Turn. Off. The. Bloody. Lights.

Copyright: David Lawson – first published Property Week June 2007

Property gets a bad press when it comes to saving the world. Glossy office blocks are second only to Chelsea tractors as environmental hate symbols, even though commercial buildings produce less than a fifth of CO2 - possibly because so many people work in these supposed energy guzzlers.   Five words would transform that image. Turn. Off. The. Bloody. Lights.  There would be little immediate need for solar cells, windmills, ground boreholes and other new age technology if we were simply more frugal.

  Dave Farebrother, environmental guru for Britain’s largest property company Land Securities, is proud that his firm is producing ultra-green new buildings. But he points out that only 2% of UK stock is replaced every year, so it will take half a century to eliminate the guzzlers. One energy-saving exercise by LandSec at a London office block cut use by almost 30%.   Headlines about energy-generating walls and rooftop windmills hide the more banal contribution of running property efficiently. PRUPIM, another top UK landlord, boasts a top environmental rating but has assembled 25 properties into what it call and ‘improver portfolio’ to learn about further savings to spread across hundreds of other buildings.

   Green icons can be useful. Jonathan Fenton-Jones, commercial director of Gazeley, sold the Think Sustainability conference that a visiting Woolworths executive was prevaricating about the size and location of a warehouse but once windmills came into sight, the deal was as good as sealed. Another tenant, John Lewis, is saving £240,000 a year from Gazeley’s on-site green power plant. But these techniques should be icing on the cake.  John Field, an engineer with consultant Power Efficiency, told a Think seminar that a £20,000 turbine may save only £1,000 a year.  Gazeley knows that, and ensures siting, air-tightness and other green contributions such as rainwater collection come first on the design agenda. Which is logical, as they can produce a ‘very good’ BREEAM rating, the Building Research Establishment’s much sought silver star award.

  But costs soar when renewables are dragged in to achieve the elusive ‘excellent’ gold star, according to Chris Nunn, a cost consultant at Faithful & Gould. Figures spiral upwards even further when retro-fitting existing property.  That is why energy management should be given higher priority, although even in new development, the benefits are not as clear as they may seem.  The British Council for Offices is passionate about the environment but recently published a study by building service engineers Foreman Roberts which slated Greater London Authority proposals to push requirements for renewables from 10% to 20% on new developments. Such savings are not technically feasible, it said.

   Government advisor Brian Mark backed this scepticism at Think, pointing out that wind generation is little use in built-up areas, biofuels demand too much land and even if the Forestry Commission doubled output for wood-chip power by 2020, it would be enough for only 250,000 homes.  Onsite CHP [combined heat and power] is more feasible but there are cheaper and more immediate options.  Another BCO report commissioned from engineers Hoare Lea goes into huge detail about how offices should be better managed. Simply allowing temperatures of 24degC rather than the current 22degC, for instance, will be tested this summer.

  This won’t stop spectacular efforts to boast green credentials. Tesco has cut energy use by almost 40% on some sites but aims to raise this bar by experimenting with a timber frame development. Marks & Spencer is looking at burying stores underground to supplement its £200m energy saving campaign.  


Energy Performance Certificates will produce shocks for landlords and agents unsure how much power their property consumes let alone how to make savings. The British Property Federation has launched free Landlord Energy Statements to expose problems and set a benchmark for comparing buildings.

  Trials have shown potential savings of between 10% and 30% on landlord services such as heating ventilation and lifts – sometimes at relatively low costs. They also identify weaknesses for further improvements. Using meters recording half-hourly energy use, one modern office was found to be soaking up power at night and on weekends. Managing agents halved the night load and cut monthly consumption by more than 20%, saving £25,000 a year without inconveniencing tenants.

  Five Steps to Improve Energy Efficiency available free from http://www.les-ter.org


Occupiers can turn green by simple housekeeping, says Riccardo Rizzi, head of environmental management at consultant Morgan Sindall. And a 30% cut in energy is the equivalent to 5% on sales.

Computers and printers consume 20% of office energy: turn them off at night.

Heating systems have energy saving settings: turn them on.

Turn down thermostats by one degree

Switch to fluorescent lighting

Turn off lights: if that is too hard, fit daylight and motion sensors