We've been working with government departments since 2009 to help them deliver on their commitment and requirement to publish their energy consumption (and hence energy spend) to the public. At its simplest, you can view and navigate through a department’s data using the CarbonCulture utility graph (see 'Our energy use', for example on DECC’s page). We also publish half-hourly summaries of the data, per year, per utility — so for example you can download the 2014 data for the electricity consumption at DECC — these are available on the departments’ Community and building pages in the section entitled 'Study our data'.
CarbonCulture is committed to opening data and as part of that it is very important to us to follow the latest standards in data publication. We've been working with the Open Data Institute (ODI) to move forward our implementation of these standards of publishing through our platform. Part of this involves making the data machine-readable, so that the collection and use of the data can be automatic.
The ODI have published guidelines based on W3C standards on marking up data delivered on web pages so that this is possible, in a standardised way. Thus far, all of the 'Study our data' sections on the CabonCulture platform have this markup — which describes the dataset, when it was published, updated, what period it covers, the download URL and the distribution format. This goes some way toward making this data reusable by interested third parties in a standard, repeatable, automatable way.
We are still working to add richness to this meta-data, for example, we currently do not have machine-readable licences attached to the data downloads. If you have any suggestions of what we could do to add to our meta-data to help you make use of it, we’d love to hear about it — you can comment below or send us feedback.
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MSVG / Foter / CC BY
Here at CarbonCulture, we love to know how buildings perform against their peers. As in the world of teenagers, so in the world of buildings, there are exams, certifications and certification authorities. In this post, I'm going to do my best to try and explain the certifications with which we concern ourselves, a little about how they work and how we use them. We'd like to open out the conversation about certifications, so please read this with an open mind, and a critical eye.
Display Energy Certificates (DECs)
Display Energy Certificates (DECs, from here on) are our bread and butter. You may have spotted these guys when visiting museums, galleries and other public buildings - that's because since January 9th, 2013 any public (non domestic) building with a floor area over 500m² has to display a valid DEC prominently at all times, by law. This is really great because it means you can check out the energy efficiency of the most interesting buildings in the UK! What's even better, is that we've made these available on our building pages, so that you don't even have to go searching for them.
What do they mean?
“DECs are designed to promote the improvement of the energy performance of buildings. They are based upon the actual energy performance of a building and increase transparency about the energy efficiency of public buildings.”
A DEC is a (quite complex) evaluation of the in-use status of a building. That is to say that it concerns itself with exactly how the building is used (in terms of energy) by the people who occupy it, and compares usage against a 'model' building of the same type. The DEC ultimately grades the subject building into one of 7 categories (A, the best through to G, the worst) - and as the DEC baseline is based on a model building, one can compare the subject building against its peer-group. DECs are based on the actual amount of metered energy used by the building over the last 12 months within the validity period of the DEC.
Now, how can a peer-group of buildings be defined? Well, there are several characteristics of a building which tend not to change too often, and it is these characteristics (we call them 'meta-data') that allow the definition of a peer group, and hence a comparison can be made against the peers.
Validity period of DECs
Where the building has a total useful floor area of more than 1,000m², the DEC is valid for 12 months. The accompanying advisory report is valid for seven years. Where the building has a total useful floor area of between 500m² and 1000m², the DEC and advisory report are valid for 10 years.
A DEC must be accompanied by an advisory report and the owner of the building must have a valid one available. The advisory report highlights recommendations to improve the energy performance of the building (i.e. its fabric and associated services such as heating, ventilation and lighting).
How do CarbonCulture use DECs?
As I mentioned earlier, a particularly useful aspect of DECs is that they measure energy efficiency of the building when it is in use. This means that we have a baseline against which we can compare real-time energy use. So, at any point in the day for which we have data, we can say if the building is being used more or less efficiently than it's own DEC grading. The colours that you may have seen on our individual building pages are derived from the DEC rating. When the graph is green, this means that - relative to the building's DEC - it is running more efficiently; yellow means it's running approximately at its DEC rating; oranges and reds mean it is running less efficiently.
What this means is that you can take two graphs of totally different buildings (ie in different peer-groups) and say how well they are doing against their own ratings; hence you can say that building A is doing 'better' than building B. There's nothing like a bit of inter-group competition.
Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs)
Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs) look quite a lot like DECs. They share their A-G rating (though, confusingly, also have A*, and the scoring is inverted meaning that 100 is very good, but means zero emissions), and colour scheme. However, that is where the similarities end. They are required to be created for any building if it is to be rented, sold or built as of 2007, and are valid for 10 years.
What do they mean?
EPCs are a form of design-based certification. This means that they don't actually consider the finer details of how energy is used in a building (ie, how the occupants are using it). Rather, buildings are assessed on their designed efficiency - aspects like whether or not a roof is insulated, what sort of boiler is used, if the windows are double glazed, etc. Buildings are still compared against a model building, as with the DECs, but there is no sense of how much energy is actually consumed within the building.
How do CarbonCulture use EPCs?
Because of the way EPCs and DECs differ, we aren't able to use them in the same way. It would be great to take any building with an EPC (and because they are required by law in the UK, that is a huge set!) and compare it to any other just by looking at the colours; sadly this isn't the case. In order to avoid confusion about the comparability of buildings with only an EPC, we do not use these colours on the energy graphs.
We love how DECs allow those without a huge amount of knowledge about the energy sector to do a simple comparison of building performance, and this is all due to great work in meta-data collection, and good reporting. While EPCs provide a really great starting point for figuring out potential, you can't beat solid energy performance data for making decisions and making things better and more efficient.
For more information about DECs click here
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normalityrelief / Foter / CC BY-SA
In large, open plan offices and other shared areas where building users are not individually responsible for switching off lights and equipment, influencing these behaviours can be challenging. Solving energy wastage problems through technical measures (e.g. PIR lighting) isn’t always an option. We developed and pilot assessed a multi-channel initiative to see whether lighting switch-off behaviour could be influenced where other approaches had failed.
The broader programme, which we at CarbonCulture were also involved in the design and delivery of in collaboration with Global Action Plan, identified barriers to sustainable behaviours through a Postcards initiative. HOBO light loggers were deployed across areas of the estate where, anecdotally, lights had been left on overnight unnecessarily. Submetering within buildings was not available; however, building-level electricity use data were collected and made available openly through the CarbonCulture platform.
The pilot study took place in a building where previous attempts to encourage lighting switch-off behaviour, including emails from senior staff, had failed. We used user-centred design to develop an activity aiming to be fun, voluntary, supported with senior quotes and presented to users with evidence suggesting that taking part could deliver real benefits. Initiative tools (for both online and offline components) were delivered through the CarbonCulture platform. In addition to the objective measurement aspects, the components were:
- Web-based ‘app’ (that could be accessed though smartphone web-browsers) that awarded points to the user’s home area when reports were made of lighting switch off or barriers to this
- Ambient screen displays showing messages to overcome permission barriers, senior support messages and the winning ‘team’
- Blog posts explaining the initiative and reporting winners
- Launch event where the estates team drew attention to the screen and linked the initiative to barriers mentioned in Postcards (1 hour in the morning as people arrived)
- Floor-walking weekly (approx. 1 hour), with small treats for those areas where individuals had been participating
- Award-giving ceremonies monthly for the winning area participants (10 minutes)
Simple protocols for offline activities were provided by CarbonCulture.
A baseline was set as the 4 weeks prior to launch, and follow-up as the 3 weeks post-launch. Basic analysis of the light logger data showed that across the 10 areas assessed (on 5 floors), the lights were on during the hours of darkness for a mean 1.5 hours per day less during follow-up vs. baseline weeks (mean, SEM: 6.5, 1.0 hours vs. 5.0, 0.9 hours; P=0.0045 [paired t-test]).
Visual inspection of the data allowed us to identify that lights were often switched back on between 12 am and 2 am, showing that the night-time staff (cleaners, security) were continuing to leave lights on.
The app was made available before the official launch date, but was not used in the target building before the screen was installed and launch event had taken place. During the follow-up, the app was used 31 times by 15 users in the target building. Fourteen ‘plays’ took place in places with light loggers. Excluding one area with very low baseline incidence of lights being on at night, places with no ‘plays’ had the smallest (or no) improvement in lighting switch-off.
Mean daily building electricity use at night was numerically higher in the follow-up period vs. baseline.
These data suggest that we can influence behaviours with a combination of well-designed activities; however, longer-term studies will be required to see whether impact can be maintained. Previous CarbonCulture work has indicated that new initiatives and refreshers are required periodically to sustain engagement.
