My lessons from 7 years of saving energy Richard Hagan, IoD Sustainability Taskforce

With energy bills at the top of everyone’s agenda, I’d like to share some tips I’ve gathered over the years as Managing Director of Crystal Doors.

Back in 2015, I embarked on a journey to transform my factory in Rochdale into an exemplar in green manufacturing. That journey is still ongoing, but the progress we’ve made has already won multiple national awards, including the prestigious Queen’s Award for Sustainable Development.

We’ve now spent around £2 million in energy-related improvements in the factory, ranging from the relatively straightforward, like LED lighting, to more advanced state-of-the-art equipment. Outside, we’ve installed a rooftop solar system that provides a significant proportion of our energy need.

In this time we’ve nearly doubled in size as a business, but the amount of electricity we draw from the grid has stayed relatively unchanged.

The primary reason for all of these changes was to deliver on my climate commitments, but there’s no denying that it’s also left me rather more relaxed about today’s energy cost crisis than I would have otherwise been.

To rehash phrase a famous proverb – the best time to save energy was yesterday; the second best time is today. Here are some of the lessons I’ve learnt along the way.

1. Don’t go it alone

I didn’t have the in-house resource or knowledge to know where to start with energy when I first began exploring my options in 2015.

I kickstarted my journey with the help of my local Growth Hub. An expert audited the factory and gave me a 26-point environmental action plan to follow. Many Chambers of Commerce provide similar advice, and there’s a useful hub of resources on the IoD website.

I also recommend building close relationships with consultants and suppliers. I still have a great relationship with Perfect Sense Energy, who installed our solar panels and LED lights (they even featured in our last Annual Sustainability Report).

2. Data is your best friend

It’s a tired motto, but you really can’t manage what you don’t measure. Half-hourly energy data is crucial to identifying where you can have the biggest impact.

Building a detailed picture of your energy usage over time will identify anomalies that warrant further exploration. It can also help you target so-called ‘vampire devices’ that draw power but could be turned off most of the time.

There are plenty of clever energy management platforms out there that leverage untapped data for you. The platform I recently joined, OAK Network, has already identified thousands of pounds of potential additional savings for Crystal Doors to make as we continue our journey.

3. Follow the energy hierarchy

Deciding what order to do things is important. Generating your own power through solar panels on your roof is a good idea, but less so if it’s just going to be wasted on an inefficient building. You might even find yourself paying for an over-powered system that could have been a fraction of the size if you optimised your energy consumption first.

I recommend following the Energy Hierarchy. Focus on eliminating energy usage in the first instance by optimising your processes and changing behaviours; then reduce demand through energy efficiency measures like insulation and new appliances; then you can re-invest your savings in those solar panels you’ve been dreaming about.

4. Change the way you think about capex

Too often I hear about business owners being put off by ‘steep’ upfront costs of some energy efficiency improvements.

Last year I bought a new A-rated fridge in the knowledge it will be far cheaper in the long-run than a less efficient model. It only seems cheaper to purchase a less efficient model if we uncouple the upfront price from the additional energy needed to operate it over its lifetime. That’s the kind of disconnected thinking we need to abandon.

Besides, there are plenty of finance products on offer that can make energy efficiency investments cashflow positive from day one. My rooftop solar already saves more on my energy bill than the cost of the loan repayments.

5. Embrace your digital side

Crystal Doors’ work to become a green factory goes hand-in-hand with our work to become a smart, digitalised factory. One of the major added benefits of advanced digital technologies is their ability to automate energy efficiency.

Our smart Ecogate dust extraction system is the brain of my factory. It uses self-learning AI to individually optimise fan speeds for each machine on the factory floor, cutting energy consumption by up to 72% compared to its predecessor.

There are support programmes in place like Made Smarter to help you with digitalising your business.

6. Talk about it!

Last, but by no means least, talking openly about your energy consumption and what to do about it is one of the most powerful things you can do. Share your experience with your peers and you’ll get advice back in spades. We’re all in the same boat after all, and there’s always more to learn – even after 7 years.

This is a guest blog and therefore does not necessarily represent the views of the Institute of Directors.

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