The carbon footprint of heating your business – and what you can do about it

Heating and hot water are likely the biggest source of your business's greenhouse gas emissions.

A modern office space with a live wall.

If your business is working to cut its energy consumption and carbon footprint, heating and hot water may be the sticking point. The Institute of Hospitality estimates that heating and hot water can account for more than 60% of energy used in a hotel, and this is similar for other sectors such as leisure or health. Even if heating and hot water do not consume the bulk of the energy used by your business, they are likely to be the single biggest reason why your business consumes energy and the single biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions. This means that if you are serious about reducing the carbon impact for your business, it is crucial to look at emissions from heating.  

If your business wants to decarbonise its heating, there are several possible paths open to you.

Replace your gas boiler with a heat pump

If your business is heated by a conventional boiler, it will be running on natural gas, a fossil fuel that generates greenhouse gas emissions. Heat pumps operate in a completely different way that doesn’t involve combusting any fuels. 

With a ground source heat pump, you have a loop of pipe buried on-site with a mixture of water and coolant fluid running through it. This liquid absorbs heat from the ground and turns into a gas, which is then compressed, raising it to a higher temperature. Then this hot gas transfers its heat to water for the building’s radiators and hot-water tank. Once this has happened, it turns back into fluid form, passes back to the ground and can begin absorbing heat again, in a continuous process that is energy-efficient and requires minimal maintenance.

Switching to a ground source heat pump means moving away from burning fossil fuels to using underground warmth as a renewable heat source, but does involve significant capital outlay. However, this is balanced by the significantly lower running and maintenance costs when compared to a conventional boiler, as well as the longer lifespan of the equipment. 

Air source heat pumps work in a very similar way, but they absorb heat from the air outside rather than from the ground. They aren’t as efficient as ground source pumps, but they can be  cheaper. Both types of heat pump have great potential to cut the carbon emissions of your business, but they do require electricity to operate. (For every unit of electricity consumed, you can expect between two and four units of heat, making this one of the most efficient ways to use electricity for heating.)

Electric heating is definitely part of our low-carbon future: our Renewable Nation report explains that one of the most plausible net zero pathways for the UK involves electrifying the vast majority of heat demand. But this won’t work unless the electricity system itself is decarbonised. At the level of your individual business, for a heat pump to be an effective part of your emissions reduction strategy, you must get this electricity from a renewable source. This isn’t as simple as switching to a “green” tariff, because there are a lot of fake green tariffs out there. The Good Energy greenwashing guides explain how to avoid these.

Invest in energy efficiency measures

Boosting energy efficiency is one of the simplest, cheapest ways to reduce the carbon footprint of heating for your business, as well as running costs. As well as the heating system itself (lagging tanks and pipes), think about the site as a whole: could windows and doors be upgraded to leak less heat? Do you have plant room equipment that could be better insulated? 

Many businesses need cooling as well as heating, and these can work against each other if they are not kept sufficiently separate. If there is an area of the site where the priority is to keep machinery from overheating, ensure this is insulated from other areas so that the cooling fans aren’t working to chill air that you’ve paid to heat (and vice-versa). If you are a retailer with a fridge section, ensure that there are well-sealed doors on the chiller cabinets so that they don’t pump cold air into the main store area and force the heating system to work unnecessarily hard.

There are currently excellent tax breaks for businesses who invest in equipment to improve their energy efficiency. The most recent Budget introduced a “super-deduction”, where for every pound invested, you get a tax cut of up to 25p. This will be in place until March 2023, so now is the time to invest. 

Try different ways of working

Just making small tweaks to the way your sites are used can achieve significant savings in your energy use. 

Turn down the thermostat. The Energy Saving Trust estimates that a three-bedroom semi-detached home could save £55 and 300kg of carbon emissions every year by turning the thermostat down one degree; obviously these savings will be bigger for larger sites. But remember that guidance for workplaces suggests a minimum temperature of 16°C, or 13°C if employees are doing physical work

Upgrade the controls. Heating controls and thermostats have become more sophisticated in recent years, so upgrading these could help to save energy even without making any changes to the heating system itself. 

Evaluate site usage. You may achieve even bigger savings by assessing how well your heating programme matches use of the site. The patterns of occupancy could well have changed since you last checked: are any parts of the site being heated while empty? 

Optimise working patterns. Could you optimise your employees’ working patterns so that you need to spend less time heating the site? Covid has already accelerated the shift towards remote working, and there is evidence that it improves both productivity and job satisfaction

Switch to green gas – but avoid the greenwash

If moving away from a conventional gas boiler isn’t a practical option for your business, you can still cut your impact on the climate by switching to a green gas tariff. At present, the mix in the UK grid is only about 1% green gas (biomethane) which means that most suppliers offering a green gas tariff have to use offsetting. But the type of offsetting is crucial. Check out our three-point checklist for advice on finding a genuinely green gas supplier. 

Good Energy is completely upfront about the proportion of UK-sourced biomethane we buy (10%) and how our offsetting works. This commitment to transparency means that our business customers can show stakeholders (customers, investors, employees) exactly what they are doing about their climate impact. To switch today, or find out more, contact 0800 254 0021.

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