It is clear that data relating directly to the behaviour in question is invaluable to assessing how an initiative can be improved. This is particularly the case where other functions in the building might confound any impact on metered energy use.
This study has enabled us to identify gaps in the initiative that will lead to improvements that could prevent turned-off lights being routinely turned back on again. In this case, night-time staff engagement (briefing and agreement to turn lights off after their rounds), will be redesigned to investigate and take account of barriers that might include staff changes. This approach of trialling a behaviour change intervention and collecting actual performance data can lead to continuous improvement, and we expect to be able to demonstrate better performance in the next deployment.
The design of the initiative allows small scale probe studies like this, which will help us to estimate the initiative impact when deployed at large scale. It would not be cost-effective to perform this level of objective data collection and analysis for every deployment.
Our plan is to make this initiative more widely available for trials in other places. If your workplace has manual lighting controls and you would like to run a trial (and are able to resource it) please get in touch!
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One of the more technical tools in the initial CarbonCulture collection has been Energy Diary. This is a tool to record energy and energy-impacting events to provide ways to assess what works and what doesn't on your energy-saving journey.
In essence, what we're all doing when we make changes in buildings is running a series of experiments. Looking at it in that way, the business case is just a hypothesis – and when we run the experiment, a number of complex, interconnected changes will take place: not just with energy performance, but also with staff comfort, employee satisfaction, leadership perceptions and more.
Collecting the evidence required to complete the experiment – to find out the causes of the savings we make, and to inform decisions about trade-offs for the best outcomes – has traditionally been too costly for anything but special-purpose scientific studies.
We built the first version of Energy Diary (v.1) as a test, to see whether this process could be made easier and cheaper, and bring the benefits of evidence-based decision-making to many more organisations, and so save more carbon! We're taking the opportunity presented by changes in the underlying platform to take things to the next level, with a new version of Energy Diary!
We're designing Energy Diary v.2 to make it really easy to collect the information you'll need to help you keep an accurate record of your projects and initiatives. It will also help you collect the data you'll need to run post-hoc analysis of your projects, processes and external events. This will help you to learn more about the patterns of energy use and energy efficiency as they impact you and your users. As always, the overall aim is to help you get more efficient, with happier staff and lower bills, more quickly and at less cost.
We'd love whatever input and ideas you'd like to give us – especially about any planned energy saving projects you'd like to measure the impact of. Can you think of internal and external stimuli that you'd love to know the effects of – not just your own energy projects but external drivers as well, from an open-house day to a solar eclipse, from a broken CHP to a new change process to the impact of new building regs.
We’d also like to know about the people who you would need to input information. What are their job roles, and what challenges would there be for them around inputting information? Send us feedback or leave a comment below, and we'll keep you up to date with progress on the way to Energy Diary version 2!
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Throwing efficient machines at buildings won’t deliver a sustainable built environment alone – we need to involve people as well. Competitions and contests can play a key role in involving people, but they only work under the right conditions. It takes careful competition design to make a contest that is both easy enough for people to engage with, and challenging enough to keep them interested over time. Also, it takes careful framing to keep competition friendly, and not burn up the precious collaboration capacity amongst your audiences.
At CarbonCulture, we’ve been talking with members for a while about various ambitions to use competitions to drive sustainability engagement and behaviour change. There’s a very broad range of ideas and approaches – CarbonCulture members have tried some fun and engaging ideas that have been very effective – and some others that have failed to capture the interest of users. We’ve decided to run an evidence-led design research process to find out what works and what doesn’t, and make the learning available to everyone through a new tool. This should make it easier for all of us to set up and run evidence-based competitions that can help engage our people more reliably, and measure how our efforts deliver the business and sustainability outcomes we’re after.
We’ve used competition many times in our work to drive sustainable behaviours in our engagement projects; for example at DECC, at UK Parliament, and a forthcoming project for the Mayor of London. These have each been designed to closely fit the specifics of the context they’re going into &ndash the interests of the users, the physics of the buildings, with incentives and feedback to reward engagement. This time, though, we’d like to design a more general tool that could help to build competitions for many different organisations. Bringing together the common elements that have been proven in various contexts, with the ambitions that you have for competitions you’d like to run in your communities and in your buildings.
