Too big to value customers?

When companies get too large to have a personal relationship with their customers, other forms of communication become increasingly important. Get it right and the semblance of a personal relationship can be maintained. Get it wrong and you reinforce the lack of a meaningful relationship.

For example, I recently received two letters from Barclays Bank and they started thus:

“Thank you for registering for Barclays online banking ….” – I hadn’t!

“By requesting a passcode for telephone banking …” – I hadn’t!

Actually, what had happened was that Barclays acquired Standard Life, where I had an account. I was then forced to become a Barclays customer but they couldn’t be bothered to write a separate letter for the thousands of former Standard Life customers. No, they just trotted out the same letter that goes to people who have made the requests cited above.

Furthermore, when the other documents I needed to go with these didn’t arrive in time (and still haven’t) the process of even getting through to someone who claimed they could help was tortuous, to say the least. It remains to be seen whether they will actually sort out this problem.

So actually what they’ve done, simply by failing to recognise the importance of communication with their customers, is alienate me and encourage me to look around for alternative banking arrangements. Way to go Barclays!

What makes a business ‘un-sustainable’

By guest blogger Dr Martin A Blake, Director, Sabien Technology

First published in Singapore Business Review

I’ve spent a lot of time in Singapore over the last few months, presenting at sustainability and energy conferences. From SMU and SIEW, to EnviroAsia and the ‘Eco Ideas’ forum, I’m greeted with the same query, “what is a sustainable business?” Good question!

To answer it though, we need to look at the alternative question, “what is an un-sustainable business?” Any business, process or industry that isn’t sustainable won’t survive. It’s that simple. Sure, it may survive in the short-term but it won’t survive long-term. Any business that wants a long-term future needs to be sustainable and durable, otherwise its unsustainable activities will contribute to its own demise.

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Blowing hot and cold

With the many imperatives to reduce energy consumption and the increasing change in the modern workplace, there are very good reasons for looking at alternatives to the traditional approach to building services design.

One such area is the use of separate heating and cooling plant, which is potentially wasteful when both heating and cooling are required in a building at the same time, in different areas. An alternative is to use a multi-purpose unit, such as Climaveneta Integra units, which provide simultaneous heating and cooling in a four-pipe system, using a single item of central plant.

Crucially, they can also use the heat produced by the generation of chilled water for heating – and vice versa. Field tests and live installations have shown that using this approach can reduce primary energy consumption by 40%.

There are three basic operating configurations which are totally independent of external temperature conditions – cooling only, heating only and combined hot and chilled water production. At the heart of this flexibility is the use of two refrigerant circuits that are able to operate independently of each other under the unit’s control logic. Inclusion of suitable thermal storage tanks, both on the cold and hot sides, offers effective system operating modularity and optimises running costs.

Further information can be found at Climaveneta

Built to last?

The suggestion that Tottenham Hotspur FC might purchase the Olympic Stadium after the 2012 Games, knock it down and build a new one is farcical. Not only would this be an outrageous waste of money it would also extremely wasteful of natural resources and the embodied carbon in the materials used. Not to mention the carbon footprint of constructing a new stadium and the air pollution resulting from deliveries of materials and use of large construction plant.

The 2012 Games has been billed as the most sustainable Games ever and much has been done to live up to that promise. The efficiency of the Energy Centre managed by COFELY GDF-SUEZ is a prime example of this. So to sign up for the wanton destruction of the stadium would be a slap in the face to all of the ideals underlying the Games.

In my view, it is imperative that those who decide on the fate of the stadium must bear these ideals in mind and ensure that the final decision is based on sustainability imperatives as well as financial gain.

Kick-ass regulation

Ever since Margaret Thatcher’s government sold off our national assets to its chums in the City we’ve been dependent on ‘regulators’ to ensure that vital services and utilities are managed responsibly and efficiently. And, let’s face it, they have failed us miserably – sometimes through ineptitude and sometimes because they haven’t been given sufficient powers to make a difference.

The Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) is a case in point. For years they have allowed private rail operators to increase fares way above inflation, based on the need for more investment in infrastructure. Yet we get a bit of bad weather and still the infrastructure goes to pieces.

Furthermore, when people seek compensation for the disruption they find that each operating company has different terms and conditions. Surely part of the regulator’s job should be to standardise on such things.

Also, because of these ‘rip-off’ fares, we still have a situation where it’s often quicker and cheaper to drive from city to city than it is to take a train. The thinking seems to be that eventually we’ll reach gridlock and then people will be forced to pay these outrageous train fares.

So it’s time that regulators stopped sitting complacently on their own arses and started kicking the arses of the companies that need it.

CRC compliance made easy

Now that the registration period for the Carbon Reduction Commitment Energy Efficiency Scheme (CRC EES) has passed, participating organisations have to get to grips with the complexity of managing it. That means gathering all sorts of energy consumption data from lots of different places – bearing in mind these are big outfits, usually with lots of sites.

Once they’ve got all the data they then have to pull it together, analyse, verify its accuracy and product reports.

