Green wing

Andy Watson was recently named Energy Manager of the Year, on account of his resource-saving work for BAA Heathrow. Tom Idle found out how he earned the title

Making my way through the busy traffic approaching the British Airport Authority’s (BAA) Heathrow HQ, I couldn’t help but wonder, what’s the point in having an energy manager at an airport? Heathrow, after all, is an environmental headache. There’s the noise pollution (set to get worse once Terminal 5 opens in 2008); there’s the problem of emissions to air (something many commentators argue could disrupt EU CO2 targets); and of course there’s planning and development (an area which is under close scrutiny, again, with T5 in mind). All of these add up to one big, fat problem which BAA

Heathrow must tackle head-on while continuing to operate as the world’s busiest airport.

And it’s not until you start thinking about the sheer size of the Heathrow site that you begin to appreciate the enormity of the environmental task at hand. The retail outlets, for instance, cover an area as big as Bluewater shopping centre – and 15% of the airport’s total CO2 emissions are generated by this sector.

It’s in this very area that energy manager Andy Watson has made his mark. A huge investment in new technology, coupled with a commitment to changing attitudes, recently led the Energy Institute to award him the title Energy Manager of the Year. Catching up with him inside the bright and airy offices on-site at Heathrow Point West, I found him in buoyant form, pleased to share his thoughts.

Firstly, congratulations. What did it feel like to pick up such a prestigious award?

I was really surprised. The innovation shown by some of the other nominated companies was really groundbreaking and I just thought, ‘What we’ve done sounds so boring.’

So why did you win?

Because we’ve made a commitment and actually seen the effects of it. We’ve seen some substantial energy savings, so it wasn’t just about making a commitment – which, in itself, is easy to do.

How did you come to be where you are now – managing energy efficiency at Heathrow?

Well, I’m an electrical engineer by trade; I came straight here from school on a four-year apprenticeship. I then spent the next four years or so working for BAA’s property division, then spent my time working in various maintenance planning functions. I went on to do an energy engineering degree. Then, when this role came up, I went for it.

What’s been the biggest challenge since you took the job?

In retail, it’s a big challenge to make energy savings. The cost of energy the shops are using, compared to the sales they’re making, is virtually nothing. Trying to encourage them to operate more efficiently is hard. So, we’ve been focusing attention on affecting the design of our retail outlets.

What aspect are you concentrating on at the moment?

We’ve got a very much asset-focused strategy. We are looking, for example, at our chillers (large fridges that chill the air which goes into a building’s air conditioning unit) and asking ourselves how we can ensure optimimum efficiency.

Chillers are such a heavy-consuming asset and the opportunity to make savings has been quite substantial. We’ve invested £1.5million in the last three years in making chillers more efficient.

How do you motivate your staff to consider energy conservation?

The hardest thing is behavioural change – that’s very challenging in comparison to just putting new kit in. We’ve devised a programme to affect behavioural change, taking a lot of learning points from the government’s Are You Doing Your Bit? campaign of a few years ago. We identified a lot of the challenges they had that were the same as ours. You’re kind of dealing with public perception, because most of our staff aren’t necessarily trained engineers or accountants – they’re just people who work in security or operations, for example – and it’s these people we want to affect.

How do you do that?

A few years ago, you’d see a poster above an office photocopier which said, ‘If you turn this photocopier off at night, you will save enough energy to heat 5,300 cups of tea’, or something. This sort of information isn’t really useful or empowering. We’re saying, ‘Climate change is happening and it’s going to affect you, so you need to get interested.’ We’re trying to get our staff to look for information, rather than just give it to them.

One of the toughest tasks, presumably, is trying to convince your supply chain to be as committed as you are to energy efficiency.

Well, you have to ask for energy efficiency, it doesn’t just come as part of the package.

Traditionally, we haven’t really asked for that sort of thing because a lot of commercial companies, BAA included, were focused on the capital cost of things – we wanted the cheapest buildings possible, we didn’t think about energy efficiency. Now, if we go back to our designers and say we want an efficient building, they say, “Fine, that’s okay”.

Talking about construction, what effect will Terminal 5 have on energy?

Quite a huge impact, actually. Once it’s fully operational, it will almost be like having Gatwick plonked alongside Heathrow – it’s that big. Its basic concept design isn’t particularly energy-efficient, in that there’s lots of glass. But we’ve done a lot of work to try and offset the energy consumption by building lots of efficiency into the design.

Like what?

We’re investing quite heavily in metering our internal facilities. And for the first time we’ve got a 21st-century lighting control system.

Also, we’ve got a combined heat & power (CHP) plant on the site, which we constructed in 1990. We’re going to connect it up to Terminal 5, so all that heat will go to T5, accounting for about 80% of the heat demand. It’s a fairly expensive project but it’s a fairly short payback period.

The airport industry can hardly be described as environmentally sustainable. What does corporate social responsibilty (CSR) mean to you?

The thing that’s most impressed me about BAA in terms of CSR is their huge commitment to the investment strategy. They’ve ringfenced £25 million of investment up to 2010 to achieve our CO2 targets. But no, airports aren’t a particularly sustainable industry, really.

So, do you ever feel like you’re wasting your time?

I sometimes think that what we are trying to achieve is just a drop in the ocean. But if you look at it from a statistical point of view, taking all the energy the airport uses, the CO2 caused by our utilities – the stuff that I’m in charge of – still represents about 15% of the total airport.

Myself and some of my colleagues working in Environmental Solutions sometimes think, ‘Christ, we’re working for an airport, it doesn’t get much worse than this.’ But if we weren’t doing the stuff we’re doing, the airport would be even worse.

Which of the governmental agencies do you work with?

We’ve had quite a lot of interaction with the Carbon Trust. They have provided us with funding to do design training with the retail designers to make their shop outlets look less like Christmas trees and more like nice places to go and sit in. There is this embedded belief that the lighter you make a shop, the more sales you are going to get. But there is a point where a shop gets so light that customers don’t come in because it’s too hot.

Do you feel under significant pressure to meet targets?

There is quite a strong pressure, yes. If we don’t, one of the greatest impacts will be on our reputation. It will have an effect on our shareholdings, and it just doesn’t deliver the right message to our stakeholders.

But are you confident that you will meet the 2010 emissions targets?

Yeah. I’m fairly confident we can get better than 15% below 1990 levels of CO2. I’ve put together a model of what might happen given all the investment and how much we’re going to invest in the future and the effects of the behavioural change programme, and I anticipate being 18% better than 1990 levels. If we did even better and beat the government’s own target of 20%, that would be tremendously good news.

What advice do you have for our readers?

My motto for energy efficiency programmes is about getting the basics right. In terms of our investment, our behavioural change, all of our equipment – we need to do that first. At the moment, for instance, we have things running 24 hours a day which don’t need to be running 24 hours a day. There’s lots of basic things that we should be doing. It’s about getting the basics right first.

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