A new horizon for environmental performance

Artist's impression of new buildingThe Environment Agency is the largest environmental regulator in Europe, and is committed to helping organisations and businesses achieve high levels of environmental performance. However, to deliver this requires facilities across England and Wales, including offices, vehicles and special equipment for operational work.

These all require energy, but they are vital in making sure we can continue our work to improve the environment and create a better place. That’s where the Internal Environmental Management team come in – we are constantly looking for ways to make sure we do our work in the most environmentally sensitive way possible, from switching to low carbon vehicles to finding energy efficient offices to house our staff.

Our new national office
As I write we’re in the process of moving into our new national office, Horizon House in Bristol city centre. This follows two years of planning, preparation and construction that has resulted in the one of the UK’s greenest office buildings.

Horizon House is far more sustainable than our previous national office in Bristol, and even won the 2010 Best BREEAM Office Award – one of the highest accolades for sustainable building.

We worked with developer Westmark to ensure that the environment was taken into consideration at the very beginning of the building process. 85 per cent of the demolished building that was previously on the site was recycled, either by being used in the development of Horizon House or being taken off to use in other developments. The materials chosen for the building have a high level of recycled content and that can also be recycled in the future. We also ensured that all materials were responsibly sourced, and used local suppliers wherever possible.

Green technology
The building features a host of green technologies that will not only help the Environment Agency reduce energy use and carbon emissions, but will also save us money. It has a ground source heat pump that is used to heat the building in the winter and also preheat hot water (combined with solar thermal heating) all year round. There is also natural ventilation and solar shading technology to prevent the building from overheating and reduce the amount of mechanical cooling.

Horizon House also has movement-sensitive lighting and thermal zoning, reducing unnecessary energy use when parts of the building aren’t being used, or are simply warmer and don’t need as much heating.

We’ve also looked at ways to save water in the building. We’re using rainwater harvesting to collect water running off the roof and stop it going to waste. There are waterless urinals, showers with limited flows and taps that automatically shut off, and toilets that use less water when flushed.

These sustainable measures have been achieved by Westmark at no extra cost to the Environment Agency. And to top it off, the office’s central location means that staff can reach it easily by public transport, cycling or walking, bringing an even bigger reduction in carbon emissions. We’ve facilitated for staff with 150 bike spaces and 14 showers.

By relocating to a smaller more efficient building the Environment Agency will make a total of £1.12 million per year in operational savings (£360k per year) and productivity efficiencies (£760k per year). This shows that being green can be commercially viable, even for public sector organisations like ourselves.

Tough targets
Horizon House is only part of the picture of reducing the Environment Agency’s environmental impact, especially as we can’t always move into new, highly energy-efficient buildings. In fact, 30 per cent of our carbon dioxide emissions in 2009/10 came from the energy used in the buildings used by Environment Agency staff, so it’s important to have targets in place to cut energy use.

We also have targets in place to reduce carbon emissions, water use, waste sent to landfill and mileage. We are aiming to reach these by 2015.

Energy use
Electricity is the biggest environmental aspect of the Environment Agency’s business activities. We use it to power our 200 or so offices, but also in our operational work on the ground.

We’ve been working to cut our buildings’ energy use for several years now and have so far managed to cut our annual consumption by 5.4 million kWh compared to 2005/6 levels – that’s the equivalent to the amount of energy needed to make around 88 million cups of tea. This will save us around half a million pounds annually in energy bills.

All of the energy we buy to use in Environment Agency-owned buildings is supplied by a green tariff, meaning our supplier generates it from renewable sources. We are also working with landlords of buildings we rent to get them to supply electricity from green tariffs. This means that 95 per cent of our total energy supply is from renewable sources.

We’ve set a policy for heating (19ºC max) and cooling (26ºC min) our buildings, and looked at where buildings need more insulation. We’ve also installed energy-efficient lighting with intelligent controls, so they only come on when people are in the room and there isn’t enough light coming in from outside.

We’ve installed voltage optimisation across 40 of our buildings, with several more planned. This reduces the incoming voltage from the buildings from 240v to 220v, and as a result emissions and energy bills at these sites have fallen by around 8 per cent on average.

Carbon dioxide emissions
Just as with energy, we measure carbon dioxide emissions of all the work we do, including emissions from buildings, travel and our operational work, such as pumping flood water and maintaining river levels.

Through taking steps such as driving fewer miles, using less energy and changing the way we work, we’ve cut our CO2 emissions by around 6,000 tonnes since 2006/07, which is a reduction of nine per cent.

We’ve also set up an internal Carbon Reduction Fund. This takes our staff’s good suggestions to reduce emissions and makes them happen. Projects that received funding in 2009/2010 include fresh air cooling at a laboratory in Leeds and a hydropower turbine at a fish hatchery in Wales that generates enough power to run the site and export surplus energy to the national grid.

It’s not always easy to reduce emissions from our operational work. If there’s a major flood we have to do everything we can to pump flood water away from people’s homes.

However, one team of Environment Agency staff devised a simple and innovative new pumping routine to save energy. It consists of using the tide changes from the river feeding the pump and pumping at different times of the day to reduce the amount of time the machinery needs to be in use. This was devised by staff working on the ground rather than head office, which shows how important it is to talk to your staff about energy efficiency.

Reducing your energy consumption
Any organisation can benefit from being more energy efficient. According to the Carbon Trust, just switching off unnecessary lighting can save an organisation 15 per cent on its energy bills. There are lots of ways to reduce your organisation’s energy use, ranging from simple behaviour change to investing in energy-saving technology. Here are some top tips:
1. Get the CEO/board/directors involved in plans to improve your organisation’s environmental performance
2. Set easily measurable targets that form part of your corporate performance
3. Expect and be prepared to make some investments in technology
4. Have good quality data for all your utilities and travel
5. Make sure you have the people resource available to help deliver environmental outcomes
6. Take simple steps to cut energy use wherever possible
7. Make sure your procurement considers sustainability issues
8. Engage your staff and help them help you.

The last point is particularly important, and at the Environment Agency we’ve worked had to communicate the importance of thinking about the environment. We’ve done a whole host of things to get the message across, from putting signs by light switches and taps to sending pop up e-mail alerts to staff to remind staff to turn off equipment when it’s not being used.

In the current economic climate, government and the public sector are looking for ways to save money wherever possible. Reducing energy and water use, driving less and minimising waste can have significant financial benefits.

That means there’s never been a better time to think about your organisation’s environmental impact even if you just begin with the simplest steps.

We want to lead by example to show that being green makes business sense. If you have ideas to share, or would like to find out more about our Internal Environmental Management team please get in touch.

For more information:
E-mail: enquiries@environment-agency.gov.uk
Web: www.environment-agency.gov.uk

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It is no mystery that there is a huge task at hand to solve the growing problems of waste, inefficient resources, and the disposal of hazardous materials as our communities develop.

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