Five top tips for improving energy efficiency on the road to net-zero

During an interactive webinar hosted by edie on Wednesday (20 November), experts from Direct Line Group (DLG) and BiU provided expert advice on how businesses of all sizes and sectors can improve energy efficiency in line with net-zero targets. Here, edie rounds up the key takeaways.

Five top tips for improving energy efficiency on the road to net-zero

The interactive webinar featured presentations and a live Q&A with three expert speakers

For some time, energy efficiency has been seen as one of the long-term ‘quick wins’ of sustainability strategies and target meeting – but it is often overlooked for more technological solutions which can be expensive, resource-intensive and difficult to put in place.

Indeed, energy managers have consistently cited improving efficiency and delivering ongoing behaviour change as one of their biggest opportunities in edie’s quarterly ‘Business Energy Barometer’ surveys.

With this in mind, the interactive webinar, which is now available on-demand, explored how to make energy efficiency a key part of any organisation’s sustainability strategy – and how action to improve energy management could unlock cost-effective ways to reach net-zero.


Hosted in association with BiU, the webinar featured advice from the company’s head of smart services Jason Thackeray and strategic account manager Dan Hubbard, alongside DLG’s compliance and CSR manager Shai Guness. Guness discussed Direct Line Group’s seven-year energy efficiency strategy – recently shortlisted for an edie Sustainability Leaders Award – and the various challenges the firm had in scaling up its programme.

Here, edie rounds up the speakers’ top tips for delivering cost-effective, engaging energy efficiency schemes which are compatible with the transition to net-zero emissions.

Get to grips with your data

BiU’s Thackeray begun the webinar by emphasising the importance of data, both in the benchmarking stage and as an ongoing tool.

He explained that half-hourly data can provide a “fantastic source of benchmarking” and then be built upon with both sub-metering to “get down to granular detail” and intelligent solutions such as Internet of Things (IoT) technologies.

“The more information you’ve got – without overloading yourself – the more opportunity is created for controlling buildings more effectively,” Thackeray said, noting that some service providers can prevent “data overload” by providing “filtering” services.

“If you reacted against every alarm trigger that went out in a buildings portfolio that went over the norm and the tolerance and the average profile, you’d be inundated,” Thackeray added. “What you need to do is apply some intelligence… and only act on those that are deemed to be waste.”

Don’t walk away from your building energy management systems

According to the Carbon Trust, energy use for buildings accounts for one-fifth of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions globally. On a business level, energy use for buildings can account for up to half of operational costs.

With these two concerns in mind, Thackeray noted, more and more of BiU’s clients are rightly investing in building energy management systems (BEMSs) – but challenges remain in getting end-user organisations to understand the importance of their continual optimisation.

“On the typical install, you’ll see an immediate 15-20% reduction in consumption; but unless the system is continually optimised, you’ll see that creep back up and the net benefits that we see reduce, sometimes, to more like the 5% figure,” he said.

“The reverse of that is in those buildings that are optimised after the BEMS is installed, we’ve seen savings up to the 30% mark.”

Ride the climate awareness wave

Since 2013, DLG has improved its energy efficiency by 25% and slashed GHG emissions by 46%. These are impressive results, which have been delivered through a combination of ‘easy wins’, technology investments and engagement with stakeholders ranging from staff to suppliers. But Guness was asked how DLG plans to “future-proof” this strategy and keep engagement high.

He emphasised the importance of maintaining an “open conversation” with all staff, from those in entry-level positions to those on the board, and piloting the projects they are most passionate about begore scaling up, noting that this has become simpler amid a new wave of climate activism. “Climate change is on the news daily, so pretty much everyone is focussed on that from the board-level down,” Guness said.

“Everyone has an interest in this and making sure that we’re making changes across the piece – not just energy, but looking at waste and various things people have a passion for – [is important].”

On his latter point, Guness noted that the introduction of energy and carbon strategies had been compounded by a string of other policies and procedures around topics such as office waste and renewable electricity procurement.

Don’t neglect easy wins…

In recent months, representatives of businesses including Marks & Spencer (M&S) have claimed they have done all they can to tackle “low-hanging fruit” such as energy-efficient lighting and manually adjusting appliances for occupancy.

But BiU’s Thackeray maintained that this is not the case for most, with 75% of his company’s clients yet to install LED or other low-energy lighting, despite continually falling costs and improving ROI. The picture is similar, he noted, with linking thermostat controls to BEMSs.

For organisations yet to begin their journey, these two moves are likely to be more rapid, more affordable and less disruptive than installing occupancy sensors, timers, insulation, better door entry systems or low-carbon heating, or setting strict specifications for new sites. However, they could well pave the way for boardroom buy-in for projects like these in the future.

But back them up with long-term projects that deliver triple-bottom-line benefits

When asked whether he believed that there is one new technology which could deliver impressive results for energy users, DLG’s Guness emphasised instead the importance of selecting solutions that best fit the individual site and the overarching strategy.

He explained that his method for gaining buy-in includes creating forecasts based on the claims of suppliers and results of similar programmes; testing new technologies before scaling up; prioritising areas of high energy wastage; providing clear and honest costings and, finally, continually checking ROI.

“With every business, you will have a such a range of products – but is it a realistic point to say you can go out next week and put projects in place across all buildings?,” Guness asked listeners, stating that most would probably not have the “resources and manpower” to do so.

“What you will be able to do is create a clear case study for each of your buildings [outlining] how you’re going to progress with that.”

Watch the webinar on-demand now.

edie’s Net-Zero November

This webinar forms part of edie’s Net-Zero November, a month of content and events to inform and inspire sustainability professionals to push towards net-zero. You can read all our Net-Zero November content here.

Additionally, if you have a net-zero carbon target, or a commitment to set one, that has recently been announced you can add it to our Mission Possible Pledge Wall here.

Sarah George

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