As always, we’re beginning with evidence from user research. If you’d like to get involved or just to let us know your priorities, please let us know by sending us feedback or leaving a comment below. This will allow us to make sure that we’re taking the needs of your users into account. We may set up a few design-research interviews, so if you have time for one of these please let us know.
- Have you ever run competitions that have been really successful, that you’d like to replicate at scale? Have you got an idea for a competition or challenge that you’re excited about, that could work better with the support of some scalable tools? For each competition idea you have, you may want to consider each of the following questions separately
- What outcome would you like to target? Would it be energy, carbon, or cost, or some other quantitative measurable result? Or might a more valuable outcome be demonstrable staff engagement or staff capability gains? What would you like the long-term outcomes to be, and how would you like to report them?
- Who should the teams be? How would you structure the competition into groups that make the emotional side work, for example would you like to see a big race between buildings, between self-selecting groups or between departments?
- Aside from the targeted outcomes, what competitive measures would you like to use to drive the competition – kWh savings or something else (something that could even be a bit more fun)? How would you make sure users feel that it’s a level playing field - for example normalising against occupancy or floor area, comparing with different kinds of baseline? There are many choices here…
- What kind of incentives might you want to use? They could be ’soft’ or ‘hard’ - from brownie points to actual brownies, there’s a broad range of incentives available. What are the financial and political constraints that you’re working within? Which would work best? Many people are unmoved by financial incentives but value peer recognition very highly. Should the competition be ‘owned’ by a senior member of staff, an external celebrity, or a well-known character in the ranks of your organisation?
If you do think that competition could help you to engage your people, please let us know your thoughts and ideas even if they’re not very polished. We will be building a tool for you to use and it would be great to build one that fits your needs and the needs of your people. And as always, please get in touch if you’d like to be more involved!
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Sustainability is complex enough to require some systematic way of measuring outcomes. That's why at CarbonCulture we care so much about data, and about measurement and evaluation. Without collecting performance data you can't know whether your projects are saving energy, whether your people are engaged. Yet it's important to remember that, for many people, emotional engagement is not driven by data. Anything but.
For thousands of years, in cultures across the world, it has been stories – whether they're warm and personal, rousing calls to arms or inspiring grand narratives – that have proved to have the power to engage and move people to action. Come the day that whole populations have changed their behaviours and their expectations to live together more sustainably, we can be sure that stories will have played a central part.
“A staff member from the House of Lords says 'I save carbon by cycling to work - though I'd do it anyway, it's the best way to get around and always makes me happier'.”
At CarbonCulture, we've been working on new ways to use the power of stories to bring about sustainability outcomes. Our first effort was with 'tiny stories', this has been running for some time with a number of CarbonCulture members. This initiative attracted stories with subjects from primary school children to rhinos, exploring the whole range of ways that organisations can contribute to sustainability outcomes. But until now, it has taken too much effort to collect and publish stories.
We've recently designed a new version of Stories to help engage staff and senior leadership – and even build some external recognition – through simple stories and a process that anyone in an organisation can join in with. The apps have a 'backstage' feature that allows CarbonCulture member organisations to take control of their own story publishing, to drive engagement across large populations quickly and easily.
We've found that almost everyone has some sustainability stories to tell – and that almost every community can find a way of celebrating them. Small stories are a great way of demonstrating the direction of travel in a community – by a CEO or a Mayor celebrating a small story, everyone can see the direction leadership is taking.
“We rely on it to live, but the air quality in Camden is pretty poor. That's why GOSH, as proud members of Camden Council’s Air Quality Pledge scheme, are committing to reduce the number of vehicles on site and install boilers that emit less NOx gas”.
Working in businesses, hospitals and government departments, we've been careful to remember that time is short – everyone has their day job to do. Sustainability activities are often voluntary, and they need to be achieved in just a few minutes each week. So we need a way for people to submit stories with almost no friction – they need to be short and sweet.
The other end of the stories is the reading. You need to put the stories up where everyone will read them – yes, this incudes noticeboards and staff magazines, and also in reception rooms, cafeterias and atriums. We've set Stories up so they don't only arrive on the web versions of CarbonCulture, but also on the ambient screens you can put around your buildings. The stories need to be 'glanceable' and to reward a casual reading.
