Business management

Going green pays off

Improve your company’s green credentials by investing in renewable energy technology, financial incentives and software to encourage employee behaviour change.

Eight out of 10 small businesses in the UK have ambitions to be more sustainable, yet seven out of 10 are failing to turn this into reality. This was the conclusion of a survey of SMEs by advertising firm 18 Feet & Rising, the results of which were published at the start of the year.

One of the main reasons for this failure, according to the report, is that SMEs believe they lack the necessary resources, particularly compared with their larger counterparts. As a result, many SME owners focus the time and money they do have on other efforts that help grow their business and client or customer base.

Yet going green doesn’t have to cost the earth. A combination of investing in renewable technology, awareness of financial incentive schemes, and adopting software to encourage employee behaviour change can make all the difference.

Take advantage of financial support

In 2016, YouGov and Scottish Power questioned 1,000 SMEs on their energy savings. The survey showed 60% didn’t regard energy efficiency as a priority and only 10% carry out an energy audit every year.

“Most people know that renewable energy is better for our environment, but there’s still a perception that switching is a chore. This is misguided – many renewable technologies are easy to install and cause minimal disruption,” says Marcus Franck, co-founder of Smart Renewable Heat, which is working to accelerate the switch to a renewable energy-powered future.

Whether it’s ground-source or air-source heat pumps, biomass boilers, or solar thermal panels, there’s financial support available to help businesses afford the switch and offset upfront costs.

Tariff-incentivised technology

“Businesses should be looking first and foremost at the non-domestic Renewable Heat Incentive scheme. It pays tariffs – the amount depends on the technology installed – over the course of 20 years, provided maintenance and fuel regulations are complied with, and the property is kept up to scratch in terms of energy efficiency,” says Franck.

Another scheme businesses should bear in mind is the feed-in tariff (FIT). This scheme pays businesses for creating their own clean electricity via a generation tariff – extra payments are awarded when more energy is generated than being used. Although the scheme is ending in April 2019, any new applicants up to that point will continue to receive payments for 20 years from the date the technology was installed.

Most people know that renewable energy is better for our environment, but there’s still a perception that switching is a chore. This is misguided – many renewable technologies are easy to install

Marcus Franck, co-founder, Smart Renewable Heat
“FIT is a well-established but volatile scheme. Yet, arguably, it has facilitated a significant growth in solar photovoltaic technology in recent years and helped promote anaerobic digestion, micro-hydro, wind power and co-generation,” says Franck.

Work smarter with the National Grid

The more businesses that make the switch to renewable energy technology, the more the National Grid is able to manage the power system. In theory, if the Grid can keep the system stable, then costs will be kept down and this will result in lower energy bills.

For businesses that have the flexibility to increase, decrease, or shift electricity use within a response time of four hours, the Grid runs the Power Responsive scheme, which buys balancing services from them in order to reduce pressure on the Grid. At its annual Power Responsive conference in June, the Grid suggested it was set to meet its 2020 target of procuring 30% to 50% of balancing services from demand-response providers two years early.

Consider quick improvements

As well as investing in renewable energy technology, there are smaller, incremental changes SMEs can make around a workplace that are likely to have an impact on the bottom line, such as replacing incandescent bulbs with LED alternatives.

Another smart move business owners can make is buying portable dehumidifiers to help prevent mould, improve air quality and reduce the chance of air-conditioning units malfunctioning. A moisture-heavy workplace, with units that struggle to function, leads to higher energy bills.

Innovate existing processes

While SMEs can introduce new technologies in order to reduce their carbon footprint, it’s important that business owners think about how innovation could improve existing processes, according to Jess Tonking, marketing manager and personal trainer at sportswear company Sundried, based in Southend-on-Sea, Essex.

“As an ethical brand, it’s important that we don’t sit back and let awful processes slip into our business and issues go unaddressed,” she says.

Sundried is committed to low carbon production. The company is audited by energy and environmental consultancy GEP Environmental, whose engineers work with the company to ensure there’s continual improvement of sustainability credentials, coupled with a reduction in energy and resource use. Sundried is also committed to using the latest fashion technology – it has a range of clothing made entirely from 100% recycled coffee grounds – the material doesn’t require high-temperature treatment like other fabrics do.

All the company’s clothing is manufactured in factories in Italy and Portugal, where employees are encouraged to consider how they use and maintain equipment and machinery. The UK production manager regularly makes trips to the sites to ensure quality standards are being upheld, says Tonking.

Track performance indicators

Even though an SME can ask employees to change their behaviour to reduce the company’s carbon footprint, it’s sometimes hard to know what needs improving, especially if it’s not being measured and it’s not known how much certain areas of the business contribute to the overall footprint.

In these instances, SMEs can integrate environmental, health and safety software solutions, such as Qualsys, into their operations. These platforms have dashboards that can track key performance indicators, allowing business owners to create actionable insights, which can be used to encourage behaviour change.

Optimise with software

For some businesses, aspects of the production process are so complex that encouraging behaviour change might not have the desired impact, says Daniel Lloyd, who runs north London-based framing company, Frame Factory, which makes frames to order from virgin materials.

“One of our main expenses is sheets of glass. To prevent waste, it’s important we get the most out of each sheet. While it’s very easy to ask staff to be as efficient as possible when cutting the material, this is actually a very complicated thing to do,” Lloyd adds.

In order to optimise the process and improve the outcome, Frame Factory recently looked into how technology could help, eventually deciding to invest in cutting software Optimalon Software.

“I was concerned the price would be too high and it would be technically demanding to implement. In fact, for a modest monthly fee, we’ve reduced the amount of glass wasted dramatically,” says Lloyd.

Rather than hoping a colleague will do their best to minimise waste, the software allows Lloyd to create a printout, which he can take to the colleague and show them exactly how to cut the glass to achieve the highest utilisation rate.

“Before the software, we were averaging a utilisation rate of around 65%, but since implementing it we’ve uses in excess of 90% of each sheet. It’s paid for itself already, and saves us hundreds of pounds every month.”

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