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Environment and Energy

Six steps to energy saving in your department

During Spotlight on Energy Month, we are encouraging every University department, institute and building to take simple steps to reduce their energy use. Here are six simple steps for tackling the energy use of your workplace. As you're reading this page, look out for the action numbers (example: B001, 9 points), as completing these actions will contribute towards a Green Impact award for your department!

1. Form a team

While you might already be taking action to save energy, you can have a much greater impact if you involve your colleagues. 63% of University of Cambridge staff said that seeing colleagues at work taking action would influence them to be more environmentally-friendly in the workplace, so getting together with a few like-minded individuals can really multiply your impact and build up momentum (and help you complete B001, for 9 points in the Green Impact workbook!).

  • Action: We've got posters you can put up to see who else is interested, or get in touch with the Environment & Energy section to ask for help holding a 'launch' event or an open meeting.

2. Inform your colleagues

When University of Cambridge staff were asked what stops them from being more environmentally-concious at work, the top reason people gave was they they 'don’t have enough information or they don’t know how to be more environmentally-friendly'. Circulating simple messages about energy saving opportunities for staff (B007, 3 points) can be an easy way to raise consciousness of day-to-day energy use.
  • Action: Why not start by sending round the simple ideas on our top tips page, tailored to your own department or College?

3. Ask for feedback

Another commonplace reason staff say they don't save energy is work is simply that they are never asked to! 66% of University of Cambridge staff said they would like to do more to consider the environment, so it's often simply a case of offering prompts and reminders. Your own colleagues could be the best source of simple ideas for cutting energy waste and, even if the savings are small, implementing at least one of the ideas can help staff think more about the impact they can have, and encourage more energy-conscious decision making.

  • Action: Invite staff in your area to feedback their ideas for saving energy, through a simple email form or a suggestion box (B002, 3 points).

4. Raise the profile

In a busy working day it's sometimes easy to forget about simple energy saving actions, and in fact only 6 in 10 University of Cambridge staff said that they were likely to turn off appliances and lights when not in use in the workplace. Raising the profile and visibility of energy issues by displaying environmental awareness stickers and posters in offices and communal facilities can help encourage staff and students to take those simple actions like switching off lights when not needed (as well as reducing water waste and reusing and recycling more).

Events can be another way to raise the profile, for instance an event or initiative to promote the energy-saving benefits of wearing a jumper rather than turning the heat up is an easy but thought-provoking way of starting a discussion about thermal comfort and energy use in the office. Join us on Thermal Thursday (figure 1); encourage your colleagues to wear their favourite woolly jumper, take a photo, email it to us and the best dressed person wins a prize. It could be organised as a charity day with staff members giving a donation to charity as well! 

  • Action: Take part in Thermal Thursday - at the University this year it's taking place on 28 February! (S007, 5 points), or read our Spotlight on Energy guidance documdent for more event ideas:

                Spotlight on Energy month

Figure 1: Thermal Thursday poster   Figure 2: Spotlight on Energy guide

5. Set up simple systems

There are lots of simple changes you could make in consultation with your colleagues. For instance, your office may have portable electric heaters available to staff for genuine reasons, this may be so that the whole building doesn't need to be heated up for a few hours out-of-hours working. However this should only be a short-term solution! Keeping tabs on them can ensure that they don't end up impacting on the efficient running of the building's heating systems.

  • Action: Put portable heaters on a simple controlled distribution through a booking system or list, and only allow use in exceptional circumstances.(S006, 8 points).

A lighting and equipment responsibility plan can help to ensure that office equipment is not left on unnecessarily, especially at night and the weekend. Often when people leave the office they might not know what needs switching off, so communicating this to staff and students, or nominating one staff member in each office (this could also be cleaners, maintenance or security staff) can help save lots of energy.

  • Action: View our Guidance documents for an example plan. Timer switches can also be a cheap and effective way to address this issue. (G030, 4 points).  

Similarly, confusing controls and switches can be a barrier to staff switching things off. Actions like labelling banks of lights with three or more switches to identify which lights each switch operates, or providing clear guidance notes alongside any novel lighting controls can help remove ambiguity and ensure staff as well as visitors know how to switch off. A traffic-light system is another great way to ensure everyone knows what can (and for essential equipment, can't) be switched off.

A user guide for the building can help take this a step further, ensuring staff know how their building's heating and cooling system works, how to operate them or report problems, and common pitfalls to avoid.

  • Action: Download our template building user guide from our guidance page. (G012, 6 points).

6. Make simple checks

A quick and easy walk-round energy audit of your office can help identify easy areas of energy saving that are often overlooked, like checking the temperature controls of fridges (G027, 4 points) vending machines or water coolers (G005, 8 points / CT048, 6 points). For buildings with a Building Management System, reviewing the settings to ensure they reflect current building usage is another way to potentially make big energy savings (G004, 9 points).

Further actions to take in Colleges

The Cambridge Colleges have different energy challenges to the University departments, mainly as they have accommodation which has an additional energy impact. Here's a few suggestions for actions Colleges can consider:

  • Promote the benefits to its students of washing laundry on the cold cycle or at a maximum of 30C within their accommodation. (CT001, 2 points)
  • Promote using heating efficiently by encouraging students and staff to draw curtains, not to block radiators and wear jumpers instead of turning up the heat. (CT002, 3 points)
  • Encourage students to ensure that their fridges are set to the correct temperature (5 degrees Celsius). (CT046 3 points)
  • Encourage students to switch off all electrical equipment at the plug between use, including kettles, televisions, hair straighteners and the like. (CT043, 2 points)​

Further actions to take in Laboratories

The University has a Green Labs programme, which aims to provide guidance to lab users on cutting their environmental impact. You can find out more on the Green Labs pages.