And in the end, there's the value of all these stories. The insights shared among staff, the inspiration shared between them, the opportunities for energy saving identified and the champions empowered to act. As long as stories are being kept secret across your organisation, you have no idea what you can achieve. Stories are a hugely powerful way of activating engagement. When you include the energy savings you’ve achieved (and how these were measured), Stories become even more credible and inspiring.
“The 1960s lighting scheme at the Bloomsbury Theatre was so inefficient that maintenance staff were spending an average of 4 hours a week changing the ‘popped’ bulbs. The theatre changed all its bulbs for LEDs and is now saving 15 tonnes of CO2/year.”
The new version of Stories will allow CarbonCulture member organisations to invite Stories from their own staff – as well as external stakeholders when appropriate. It enables members to manage them and celebrate them in a way that's engaging as well as time-efficient. This is just the beginning of Stories, and we'd love to know where you'd like us to take them. Let us know in the comments or by leaving us feedback!
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CarbonCulture is a unique service that combines a purpose-designed digital platform with support services to help our members (organisations that commission CarbonCulture programmes) and users drive sustainability in engaging, fun ways!
We believe that if people and organisations work together, they can save more energy and carbon than if they operate in silos. Working with communities within the buildings they use, we apply an evidence-based, participatory approach to our programmes. We combine offline engagement, workshops and activities with our purpose-designed digital platform that’s capable of consuming a range of real-time data, to build programmes that are adaptable, user-driven and scalable.
Community management is a crucial part of what we do, and connects all our activity to create real sustainability outcomes in the real world.
We are looking for a Community Manager to join our small Community Management team, to help our members get the most out of CarbonCulture.
As a Community Manager, you will work to update members on new potential opportunities and support them with their sustainability ambitions. You will be responsible for content creation, keeping abreastwith developments within our field and helping spread the word about CarbonCulture. The role also involves collecting evidence to establish the impact of our services.
The Community Manager is an enthusiastic and knowledgable point of contact for our members. Day to day activities are focused on communications (like responding to feedback requests and drafting Blog posts) requesting information from members, setting up platform pages and monitoring the platform. This includes checking CarbonCulture data feeds and following up with members on any unusual usage, feeds being down, etc. As the Community Manager, you will keep an ongoing dialogue with members and provide them with help and encouragement as they update their CarbonCulture content.
As a Community Manger, you will regularly check in with members to find out what events and deadlines they are working against, find ways that CarbonCulture can help them achieve their goals more efficiently and suggest potential opportunities for collaboration. All our programmes are based around the users of CarbonCulture and the community so this means the role will include some project management, planning and guiding communities through the steps of their programme; monitoring progress, processing data and statistics and filing reports.
The Community Managers work closely with the CarbonCulture designers, to ensure that the tools developed serve our users well. You will field-test tools and provide feedback to the team of what works and what needs to be improved. You will also document best practices and encourage members to share case studies in a structured and efficient way.
Occasionally, More Associates and CarbonCulture hold events and workshops, at which the Community Manager plays an important role. You will help to arrange these events, ensure that they are targeted to suit member needs and participate during the events. This might include videographing, photographing, interviewing and writing stories about the event.
The Community Manager is also responsible for CarbonCulture’s social media presence, and will update social media feeds and the blog, as well as support members in their own blogging.
In sum, the Community Manager ensures that members get a lot of value out of their CarbonCulture services and that we help them to achieve their goals more efficiently. The Community Manager instills a sense of community among the CarbonCulture members, where membership is valued and the community is a space for high-level conversations and knowledge sharing among thought leaders within sustainability and energy.
The right candidate would benefit from prior knowledge and experience in: sustainability, environmental programmes/services, communications, project management, community engagement and design. We’re looking for someone with good communication and organisational skills, and who is confident using computers.
If you would like to apply for this role, send your CV and a covering letter to: email@example.com
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It’s hugely encouraging to see how much attention the ideas of transparency and open are receiving at the moment. Progress on these ideas is now reaching structural levels: UK government placed them at the centre of the recent G8 agenda and are investing deeply in proving new models, businesses like Unilever and Proctor & Gamble have been collaborating on open innovation for years and are experimenting with new ways to collaborate more openly, the open access publishing model now being progressed by the Wellcome Trust and the Medical Research Council will open up scientific knowledge and reduce the cost of innovation, especially in healthcare.
