If you run a retail business, you’re probably spending too much on energy bills.
That may seem like a bit of an overgeneralisation; however, the following quote from the Carbon Trust highlights the issues facing many retail businesses:
"For a company with a five per cent profit margin over three years, a £500 a year saving from energy efficiency makes the same profit as £30,000 of extra sales."
This is just one example of why energy efficiency matters. It can make a massive difference to a typical retail business — especially at the moment, when times are uncertain and margins are tight.
And the impact of business energy bills is only going to get bigger. According to a recent CBI report, energy prices for medium-sized users are predicted to grow by almost 30 percent in the next five years.
More than just money
Remember, too, that there’s much more than just money at stake. The future of the planet depends on everyone using energy more efficiently. Furthermore, the public—your customers—are increasingly aware of green issues. Millions prefer to deal with companies that care about the environment. So, following this advice will be good for your brand as well as your bottom line.
Low cost and no-cost measures can make an immediate difference. The good news is that you don’t have to spend big before you can start saving. This guide is packed with practical advice on enhancing your retail business’s energy efficiency and reducing its carbon footprint.
There’s no need to do anything dramatic; just take simple, achievable steps that save energy, lower bills and increase profit margins. Many of the following tips cost nothing to implement, while the others that do require investment will quickly pay for themselves. Start by:
- Identifying the opportunities for improvement.
- Educating your staff and motivating them to reduce waste.
- Getting a clear picture of your overall energy efficiency performance.
Where are the main energy-saving opportunities for retail businesses?
Lighting, heating, ventilation, and air conditioning are the primary consumers of energy for most retail businesses. Those in the food and catering industries are also likely to be heavy users of refrigeration technologies. Let’s tackle each of these areas in turn.
Everyone in the retail sector knows that great lighting can make a store stand out. It helps to attract customers, keep them shopping for longer, and can contribute to purchases.
It should come as no surprise then that the Building Research Establishment found 43 percent of the electricity used in the retail sector is for lighting.
Display, theme, and mood lighting are small energy contributors. In contrast, some of the most significant sources of light energy come from:
- Utilitarian lighting used for cleaning
- Access and storage areas
- Security and safety lamps
- Car parking areas
Here are a few tips for using lighting more efficiently without compromising the design or practicality of your premises:Consider occupancy sensors
These devices automatically turn lights “on” when someone is in the room, and “off” after a period of vacancy. They could save your business up to 50 percent on lighting costs.
Add light sensors
Also known as photocells, these turn off artificial light when there’s sufficient daylight. This can provide more precise control than timers, allowing for the variations in daylight hours over the seasons. Especially useful for exterior lighting, sensors typically pay back their cost within a year.
Switch to low energy lighting
There’s no need to compromise on brightness and colour in your store. Compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) are a great alternative and can last eight times longer than conventional tungsten bulbs. Modern lighting is continually evolving, so it’s wise to watch out for new developments and try different solutions. Be creative and experimental. A mixture of low energy, tungsten, and halogen bulbs might look great and save money.
Modern high-frequency fluorescent light fittings are also easier on the eye. They are a significant improvement on the unpleasant flickering and humming of conventional fluorescent lighting. And they can be dimmed.
Keep lighting equipment and fixtures maintained
Keeping windows, skylights, and light fittings clean can make a significant difference in your energy costs. Light levels can fall by 30 percent or more over 2 to 3 years thanks to dust and grime. This kind of essential maintenance can reduce energy costs by up to 15 percent! What’s more, your store will be brighter, smarter, and more welcoming too.
Get expert advice from a lighting expert
Engage an energy efficiency consultant, talk to your lighting supplier or ask your provider (such as Yü Energy) for an energy audit. They may surprise you with solutions that make your store more attractive as well as saving you money. You’ll have smarter, brighter premises, lower bills and a greener business as a result.
Heating, ventilation and air conditioning
It's a well-known fact that customers are happier in comfortable temperatures. That's why, according to the Carbon Trust, heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) are typically responsible for up to 47 percent of energy use in non-domestic environments.
