Energy and water

Reducing energy and water use is a great place to start your environmental action. Energy is the largest source of damaging emissions. And because saving energy means saving money, making the business case is easy.

Energy use is key to the climate crisis. It is by far the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions around the world. To avoid the worst impacts of climate change, we need to cut emissions in half by 2030. Which means dramatically reducing energy consumption and an end to burning fossil fuels in favour of renewable sources.

Saving energy will not only cut your emissions, but it will reduce your bills too. Which means reviewing and refining your energy use can be the perfect place to start your environmental action. Especially if your organisation is not very green minded yet – the business case to reduce energy use is easy.

Another quick and easy first step to greening your ELT centre is switching to a green energy supplier. Look for a company that provides 100% renewable energy and invests in renewable energy sources to make a real difference as a consumer.

There are also some less obvious ways to reduce our indirect energy consumption, like avoiding plastic and aluminium, and reducing your water use. You can also end your financial support for fossil fuels by reviewing your banking and pension schemes.

What can we do?

Switch to green energy suppliers
Measure energy use so you can see and celebrate reductions
Pull the plug on energy vampires
Insulate and block drafts
Choose power efficient screens and equipment
Generate your own energy
Cut our plastic and aluminium
Reduce water consumption
✓ Share your energy saving actions, tips, targets and reductions to help raise awareness and encourage others to take action too.

Switch to a renewable power provider (that is investing in renewables too)

Burning fossil fuels is by far the largest contributor to global climate change. Three quarters of global greenhouse gas emissions are caused by creating energy for heating, electricity, transport and industry. So an impactful and easy step is to switch to a green energy supplier.

But beware misleading information and look for a supplier that is going further by investing in renewable energy sources.

There is a lot of misleading information and exaggeration around how much green tariffs reduce your emissions. And the laws around green tariffs and the Renewable Obligation Certificate (ROC) can mean they have little impact, doing little to increase the amount of renewable energy in the system.

However there are some energy suppliers that are also investing in building renewable energy sources. In the UK, Ecotricity and Good Energy are good options. Octopus Energy also build some solar farms.

Take action

✓ Switch to a renewable energy provider

✓ Choose a provider that offers 100% renewable energy (not a mixture)

✓ Even better, choose a provider that is investing in building new renewable energy sources

Note: environmental impact is not the only ethical concern when choosing your energy provider. Iberdrola (who own Scottish Power) have worked on several hydroelectric projects that have damaged ecosystems and displaced local communities, British Gas and Shell of excessive payment of directors and tax avoidance as well as displacement and violation of local communities, and E.ON and Npower of working with oppressive regimes, for example.

Audit your buildings and measure your progress

An audit is a careful review to identify all the ways you can cut your energy consumption. Take a walk through your organisation looking for anything that’s using energy – a sleeping computer, lights, glowing welcome screens, a draughty window? And think about steps you can take to reduce that consumption.

Then take a look at your bills for the last year, note your energy use and how many students you had that year. This will be your baseline data – the starting point you compare against in year. You can even break it down and compare against the same quarter last year.

Measuring energy and water use is easy because it’s on our bills and a great chance to celebrate your progress – “we used 10% less energy this May in comparison to last May!”

Remember – measure your energy consumption against student numbers to ensure it is comparable year on year. Find out more about measuring your environmental impact.

Take action

✓ Involve everyone in your initial audit to make sure nothing is missed and to raise awareness of your campaign to lower energy use
✓ Check what types of light bulbs you use
✓ Are screens or machines purring in empty rooms?
✓ How are old are your computers and screens?
✓ Are you heating until it’s too warm for a jumper indoors?
✓ Check for draughts and insulation (especially in older buildings)

Pull the plug on energy vampires

The easiest and most accessible way to cut your emissions (and energy bills) is to turn things off – and unplug them too.

If turning off devices and lights, and cutting water use, can save a household around £200 a year. So it will be significantly higher for businesses with classrooms and offices full of computers.

Screens, microwaves, printers and chargers still draw energy in standby mode, when your phone isn’t charging and your printer isn’t printing. Try to build a habit of unplugging devices you aren’t using, or unplugging things at the end of the working day.

This will save energy, cut your bills and protect devices from unexpected power surges and other faults. Taking care of devices is especially important as the vast majority of emissions come from manufacturing electronic devices.

