.
A quick win for any business is to switch their energy supplier to a green supplier who only uses 100% renewable energy to power businesses and homes. At Oxygen House our own solar panels supply our building, with additional power needs sourced direct from a green energy supplier. This means the energy we use comes from renewable sources and reduces our carbon footprint. Saving energy is really important to us but so is the effect energy usage has on the environment. Using a green supplier and being conscious of the energy you are using goes a long way in helping the environment now and in the future.
Quick wins any businesses can make, no matter how big or small, include reducing the temperature in your building and even a 1-degree reduction in temperature can save heating bills by as much as 10%*. As well as reducing the temperature, ask yourself if you really need the heating or air conditioning on. At Oxygen House we identified a small but important challenge. Staff at one end of the building were opening windows because they were too hot, and those at the other end of the building were asking us to increase the heating because they were cold. Communication is key. If you aren’t asking staff whether they are hot/cold, or if you don’t let them know you have the air conditioning on, then you’re going to be wasting energy by literally throwing it out the window! Use a staff newsletter or noticeboard to inform staff that energy usage is important and who knows maybe it’ll also make them think twice when reaching for the thermostat at home.
Try these tips:
- Set your heating and air conditioning to only come on at peak times, and check it’s turned off overnight and at weekends.
- Minimise energy costs by ensuring that all equipment, including computers, monitors and lights are turned off when not in use. Most of us leave them on standby which might seem insignificant, but it soon adds up – a computer on standby with a screensaver could cost as much as £45 a year**.
- Install movement sensors on your lighting in meeting rooms and communal areas so energy isn’t wasted when no one is about. If you can’t do this why not encourage staff to switch off lights by labelling the switches to indicate which area of the office they light and ask security to check all the lights are switched off once the building is empty.
- Ensure your light bulbs are energy efficient. LEDs are more efficient than halogen as they convert more energy into light instead of heat, meaning less energy is wasted. At Oxygen House we have been working to change over our fluorescent lamps to LEDs. It can take time to make the switch but it’s worth it when you see the reduction on energy waste and cost.
- Check your air conditioning vents or heaters are not blocked by office furniture, boxes or winter coats. Your staff might want to dry out their coat, but blocking the heater means all you’ll be warming up is a jacket and not your shivering staff!
- Maintain your air conditioning and heating to ensure they are working at optimum performance.
- Open the blinds and utilise the natural light instead of your lighting.
Reducing your energy usage needn’t be difficult and there are lots of small steps that can make a big difference on your energy usage in the office and at home.
Exeter is committed to reducing air pollution, congestion, food and textile waste, but energy waste is just as important and manageable…so why not give it a go?
Ovo Energy, https://www.ovoenergy.com/guides/energy-guides/how-to-reduce-your-energy-bills.html
**Optimal Monitoring, https://optimalmonitoring.com/turning-equipment-off-to-reduce-energy-cost/