In terms of innovation, this is hugely exciting: it’s been over 500 years since the principle of patents was turned into a workable practice, and it feels like just now we’re feeling our way around the next evolution of cultural conventions for innovation. Transparency can take us a long way in the long term, but our experience suggests that there are plenty of practical, immediate benefits to transparency that organisations can unlock today. Sometimes these are unexpected, and sustainability provides a very powerful area for experimentation.
For example, when we started working with UK Government, using CarbonCulture to publish their energy and carbon information in real time, this was an innovative policy led by the Prime Ministers Office at Number 10, and the benefits were not yet quantified. The theory was that if energy and carbon information were not only published, but made highly visible on Departments’ public homepages, it could quickly lead to performance improvements as sustainability came under greater scrutiny from senior staff and communications teams.
And that was certainly what happened. Heating strategies were adjusted, mechanical faults were found, data inconsistencies were fixed - and most of these outcomes came about very quickly. In DECC, they found a 10% saving of their total gas demand in less than a fortnight. Members of the public wrote in to point out potential savings. Estates teams found themselves having new and valuable conversations with leadership teams. Across all of Whitehall, all departments saved over 10% of total energy demand during this period.
One key piece of learning here was that transparency turned out to be a very powerful tool for internal engagement - an outcome that is often overlooked, in addition to disseminating learning externally. This very visible publication of data became a clear commitment from the leadership of each organisation to improve, which made it easy for staff across each business to take efficiency to heart.
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Sustainability case studies are great - they help people to know what works and what doesn't, but they're hard to write, hard to use, it can be hard to find the one you need, and when you have found some, it's hard to compare them. So maybe, in their current form, the way we all do case studies is actually not that great, althouth the intent is fantastic. Some of you may know that we've been doing some design work on case study structure, to make them easier to produce, easier to find, easier to put to use - altogether more usable. Plenty of people agree there must be a way to spread knowledge about sustainability best practices that isn't such a struggle, and we're beginning to release parts of that design now.
One key part of this is that we've been working on is tiny snippets of sustainability stories that people send around about their bigger case studies. These might be intended for internal distribution within a team or a business, or go external to customers, suppliers and stakeholders. These are tiny stories (you can see some live public examples right now on http://www.carbonculture.net/orgs/defra/ - called 'The changes we're making'), each of which comes with a picture. The stories appear on public page, and on internal ambient screens hanging on walls around the building (along with empirical performance data), as well as going to other interfaces for internal users.
These tiny stories will end up serving entry-point for more in-depth case study information, audited information about project efficacy and so on; but for the time being it's just a statement of a claim, an unbacked assertion. That's because want this to be informative, but so easy to produce that it can be considered effortless. One of the big barriers businesses face is finding the capacity to reliably publish new content often enough to keep things fresh, and this mechanism allows that to happen in a few minutes of effort each week. We will make make the nature of the claim clear, so that the lack of empirical backing becomes a piece of the meaning integral to a message.
Currently, we're thinking that each tiny story should:
- Connect some element of core business with a sustainability outcome (this could be any sustainability outcome - whether energy, carbon, social, biodiviersity, in local, national or international scope).
- Clearly mention the business' involvement/ role/ influence and briefly states the sustainability outcome
- If it is a staff-led activity, flags this using a reference to staff, employees, flight team, civil servants, scientists, or whatever
For example - "Lend Lease foodies in London have started a Thursday lunch club that already has 89 members. Joining up our lunches reduces packaging waste and transport movements, which reduces carbon impact and provides a great way of meeting new colleagues."
Stories like this can be used to help contextualise sustainability activity in a way that isn't so exclusive and geeky, and that fits into the values and behaviours that real people actually have. Do you have any thoughts on how we could make them better?
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I just saved myself a grand
Ok, so I probably saved myself at least £1000. Still, not bad in the age of austerity... How did I do it? Read on...
I've just joined the team here at CarbonCulture, and with it, I've relocated. The great thing about relocating is lots of new exciting things—and one of the slightly less good things is pretty old things in rented accommodation.