So it’s not surprising that many of these public and private sector organisations are finding CRC compliance a real hassle. Which is a shame, because this should be seen as a great opportunity not only to reduce environmental impact but also to reduce costs. Using energy is expensive, so cutting energy consumption is a financial saving.

All of which means that anything that takes the hassle out of CRC compliance has to be a good thing, and an example of this is the new CRC module in the Sustainability iQ sustainability management system from Causeway.

It’s a very nifty module that can make a real difference to how an organisation manages the CRC and therefore how it manages its sustainability.

There’s more information at http://www.sustainabilityiq.com/news/081010CRCcompliancemadeeasy

Making recycling easier

I have to congratulate Hertsmere Council on its policy of making recycling easier. There’s no carrot to incentivise and no stick to punish (as adopted by many other authorities); just very sensible measures that make recycling convenient and part of everyday chores. In doing so, they increase recycling levels through recognising that most people want to ‘do their bit’ but are often frustrated by lack of easily accessible amenities.

For example, I have four bins and can recycle plastic and glass bottles, cans and other metals, carrier bags, yogurt and margarine pots, paper, cardboard, tetrapack drink cartons, garden waste and food waste. So very little goes into the fourth ‘unrecyclable’ bin.

And they’ve overcome the whinge of many that food waste is left too long when collected fortnightly. Because there’s no compulsion, we have a choice. Food waste can go in the compost bin one week and in with the general waste the following week. Though in fact this is only necessary in the very hottest weather (not much in evidence this year) as long it’s wrapped in newspaper and, perhaps, further wrapped in waste cardboard packaging – which can also be composted.

So hats off to Hertsmere and thanks for my new wheelie bin.

Don’t forget the efficiency element of sustainability

With so many building operators focused on their carbon emissions there’s a danger that the basic issue of energy efficiency is taking a back seat. This is because it’s possible to reduce carbon emissions while still operating inefficient systems.

That may sound counter-intuitive but it’s because of the fact that many popular ‘green’ technologies – such as biomass, heat pumps, solar thermal and electrical – are classified as low or zero carbon. So the carbon output may be reduced but the operator of these systems won’t gain all of the benefits unless the systems these technologies feed are efficient.

One obvious example is the use of biomass. Biomass is considered to be virtually carbon-neutral because the carbon emitted during combustion was fixed by the plants (e.g. trees or elephant grass) just a few years earlier.  And modern biomass boilers are efficient  But it’s still important to use them efficiently, not least because that saves money and it’s savings that fund such projects on a payback basis.

So building operators who want to be efficient and save money as well as reducing carbon emissions need to ensure their systems are working at maximum efficiency. Should be a no-brainer but can be overlooked.

Paul Haddlesey

Hot flushes save energy

In my house the heating strategy is determined by whether my wife is having a hot flush or not – when she is she turns the heating off. And this illustrates one of the fundamental requirements of any control strategy. Namely, that energy-consuming services should be closely aligned to demand.

So, one option for reducing heating energy consumption might be to equip every household with a menopausal woman, though this may prove impractical and would certainly put a lot of strain on the menfolk. However it is feasible to do more to match supply and demand in this context.

For example, fitting thermostatic radiator valves in all rooms means that different temperatures can be set for different spaces to suit the activities there. The demand side can also be moderated by behavioural changes, such as wearing different clothes, again to suit the activity.

This is illustrated very well by supermarkets where at any one time there will be shoppers dressed for the outside, shelf stackers performing physical work and check out operators being relatively inactive. So on a cold day the smart approach is to reduce the temperature to suit shoppers wearing coats. Shelf stackers are then equipped with light clothing and check out staff are given fleeces to keep them warm.

Putting warmer clothes on at home applies the same principle. Walking around in a T shirt with the heating set at 22 degrees is barmy. Put another layer on and turn the thermostat down.

And there are many other examples of more sustainable heating. The key is to give it some thought and develop flexible strategies that take account of variable demand.

Making the most of the RHI

The Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) looks set to increase the use of low energy heat sources such as heat pumps, solar thermal, etc. And as renewable sources currently only account for around 1% of the UK’s heat demand this is clearly a welcome development.

However, it’s very important that manufacturers of heating equipment adapt their equipment to optimise the performance of these heat sources. Otherwise some of the energy saving benefits achieved by using a low energy source could be wasted through poor use of that heat in buildings.

Heat pumps are a case in point as they tend to generate hot water at a lower temperature than would be the case with boilers. This means that the terminal units – radiators, fan coils, air curtains, convectors etc. – need to be engineered for these lower temperature heat sources.

Envirotec, for example, has developed special air curtains for use with heat pumps that provide more efficient heat exchange to make the best use of the heat from the water (see www.envirotec.co.uk/products/ac-heatpump.html) . This is an important development because of the importance of air curtains in preventing cold air entering entrances that open and close frequently.

Further information about the RHI can be found at www.decc.gov.uk/en/content/cms/consultations/rhi/rhi.aspx