However, it is possible to keep costs and consumption down without compromising the comfort of your customers and staff. Implement the following tips, and you could reduce HVAC costs by a third!
Turn the heating down in winter
This may seem counter-intuitive, but people generally wear warm clothing inside during the darker months. As such, customers may end up feeling stifled, rather than welcomed, by your overheated interiors.
And savings are easily achievable, too. Turning the heating down by 1°C can cut fuel consumption by 8 percent. Turning it down by 2°C would save £140.00 on a £1,000 bill, according to Carbon Trust’s figures.
Your staff are most affected if premises are overheated. So, ask for their opinions and act on any feedback.
Time heating to match opening hours
Think about turning the heating off or down an hour before closing. You’ll save money, cut consumption, and people often won’t notice the difference.
Review timer settings frequently
Since it added a £100.00 timer to its existing heating system, an arts centre in Manchester is saving £4,363.00, according to the Department of Energy and Climate Change. It’s also emitting 17.6 tonnes of CO2e less each year.
You could make similar savings by reviewing your timer settings frequently, and making adjustments for any extra cold or hot days.
Close the doors
An open door can overwork heating in winter or air conditioning in summer. Solutions worth considering include installing revolving doors, automatic doors, or a draught lobby
Delivery doors and docking bays
Consider PVC curtains, fast-opening and closing motorised doors, or airlocks for when supplies are being delivered.
Position thermostats carefully
Is the thermostat that controls your heating or air conditioning in a cold or warm place? Move it to somewhere typical of your actual temperature, and you could make immediate savings.
Look out for signs that your temperature control isn’t working efficiently
Is the heating on when the building is empty? Are you running cooling and heating at the same time? Both are surprisingly common problems that are easily fixed.
Try new heating technologies
A compensator automatically adjusts the heating based on the weather. An optimum start controller learns how quickly the premises reach the desired temperature, and turns heating on at the right time (i.e. when your staff and customers arrive). Talk to a heating specialist, who will tell you about the latest technology, and recommend what works for you.
Choose natural ventilation over air conditioning
It’s tempting to overuse the AC when it’s available. But that attitude costs money and burns energy. Natural ventilation, in contrast, is free. Try opening windows on opposite sides of a room to create a natural airflow that costs nothing and adds zero to your carbon footprint.
More quick tips
- Keep your equipment maintained. A regularly serviced boiler can save 5% on annual energy bills. Regular cleaning of the ventilation system can increase its efficiency by up to 25%.
- Shut out direct sunlight in summer. Fitting blinds will stop your AC working overtime when the sun pours in.
- Insulate. You’ll save consistently over the years if the warmth and coolness you’re paying for isn’t disappearing through the roof or walls.
Even if you need continual refrigeration to keep food fresh, a few common-sense measures can save you money and conserve energy. What’s more, refrigeration in small shops often accounts for half of the electricity used, so a few tricks can go a long way.
Tips for keeping your refrigeration bills and carbon footprint under control:
Add curtains to chillers
Transparent strip curtains can help to keep warm air out of chillers and frozen food cabinets. This alone could cut your chill bill by 40 percent.
Don’t overfill fridges and freezers
Every extra item means that the equipment has to work harder, using more energy as a result. Avoiding overfilling can also reduce the likelihood of wasteful spillages.
Keep insulating covers and blinds in place
Failing to do so can increase the energy consumption of the store’s heating, as well as of the refrigeration unit itself.
Turn lights off when possible
Switch lighting for chiller and freezer cabinets off outside trading hours, and only use cold store lighting when strictly necessary. Remember that lights emit heat as well as using energy, so refrigeration has to work harder when they are on.
Keep chiller doors shut
Displaying energy awareness reminders can help to encourage your staff to do this.
Keep equipment maintained for optimum efficiency
Without regular maintenance, equipment will become increasingly inefficient. It will also more likely to malfunction or break down completely. Establishing a maintenance schedule can protect your business from the cost of losing stock, as well as promoting energy efficiency.
