Embedding resource efficiency

While there have been few positive sides to the current recession, for many businesses it is only during this period of particular economic challenge that they have truly come to recognise the power of resource efficiency. But what do we mean by the phrase ‘resource efficiency’? Well, effectively it refers to a programme of activity designed to reduce the amount of raw materials or consumables being used by an organisation, as well as minimising water and energy use wherever possible. It is encapsulated in the three ‘R’s’ of the ‘waste hierarchy’ which many readers will be familiar with – Reduce, Re-use, Recycle.
    
Envirowise experience has shown that companies taking action to implement the three Rs and improve their resource efficiency can save up to £1,000 per employee. In this way, resource efficiency can offer a practical way for organisations to help protect the bottom line during difficult economic conditions.

Costs going up
During 2009, many organisations had a wake-up call regarding the true cost of waste when landfill tax increased to £40 per tonne. Further annual increases of £8 per tonne are scheduled until at least 2011 – meaning businesses who have not yet taken action to reduce their waste should act now in the face of these rising costs.
    
Waste regulations in force since 2005  expanded the list of waste materials classified as hazardous and introduced new controls for their movement. As a result, many businesses became handlers of hazardous waste for the first time because the revised regulations can also apply to common items such as fluorescent tubes, batteries and computer monitors. Therefore any programme of waste management must take this list into account.
    
And since the end of October 2007. businesses also need to treat their non-hazardous waste before disposal to landfill, which includes anything from food waste, paper and plastic, to bricks, wood and soil. Treatment can be as simple as collecting wastes in separate streams and arranging for the recycling of one or more of the separated components.
    
The regulations represented the next step in the Europe-wide Landfill Directive and the main objective is to encourage companies to consider options for elimination, minimisation, re-use, recycling and recovery of their wastes.

WEEE Directive
Also on the agenda from a compliance perspective is the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive which makes B2B producers of electrical and electronic items responsible for financing the collection and treatment of their products at their ‘end of life’ to reduce the amount of waste going to landfill.
    
This means that companies can expect WEEE – such as a PC or photocopier – to be collected direct from their business premises using a licensed waste carrier paid for by the producer. This applies to all new products placed on the market since August 2005 unless, as the customer, you accept contractual responsibility for end of life treatment and disposal of the product.

Reducing water use
However, legislative compliance isn’t the only driver for resource efficiency. As we mentioned earlier, there is also significant potential for cost savings that will go straight to the bottom line. For example, a business that implements simple and effective water management measures could cut their water and effluent bills by around 30 per cent, helping protect themselves against both rising costs and dwindling supplies. Free, online water tools available at www.envirowise.gov.uk/water allow companies to record and keep track of how much water is being used, benchmark themselves against competitors and find practical guidance on reducing consumption.
    
A good awareness of innovative, water efficient solutions could identify new opportunities to save both water and money. In particular, it is important to consider the specification and use of water saving products, including appliances such as toilets, taps and showers as well as more complex systems such as rainwater harvesting.
    
Organisations running large-scale kitchens, laundries or shower areas offer good examples of commercial water use with a high potential for improving water efficiency. Any area where food is washed, prepared and cooked is vulnerable to water wastage, including waste disposal channels and dishwashers. For example, if a large tap is left to run fully open while rinsing fruit and vegetables as much as 40 litres could be lost each minute.
    
In many cases water reduction can be achieved by installing simple retrofit devices such as spray taps, flow restrictors or trigger-operated spray guns to existing fittings. There are also opportunities to re-use previously-used ‘greywater’ in other ways, by collecting water which has been used for cleaning purposes and using it for external cleaning or toilet flushing. Also when replacing devices, it is important to bear in mind that many water efficient technologies cost no more than less efficient models.
    
In less water intensive office-based businesses, there are still a number of low-cost or no-cost options to save water and money – such as placing ‘hippo bag’ displacement devices in toilet cisterns on the premises to reduce the amount of water used per flush. Making changes in these more ‘domestic’ areas can produce great results.

Help to save
The Water Technology List (WTL) is developed and managed by Defra and HM Revenue & Customs in partnership with Envirowise and provides a selection of water efficient products that meet specific eligibility criteria. The web-based list, available at www.eca-water.gov.uk, is part of the Enhanced Capital Allowance (ECA) scheme for water efficient technologies which offers upfront tax relief on listed water efficient products. The WTL details more than 1500 technologies and products within specific categories such as efficient toilets, taps and showers which are easily searchable online.
    
A range of free factsheets are also offered by Envirowise to help organisations achieve significant cost savings by reducing water use. They can be found by visiting www.envirowise.gov.uk/water. The factsheets focus on key areas of water use, including showers, taps and toilets, outlining short and longer term actions for reducing water consumption alongside top tips and information on possible savings.

Energy consumption
The largest controllable outgoing in an office is often energy consumption. Experience shows that simple good practice measures can not only reduce environmental impact, but can easily reduce office energy bills by up to 50 per cent.
    
One way for energy intensive organisations to effectively manage their consumption is through a broad Environmental Management System (EMS). An EMS is a structured framework for managing and monitoring environmental performance and ensuring compliance with environmental legislation. It is a flexible internal management tool and companies can choose to either develop their own bespoke system, or to follow the requirements of a national or international standard such as ISO14001 or EMAS.
    
The first step will always be to secure commitment from the senior management team who can help ensure the necessary resources are made available. An environmental ‘champion’ at this senior level will also help to motivate other employees to get involved and help ensure the success of the initiative. Company directors are also legally responsible for ensuring regulatory compliance, so it is vital they are involved from the outset.
    
The ideal starting point in getting senior support is to carry out a simple cost benefit analysis, which will help to identify the potential cost savings of adopting an EMS. For example, calculate the costs of main raw materials, water, gas, electricity and waste disposal for the company over the previous 12 months. Then identify steps to reduce these costs and estimate the savings.
    
Once senior management buy-in has been achieved, the initial environmental review can begin. The objective of this is to revise or prepare an environmental policy; compile a register of environmental aspects (which refers to any area where a company’s activities interact with the environment); identify money saving opportunities and set objectives and targets for improvement.
    
So looking to the future, it is those organisations who can effectively win the support of staff and suppliers in placing sustainability at the heart of business practice that could have the most to gain in the long term.

For more information
To help organisations address some of these issues, Envirowise has launched a new online tool, which provides advice on developing a plan of action to help embed sustainability and improve environmental performance. For more information please visit www.envirowise.gov.uk/change or call the Envirowise Advice Line on 0800 585 794.

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