Future energy supplies are far from certain but FMs could become guardians of UK fuel economy by following the kind of energy-saving skills put into practice by the University of the Arts London (UAL), says Simon Francis.
11 September 2014
These are complex, unstable and unpredictable times. At a glance at the news is enough to depress and worry even the most positive and well adjusted of us.
From the crisis in Ukraine to the collapse into instability in Iraq - even the minor chaos brought by the tail-end of Hurricane Bertha hitting the Home Counties - there's much to threaten our peace and security.
A common thread running through these world events and an increasing concern for all in the FM sector is the threat to the energy security of the West, and the UK in particular.
A perfect storm of a series of geo-political crises, an extended period of under-investment in the UK's infrastructure and soaring demand has led us to the brink of an energy crisis. It's now predicted that energy costs will at least double over the course of the next five years.
Leaving aside the damage our over-reliance on carbon fuels is causing to the planet, the impact of this increase on an organisation's bottom line could be seriously damaging. The impact from rolling 'brown-outs' - unintentional power cuts predicted by many to occur in 2015 - could be fatal for those not prepared.
But amid this doom and gloom there is an opportunity for FMs to lead the way in reducing organisational risk and cost through improved energy management. In theory, there is more energy 'supply' available now through energy reduction than can be delivered through adding extra capacity to the UK's infrastructure.
According to Energy UK - the trade association for the energy industry, comprising more than 80 gas and electricity generators and suppliers - energy-efficiency investments and greater consumer control over use meant average energy consumption fell by 12 per cent from 2007 to 2012 after accounting for temperature differences.
With many of the UK's nuclear reactors due to be retired in the near future and the increasing lack of stability of our imported energy, the extra capacity created by reduced energy use will be crucial in safeguarding continued energy supply.
It is with these challenges in mind that the Energy Managers Association (EMA) has developed standards for the delivery of energy awareness training for industry, through its Low Energy Company (LEC) scheme. EMA was set up in 2012 by Lord Redesdale, the former Liberal Democrat energy spokesman, with the aim of being the voice of the energy management profession.
According to Lord Redesdale "Considering how much energy we use and waste, it is surprising how few dedicated energy managers there are.
"I set up the EMA to act as the voice of the energy management profession and put it at the heart of British business." Redesdale spoke on the topic at this year's ThinkFM conference in London.
EMA now aims to establish energy management training as the norm in the UK workforce through the LEC scheme.EMA believes that it will be advantageous and desirable for companies to seek LEC status for three reasons.
Firstly, it will be essential to control costs through staff training as the projected increase in energy prices begins to bite.
Secondly, the investment in achieving LEC status will dovetail with organisations' Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) agendas.
Thirdly, and most significantly, many companies in supply chains will make the attainment of LEC status a requirement of the procurement process.
Although EMA eventually plans to have four or five levels of standard in place as part of the scheme, there are currently two standards. Approved by the Carbon Management Association and Energy and Utility Skills Council, the Level 1 and Level 2 standards are now available to training providers to develop accredited courses against.
Energy management skills
This approach has been developed to ensure that as much of the UK's workforce as possible has the knowledge and skills to guarantee that organisations and businesses are as energy-efficient as possible.
"Every person who goes to work imposes energy costs to their organisation," says Lord Redesdale, "as a result, energy use is everyone's responsibility, not just of a professional energy manager, and we all, at every level, need energy management skills."
Although it is currently voluntary, EMA is lobbying government to make such training mandatory. With the challenges facing UK PLC in securing its future energy requirements, you wouldn't bet against them succeeding.
It's early days for EMA and its training standards, but many organisations are starting to take notice. High-profile establishments such as London Zoo have already put significant numbers of employees through Level 1 courses. Discussions are also taking place with some of the country's largest employers, which could significantly increase the number of trained employees within the scheme.
In the education field, the University of the Arts London (UAL) has just become an early adopter and trained about 100 of its staff to Level 1 stage. UAL is Europe's largest specialist arts and design university, with close to 19,000 students from more than 100 countries.
The university has a large and diverse estate spread across London with, unsurprisingly, significant energy demands. As part of the university's aim to significantly reduce its energy consumption - driven by both the desire to be a more sustainable organisation and the need to reduce its multi-million pound energy budget - it has become the first higher education institute to put its frontline FM staff through EMA-approved training courses.
"The university has recommitted itself to sustainability in the past two years," says Ian Lane, head of sustainability at the university. "For example, the university will soon deliver its first and most sustainable building by achieving BREEAM 'outstanding'."
By being the first higher education institute to achieve Low Energy Company status the university's sustainability and project board wanted to send a statement to its students, staff, researchers, funders and supporters that it could support sustainability through its day-to-day operations - and not only in what it teaches and researches.
An added benefit of undertaking this training has been that the university's estates department is now able to advertise itself as a Low Energy Company and display the Low Energy Company logo.
Having seen the FM team complete the training, the university's accommodation department, which manages and maintains the university's student housing, has now started to put its staff through the course. Being able to promote its LEC status to prospective student residents is an attractive proposition.
"UAL considers itself to be a global brand," says Ian, "and we had become aware that poor environmental stewardship was hurting our reputation, particularly as 36 per cent of our students are from overseas. We believe that by achieving LEC status, we have gone some way to improving that reputation."
To develop the training course, the university's FM team worked with Gaia Active, a team of sustainability specialists.
The university now hopes to use its LEC status to influence its partners and suppliers, pushing the drive for energy reductions down through the supply chain through its procurement practices. The university has already seen energy savings of 15-20 per cent in some of its buildings as a direct result of energy-saving measures put in place by its - now trained - FM staff.
The level 2 course is the obvious next step for the university. This course, which is aimed at supervisory level staff, teaches that raising awareness and changing behaviour can improve energy efficiency, helping to lower carbon emissions and reduce costs.
EMA is developing course standards at Levels 3 and 4 that are expected to be launched in the coming year. EMA is engaging with the BIFM and the FM industry to promote the benefits of the scheme. Attendees at this year's Think FM conference will have already got a flavour of Lord Rededale's passion for the scheme.
With a large number of staff trained across industry, the LEC scheme is now starting to take off. There are now a range of training providers able to deliver against EMA's standards and a real sense of momentum in the rate at which organisations are starting to realise the potential of their greatest resource, their employees, in the drive to be energy-efficient.
For the forward-looking FM, there is a real opportunity to lead from the front. By investing in the development of his (direct or contracted) employees and by exerting influence through the supply chain, reductions in energy consumption can be achieved. For those in that supply chain, if EMA is successful, then becoming an LEC may yet become essential to winning and retaining contracts.
But perhaps the biggest challenge in achieving Low Energy Company status for the university was in the logistics of ensuring that nearly 100 staff, across 14 university sites could complete the course without affecting service delivery. With a range of shift patterns, fixed security posts to be covered and the usual challenges of staff absence, classroom-based sessions were simply not feasible.
With this in mind, Gaia Active's Chris Allen worked with the university's FM team to develop the level 1 course as an online training module, tailoring the course to make sure it was relevant to university staff, with content directly linked to the day-to-day roles of those undertaking it.
The developed module ensured that those completing it understood what is meant by energy and carbon emissions and why monitoring energy consumption is important, as well as fully understanding the link between energy consumption and the use of equipment.
The module also ensured that participants understood the purpose and role of energy reporting and how to save energy and reduce carbon emissions.
According to Rachel Fisher, one of the university's FMs: "We found this kind of on-line training to be incredibly beneficial for us in terms of flexibility. We experienced a reduction in the amount of time lost through attendance at off-site training and found that we were able to balance the requirements of the course with meeting operational demand".