By Isabel Duckworth, Monitor My Workspace (www.monitormyworkspace.com)

Businesses of all sizes are now having to think about what they can do to reduce their energy use which in turn means saving money and doing their bit for the environment.

Being carbon neutral means removing as much carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as we put in. Every time we travel or turn on our computers, we add greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. This is because most of the energy we use comes from fuels like oil, coal, and gas. Other types of energy, like solar and wind power, do not contribute to climate change but they are often more expensive.

Office equipment currently accounts for 15 per cent of energy consumption in the UK. It’s an alarming figure – but hardly surprising, given that even the smallest office is full of electrical equipment such as computers, printers, lighting, heating, and hot water.

An increasing number of companies are looking into ways of reducing their carbon footprint and demanding greater control over their energy usage. Many bigger businesses are targeted by the Carbon Reduction Commitment (CRC), meaning they have to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions. Smaller businesses want to do their bit to make sure they’re not wasting energy and money, but are also beginning to feel the pressure from staff and from clients who want to ensure they only deal with sustainable companies. Either way, saving energy – as well as money, and the environment – has become a priority for modern businesses.

So how can we remove carbon dioxide from our businesses?

Businesses can make a good start by ensuring equipment is switched off and only printing when necessary. But make sure your staff don’t think leaving their monitors on standby is the same as switching them off. The Carbon Trust has estimated office equipment is responsible for 15 per cent of total energy consumption in the UK – but 60 per cent of this is being used by equipment and appliances left on standby, or switched on when they are not in use.

Energy monitoring systems are a good way to get started on the way to becoming carbon neutral. They will measure the amount of carbon (as well as the energy and cost) that equipment is releasing. You can then identify which pieces are wasting energy in being left on or perhaps are just not very efficient. Monitors will give you a report of your energy use, but it is what you do with the collected data that will ultimately lead to savings. Equipment can be accessed remotely and even programmed to come on and off at certain times, ensuring the water and heating for instance is only on when you need it.

Everyday actions like driving a car, flying and even using your computer consume energy and produce greenhouse gas emissions which contribute to climate change. You can compensate for your unavoidable emissions by paying someone to make an equivalent greenhouse gas saving, known as Carbon Offsetting.

Offsetting won’t reverse the effects already caused by greenhouse gases but by saving an equivalent amount of greenhouse gas elsewhere you can help to minimise current global emissions.

After calculating your emissions you can then buy the equivalent amount in ‘credits’ from emission reduction projects that have made a greenhouse gas saving. Renewable energy and energy efficiency projects such as wind farms, hydroelectric dams or solar energy can be good projects to support. They can have immediate benefits to the environment as well as making renewable energy more affordable, and reducing future greenhouse gas emissions to make up for our daily travel and electricity use.

When purchasing offsets, you should look out for the various international standards (VCS, VER+, Gold Standard, CDM CER) to ensure that they receive recognised and reputable credits. CERs are verified by the UN and meet the requirements of the Kyoto Protocol. To help guide you on the quality of offsetting schemes, the government is developing a code of best practice for companies which sell offsets.

You may also look at becoming ISO14001 compliant. The ISO 14001 aims to reduce the environmental carbon footprints that many businesses leave behind today because of not taking the right steps to be environmental sustainable. This standard promotes the decrease in the waste of necessary business resources and also reduces the pollution that can sometimes be a by-product of a business. It can be a lengthy and expensive process, but is very worthwhile and your clients may look favorably on it.

Alternatively for a small business have a look at the BS 8555 scheme which has been designed with small to medium-sized businesses specifically in mind. It breaks down the process of gaining ISO 14001 into six clear steps. Providing an SME with a phased approach to implementing an Environmental Management System and gives them better control over the process. BS 8555 details six clear phases and provides an organization with clear milestones by which they can demonstrate their achievements to their customers both internally and externally.

Top Tips

• Monitor your electricity — and configure energy saving monitors using time switches. Choose energy efficient equipment when you buy new items – new refrigerators, for example, use 40 per cent less energy than models made just 10 years ago

• Encourage your staff to walk, cycle, car share or use public transport to get to work.

• Switch off lights in empty rooms and corridors. This can save up to 15% on your energy bill

• Recycle — paper, cardboard, tins, plastic and glass will help reduce the greenhouse gas emissions associated with landfills

• Fit energy saving light bulbs and make sure you clean them yearly. Dirt reduces lighting efficiency, encouraging people to switch more lights on.

• Set the thermostat at 19 degrees C — costs rise by 8% for every 1 degrees C increase. Make sure thermostats are placed out of draughts and away from hot or cold spots.

• Reduce heating during holidays and weekends and don’t heat unused space. Storerooms, corridors and areas where there’s heavy physical work can be set to lower temperatures.

• Install a water softener — most of the UK and Europe suffer from hard water, causing pipes, heating elements and appliance to become clogged with limescale and use much more energy than they should.

• Use an energy saving kettle and only boil the amount of water you need each time.

• Fit water saving device in your cistern to save when flushing, this can save you 3 litres a flush.