I'm talking about appliances. Yep, those ugly great white necessities can cause one no end of woe if not kept in check. Ok, I'm exaggerating slightly but an old appliance isn't necessarily a trusty appliance. Let's take for example my newly inherited fridge-freezer. On first look, it’s an enormous upgrade on my last pair of cool-inducing boxes. It's huge! It's all in one vertical space! It opens at eye level!—Wonderful!—But, oh, what is that humming sound...
Cue sinking feeling.
That humming sound worries me, because, being a man of technology, I know that manufacturers of things don't design them to hum. It's just not in their job description.
When you can hear your fridge singing a merry tune to itself from the other room, something is definitely up. Fortunately, I'm in the know, and am able to fumble my way through diagnosing techy issues. Fridges aren't my normal domain, but I had a rough idea. Heard of a compressor? That's the bit on your fridge freezer that, well, compresses. It spends its life squashing refrigerant so that it can go and absorb heat from inside the space, and deliver it to the outside. It's the bit that needs quite a bit of power, and consumes most of the energy in a fridge's working life.
So. Humming compressor. I had tweets from all over saying "Clean your tubes!", "Defrost all of the things!", "Give it some space!", "Turn it down!", "Turn it up!" (don't get me started on the user interface...) Anyway, the first thing I did was buy a cheap thermometer. Perhaps I just had it set too cold. Not much luck there as I went for the eBay option and I'm not convinced my thermometer is even nearly accurate. 8 degrees?! No fridge should be that warm and making so much noise! What next? Introducing my favourite gadget...My handy off the shelf energy monitor that tells you how much money you are currently spending on your energy.
So, there's me going back and forth to the screen, turning things off, checking what the load is, lather rinse repeat, until I can be certain that the fridge is drawing way too much power. But maybe I'm paranoid, and just happen to be looking at it while it is doing work, and not seeing its down-time. Here, the energy monitor has a little helper—if you plug a particular cable in, hook it up to your PC, and have some geek-fu then you can log the entire day's power draw from the comfort of somewhere entirely different. Like CarbonCulture HQ.
Now, the team here at CarbonCulture know about a lot of things, particularly things that use energy, so when Luke Nicholson took one look at my graph he said "Whoa there Stevey! Something is up!" Sure enough, my fridge was drawing about 200 watts almost 24 hours a day, save for two 15 minute periods every 12 hours. Crazy. Let's do some maths to make sense of this... (it's interesting maths, honest).
200 watts (W) is 1/5 of a kilowatt(kW)—So, my fridge is consuming 1 kilowatt-hour (kWh) every 5 hours. That means 4.8 kWh every day (24/5) Multiply that up to a year (* 365) = 1752 kWh—"So watt?" you say (get it? watt?). Well, let's look at some modern A-rated fridges: http://www.johnlewis.com/231653322/Product.aspx
Yep. About a sixth of what my beast is using, annually—and, back to the important part -- if you care less about carbon emissions than me: how much money does that cost me? I get my electricity with Ecotricity, because they like turbines and sunshine, and I like turbines and sunshine. They're also really nice. Here's their cost-per-unit for my area, where 1 unit is 1 kWh: http://www.ecotricity.co.uk/for-your-home/check-our-prices
So, annually, assuming my fridge uses the first 900 units, we get: 900 [base units] * 24.10p [higher rate] = 21,690, plus (1,752 - 900) * 12.47p [lower rate] = 10,624.44 + 21,690 = 32,314.44—That's £323!!! Back to JohnLewis. This fridge costs £250, and has an annual energy usage of ~£30. Now I know that they will have worked that out using the lowest cost band, or at least, it is not going to be so cheap, so let's say £70. That still means I can buy a new fridge and run it for the same price as my old one. Two important questions:
1. Is replacing it necessarily more eco-friendly? Well, that's a hard one, but look: My old friend can go and be recycled, turned into something new and exciting (or repaired), and not spend all his life eating energy, while my new one can sit there, whispering to himself and reducing my carbon output, and (ever increasing) electricity bills.
2. How on earth did I get the figure of £1,000? Ok, a sneaky hook. But assume I stay in the flat for 5 years—Year 1, I save nothing as the cost of replacing and powering is the same as the old fridge (i.e. I would have spent at least the same money on electricity). Years 2-5 I'm saving about £250 per year, and the price of energy is only going up.
So, I highly recommend against singing fridges, I encourage the use of energy monitors, and I wish you all the best in your quests to reduce your carbon emissions and energy bills!
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