This is an excerpt from “Your Guide to Going Green”, the latest resource from our Value Natural Resource framework area.

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You can’t manage what you don’t measure

The first step is knowing how much energy (electricity and gas) your business is using, and the more data you have, the more accurate your baseline will be. If you have smart meters installed, this data will already be collected and stored, and it’s no problem if you don’t. You can read and record your analogue meter at the end of service every day or week, or use the readings from your monthly energy bills.

Smart meters need not be an expensive investment: your energy provider can help you have smart meters installed at your business, and will set you up with online energy monitoring software as part of your contract.

Tracking this data will help you understand the peaks and troughs of your energy usage, and comparing this to your sales data can help you calculate your energy cost per cover. This makes your energy bill more tangible, and can help demonstrate a reduction in energy usage even when your business is growing.

Setting a baseline shows you how impactful your energy saving initiatives are, letting you communicate your successes back to your team (and financial manager).

Once you understand your usage, setting reduction targets is the best way to drive change. There is no exact science to choosing a target. 10%, 15% or 20% are all fair places to start, but choosing a completion date and reviewing your progress as often as possible is essential.

Reducing your energy usage can have a huge impact on your bottom line as well as carbon emissions, and switching to a deep green tariff can help you go much further, faster.

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“Since opening we’ve generated energy to heat water and purchased renewable energy from Ecotricity. Our team are shown how the system works. It helps them understand how important reduction is, whether it’s heating water or turning off grills when they’re not in use. When it boils down to it, our green tariff is less expensive than a regular energy tariff”

Tim Bouget - Café ODE

Does it matter which green supplier you choose?

There are a couple of things to think about.

Firstly, it’s useful to remember that some sources of renewable energy are cleaner than others. Renewable energy comes from a range of sources, including: solar power, onshore and offshore windfarms, anaerobic digesters and biomass burners. No energy source is zero-carbon, because emissions will be released during the construction of solar and wind farms and other plants, and greenhouse gasses are released when burning biomass. However, wind energy generates zero carbon energy – and it only takes six months to pay back the carbon used in its construction.

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When calculating the carbon footprint of different energy sources, we talk about CO2 equivalent (eq) because it takes into account other greenhouse gasses released too.

To put it in perspective, electricity from burning coal has an extremely large life-cycle carbon footprint, much of which comes from the operational phase. This means that over the course of its lifetime, a coal power plant will release the equivalent of 820g of CO2 eq for every kWh of electricity produced. This includes building and running the plant, but most of the emissions are released when burning the coal. Luckily we don’t burn much coal in the UK anymore; the UK National Grid is predominantly powered by natural gas, which releases comparatively fewer emissions. Similarly to coal, most of the emissions from natural gas are released when the gas is burned. Conversely, for solar and wind plants, almost all of the emissions are released during the construction phase, and operational emissions are extremely low or negligible. You can see the live-makeup of the UK National Grid at any time online at Grid Watch.

The proportion of renewable energy in the grid is growing year on year, now accounting for 29% of all electricity. As you can see in the table, the carbon emissions from renewable energy production are considerably lower than from coal or gas; in some cases by a factor of 10 or 20 times.

However the figures can be misleading when compared to the reality. For example high density (wood-chip) biomass can have a very low emissions rate if the feedstock (the wood chips) are sourced locally to the plant. In reality, about two thirds of the UK’s wood-chip biomass is imported from North America, driving up the lifetime carbon footprint. Compare this to the emissions for low-density elephant grass (Miscanthus). Elephant grass is very fast growing and is widely cultivated in the UK, removing the need for long distance transportation. Carbon released when burning elephant grass is recaptured
much faster.

Overall, choosing a deep green tariff over a brown tariff is, one of the single biggest things you can do to cut your carbon footprint.