Defrost all refrigerators regularly
Make defrosting part of your regular maintenance schedule, and follow the equipment manufacturer’s recommendations to keep the energy consumption of your refrigeration equipment under control.
Check that door seals are working correctly
Faulty seals on fridges, chiller cabinets, freezers and cold stores let warmer air in, increasing consumption.
Keep condensers clean and dust-free
Clean, dust-free condensers help to keep the equipment performing at optimum efficiency.
Keep refrigerant topped up
This is another of those simple measure that can a difference out of all proportion to the effort involved, when it comes to maximising energy efficiency.
Don’t have refrigerators cooler than they need to be
If you safely have the temperature 1°C warmer, that can save between 2 and 4 percent on your energy bills.
Use thermometers to monitor temperatures
When the temperature is always visible, you will know immediately if it slips higher or lower than the recommended level.
The building fabric
Your building’s fabric can play a decisive role in how energy-efficient it is. An estimated two-thirds of the heat in a store can be lost through the walls, roofing, floors and windows.
Keeping the building in good repair means checking regularly for roof leaks and blocked gutters or damaged windows. This is an essential aspect of reducing energy bills, and will help to prevent draughts or damp conditions that cause people to turn the heating up.
What causes your building to lose heat?
- The temperature difference between inside and outside
- The insulating properties of the building
- The amount of outside air entering the building, whether it’s via controlled ventilation or through ill-fitting doors and windows
How improving the building fabric can help to save energy
Better temperature control
Maintaining your premises will help to keep both heating and cooling costs lower, resulting in less expenditure on energy and a lower carbon footprint.
Higher morale and productivity
People respond positively to a more comfortable and attractive working environment. Reducing draughts, minimising solar glare and preventing overheating can help to improve staff morale and enhance productivity, as well as keep energy consumption down.
Lower capital expenditure
Regular maintenance checks are inexpensive, compared to the high cost and inconvenience of emergency repairs or having to replace equipment.
If leaky gutters or downpipes or damaged roof tiles are causing damp, this can compromise the building’s insulating properties and therefore lead to increased energy consumption.
Finally, let’s tackle some of the common energy misconceptions. These are mistaken opinions that may be costing your business money by resulting in higher than necessary energy consumption.
"It's only one fan, switching it off won't make much difference."
It really will make a difference. Think about the knock-on effect. It isn’t just the power being used. It’s also the cooling effect, which will make the heating work harder.
"Leaving the air conditioning on all night will keep the temperature stable."
It may seem to make sense, but in fact the premises will be cooler at night anyway— so this is a wasteful and expensive way to achieve night cooling.
"Shops need to be brightly lit to attract customers."
They simply need to be beautifully lit, and this can be better achieved with subtle, atmospheric effects. Solutions that are more economical to run, such as spotlights, can also look better.
"Keeping the AC thermostat low cools the store more quickly."
Not true. In fact, it can be counterproductive. The temperature will get too low and may even activate the heating.
"Fluorescent lighting should be kept on all the time. It's starting them up that uses the power."
It’s a bit of an urban myth that fluorescent tubes use more energy starting up than running. In reality, starting up uses very little power, so it’s more efficient to switch them off whenever possible.
Six steps to saving energy
As you’ve hopefully read so far, there are many simple measures (either no cost or low cost) you can take to save on energy costs and lower your carbon footprint.
We can summarise them in six steps:
1. Identify opportunities
Walk around your premises with this guide in mind and make a list of every energy-saving opportunity you spot.
2. Talk to the specialists
Lighting, HVAC, and refrigeration experts will know about new energy-saving products and technologies.
3. Measure the savings you are making
They say “retail is detail” and that’s just as true when it comes to saving energy. Compare your original consumption figures with the new ones to see the difference.
4. Involve staff
You can’t achieve any of this without their active co-operation, so tell them what you have in mind and show them why it matters. Little things like putting “switch off” stickers on light switches, heaters, and other devices can make a real difference.
6. Keep it going
Create policies and action plans, rather than one-off initiatives. That way, people won’t slip back into old, wasteful habits.