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OPINION - How do I cut energy costs and go green?

Michelle Michelon and her co-founder Anita Papai outside Hackney Cowlick Collective in Hackney Wick (Hackney Cowlick Collective)
Michelle Michelon and her co-founder Anita Papai outside Hackney Cowlick Collective in Hackney Wick (Hackney Cowlick Collective)

London’s small business owners have faced a series of challenges: Brexit, skills and labour shortages, soaring inflation, a global pandemic… but rising energy costs are proving to be the final straw for many, pushing thousands of businesses to breaking point.

My team regularly speaks with hundreds of small business owners and it’s clear that many are seeking ways to cut costs. Interestingly, many of them are also prioritising sustainability to meet customer expectations.

Last week, we met Michelle Michelon, co-founder of Hackney Cowlick Collective, an eco-conscious group of stylists on a mission to reach net zero. They already recycle their hair, metal, foils, and colour waste.

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For Michelle and her co-founder Anita Papai, sustainability is at the heart of everything they do. But for other small business owners, transitioning to more sustainable activities can be a daunting task, not least because of the perceived costs and time needed to get started.

It’s a perfect storm: small businesses looking to save money on their energy bills and make a positive impact on the environment at the same time.

I caught up with Gemma George, Environmental Sustainability Business Support Manager for Green Business Action (which provides London's small and medium-sized businesses free sustainability support funded by the government in areas such as energy and supply chain emissions). We discussed some easy, inexpensive steps business owners can take to reduce their carbon footprint and energy costs. Here are Gemma’s top tips:

Get smart

Understanding your energy use is the first step to being able to reduce it. Energy suppliers will often install smart meters at no cost and this data will help you to understand when you’re using the most energy — and identify potential energy wasters. An Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) will also help you to understand more about the efficiency of your business premises. You can find the EPC for your property here.

Change your habits

Simple changes to habits can make a big difference in reducing energy use. Perform an “energy health check” of your premises. Turn off lights in empty rooms and make sure that external lights are off during the day. Computer monitors and appliances should be turned off when not in use. Moderate the use of heating and cooling appliances. Tackle some of these behaviours with an awareness campaign or provide an automatic solution where possible.

Tackle energy vampire devices

Sometimes called “energy vampires”, devices can consume energy even when they are powered down. PC monitors, tablets, hair styling equipment, microwaves, and TVs are some of the more common vampire devices used by small businesses. A green smart plug can be set to turn devices off automatically, or manually via an app on your phone. When turned off, smart plugs cut all power to whatever is plugged into it, so turning the smart plug off is as effective as unplugging the device from the outlet.

Reduce heat loss and gains

Windows lose significantly more heat than a wall. For shops or commercial premises with large windows, this can be a big problem. Where double-glazing isn’t possible, installing energy-saving solar window film can help insulate and keep your premises warmer in winter and cooler in summer. Films are transparent so there is no change in appearance.

Radiator reflector panels can also be easily installed behind radiators to prevent heat loss through walls. They are relatively inexpensive and easy to install.

Upgrade your lighting

Light-emitting diode (LED) lightbulbs use around 80 per cent less energy and give off less heat compared to traditional bulbs which means less energy wasted in lighting and cooling.

Optimise your building environment

With the use of thermostats, sensors, and timers you can regulate the temperature and lighting in each room based on occupancy levels. There are different sensors available including heat sensors, occupancy sensors, and timers which could save your business money on your energy bills.

Choose the right equipment

Investing in energy-efficient certified products will help you to save money and protect the planet. Food preparation businesses, for example, could see huge savings by looking for energy-efficient appliances with recognised certifications such as Energy Star. You can find more information on the appliance’s energy label.

Convert sunlight into electricity

Consider installing traditional solar panels or flexible solar panels. While this will incur some upfront costs, these will be outweighed by savings in the long term. Flexible solar panels could be particularly worthwhile for anyone running a business from their homes, as they are lightweight, versatile and foldable.

I hope these tips prove useful to readers. They can access more sustainability advice, programmes, and events here.

If readers would like to discuss this or any other small business challenge, they can book a free consultation with one of my team here, or send me an email at: danaw@growlondonlocal.london.

Dan Adair-Wright is Head of Business Support at Grow London Local