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Energy-saving tips for SMEs

If the average UK household can save £80 just by turning off devices when they’re not in use, imagine what a business could save by doing the same. What other changes can you make to save more, and what should you keep a close eye on in your office?

“The biggest energy drain on a modern office is typically air conditioning, which is closely followed by heating,” says Jonathan Elliott, CEO of Make It Cheaper, a business energy broker. This should perhaps come as no surprise to SME owners; it’s also something that can cause much hullabaloo among employees, with a common gripe being office temperature.

But staff behaviour is far from trivial when it comes to saving energy, and complacency is one of the biggest invisible drains on office energy use. “We recommend that business owners looking to reduce their energy bills should begin by addressing the issue with their staff,” says Elliott. “Staff involvement in reducing energy consumption can help cement the ethic within your company’s daily practices.

“A common example of staff complacency is leaving computers and monitors on standby at the end of the day.” Referred to as ‘vampire appliances’ in the industry, Elliott says a typical monitor left on standby can still draw as much as 12 watts – which can turn into quite a lofty overall figure when multiplied by the total number of computers in the office. The message is clear: educate your staff.

Similarly, lighting is a key element that contributes heavily to energy bills – up to 50% in some industries, according to Elliott – and has a large human-induced usage: “If you haven’t already, we strongly recommend switching to energy-efficient lights,” he says. “Not only do they rely on less wattage, meaning you pay less to light your premises, but in some cases they can last up to 10 times longer.” In terms of overall usage, automatic (motion-sensor) lighting is one way to prevent your staff from wasting electricity, especially overnight.

Face the facts

Laura Timlin, associate director of the Carbon Trust, says: “For companies starting out on their energy-efficiency journey, we would encourage them as a first step to collect and analyse data from their energy bills to understand how energy is used within their business and the costs associated with its use.

“Armed with this information, companies can then identify opportunities for reduction. Savings of up to 20% can easily be achieved [by newcomers to energy saving] through improvements to processes and implementation of more efficient technologies.”

Invest and install

Indeed, as Timlin suggests, one of the simplest ways to save money is to invest in newer and typically more energy-efficient technology. The long-term benefits will outweigh the short-term pain in purchasing the goods, but that can be daunting for an SME, where margins can be thinner and such purchases a little more risky.

Look for the Energy Star rating on all your electrical appliances; it’s the industry-recognised standard to determine how efficient a product is.

“Savings of up to 20% can easily be achieved through improvements to processes and implementation of more efficient technologies” – Laura Timlin, associate director, the Carbon Trust.

Thinking outside the box – and outside the office – solar panels can be a lucrative installation. “Solar panels have become popular among business owners,” says Elliott, “not just as a way to reduce the amount of energy that they need to draw from the grid, but also as [an] opportunity to sell any excess energy that they may generate back to the grid, provided they’re on a Feed-in Tariff.

“Another option for businesses looking to use green energy sources is to install battery storage. This allows them to store any additional energy that they generate and draw upon it when demand is particularly high.”

Switch and save?

You’ve sat down with your staff, given them the PowerPoint on what they need to do to chip in and help increase company margins, and invested in new lighting and appliances; so what’s left? The dreaded changing of your energy provider and researching the myriad of opportunities available. Just as Brits traditionally struggle to, quite frankly, bother changing their main bank (the current account switch service has dramatically helped this over the last three years), so we seldom find the time or effort to change energy suppliers. SME owners tend to be a bit better with such matters but there’s still room for improvement.

And even once the change has been made, it’s imperative to keep on top of your bills. Just because you’ve changed habits and provider, that doesn’t mean you can rest easy. Heed the Carbon Trust’s advice and keep a close eye on your electric expenditure – and change again if necessary.

“The most efficient way for a business owner to reduce the amount that they’re spending on business energy is to switch suppliers,” says Elliott. “However, doing so can involve the lengthy task of obtaining individual quotes from each available supplier and informing all parties of the switch – something which many business owners simply cannot dedicate adequate amounts of time to.” Time-poor businesses can approach intermediaries such as Make It Cheaper for assistance in changing providers.


Want to improve your company’s energy efficiency and lower expenditure? Sort out the simpler things like lighting and employee habits first; then work out what other action is needed. And always take regular meter readings.

Here are the Carbon Trust’s four fast tips for your first foray into reducing your costs and carbon footprint:

  • implement a monthly monitoring process and track performance
  • switch off equipment when it’s not in use
  • engage employees in energy saving
  • review out-of-hours and weekend energy consumption