Take action

✓ Turn the lights off when you leave a room
✓ Turn computers off when they aren’t going to be used for an hour or more
✓ Unplug chargers, printers, scanners and shredders when out of use
✓ Unplug computers at the end of the day
✓ Turn heating and cooling down or off
✓ Remind people in person and with signs
✓ Install automatic power-saving systems for larger premises
✓ Turn fridges off if you’re closing for a week or more
✓ Use power-saving settings on devices

Insulate and block drafts

Insulation prevents heat loss, saving you money while you reduce the energy needed to heat your buildings.

While there is an initial cost, insulation is one of the most cost-effective steps you can take to reduce your emissions. Once installed, insulation can cut gas bills by a fifth.

If you can’t build insulation into your building, you can still reduce energy use with draft excluders and other DIY measures. Be careful not to lose heat through open doors and windows elsewhere in the building.

Take action

✓ Check for financial support from local authorities
✓ Insulate walls, lofts and building cavities
✓ Double glaze your windows
✓ Excluding draughts from doors and windows
✓ Keep the door closed to heated rooms, don’t let the warmth escape!

Choose low energy equipment

When you buy new appliances and devices, choose the most energy efficient options to reduce energy use.

Replace tube lights with LED lighting is a great way to save energy and can make a more pleasant working environment for staff. 18% of household energy use comes from lighting and LED lights can be up to 90% more efficient that traditional bulbs.

See our full guide for more on reducing your digital carbon footprint.

Take action

✓ Switch to LEDs and compact fluorescent lights (CFLs)
✓ Look for A++ or A+++ efficiency labels
✓ Close doors so you don’t heat rooms unnecessarily
✓ Don’t boil more water than you need
✓ Use energy saving settings on computers

Generate your own energy

Generating electricity is a big investment and takes time to pay off. However, if it is an option for you, installing solar panels or other renewable energy sources are a great way to reduce your environmental impact.

Plus it will dramatically reduce, or even end, your energy bills.

As well as solar panels, there are also other technologies to explore. Heat pumps which transfer heat between indoors and outdoors to regulate temperatures in your buildings.

Take action

✓ Install solar panels
✓ Install a heat pump
✓ Look for grants and government support
✓ Consider the long-term savings
✓ Explore fundraising to finance the investment

Cut out plastic and aluminium

In addition to reducing direct energy use, you can also reduce indirect energy use.

There are certain materials and products require a lot of energy to produce. Aluminium, for example, takes huge amounts of power to process (partly due to its 2000 degree melting point!).

A lot of plastic and aluminium is fairly easy to cut out by buying a few high quality reusable bags and boxes for the kitchen and shopping.

The silicon used in electronics is one of the most energy intensive materials to make – another reason to refuse the pressure for new phones, laptop and tablets every year. You can also look for refurbished options instead of new.

See our full guide for more on reducing your digital carbon footprint

Take action

✓ Use storage boxes, not aluminium foil
✓ Avoid espresso machines that use aluminium capsules
✓ Use a reusable shopping bag
✓ Choose food and products with no or little plastic packaging

Reduce water consumption

Energy is needed to treat, heat and pump water. Using less water means taking less from rivers, lakes and reservoirs where it supports a huge range of wildlife. It also means burning less fuel and therefore releasing fewer harmful emissions.

Reduce energy use by reducing water consumption.

Country Cousins, a language school in England, uses two large tanks to collect rain water. This water is used to flush all the school’s toilets.

Take action

✓ Turn of the tap (e.g. when brushing your teeth or soaping your hands)
✓ Add an aerator to your taps (they’re cheap and even free from local authorities)
✓ Reduce the water used in each toilet flush (e.g. add a rock to displace the cistern)
✓ Explain dual-flush toilets
✓ Check for leaks, even a drips adds up!
✓ Capture rain water for plants and toilets
✓ Fill the dishwasher and washing machine
✓ If you have gardens or grounds, select plants appropriate for your climate

Get gadgets to better understand your energy consumption

It can be hard to feel motivated to reduce energy, especially because you can’t see how much energy is used by each device.

If you want more immediate feedback than your monthly bills, try installing measurement tools and apps that will make your consumption more visible. 

Take action

✓ Install a smart meter
✓ Track a few energy hungry devices with smart plugs
✓ Get an energy usage monitor to see which devices are the most power hungry
✓ Add an Amphiro device to showers to monitor water and energy use