Heatwave: Why employers need to think about keeping the planet cool, not just staff

As soaring office temperatures hit UK workplaces this week, leading low carbon consultancy, MEES Solutions, is concerned that the race to cool workplaces could have a knock on effect on carbon emissions, as employers’ inefficient attempts to keep staff cool could force the planet to warm even faster.

Dave Cadwallader, Director, explains why UK businesses should be concerned about the greater threat of climate change:

“Climate change doesn’t just mean long, balmy summers, but also increased risks of flooding, wild, unpredictable weather and ultimately less habitable areas on the planet – which is why the Government are forcing property owners to make homes and non domestic properties more efficient in a bid to cut carbon emissions.”

“The largest source of greenhouse gas emissions from human activities is from burning fossil fuels for electricity, heat, and transportation – which is why the new MEES regulations are forcing landlords, both domestic and commercial, to put energy-efficient solutions in place. However, in the UK, most low carbon solutions focus around heating and lighting – not keeping people cool.”

There’s no doubt that responsible employers need to take steps keep staff cool during this record-breaking heatwave.

Heat affects brain function, sleep and comfort, all of which can reduce productivity, although in severe cases heat stress can lead to organ failure and death. When the body’s temperature reaches 104˚F or higher, heat stroke can produce altered mental states, sweat changes, nausea, vomiting, headache, rapid breathing and a racing heart. If untreated, it can quickly damage the brain, heart, kidneys and muscles.

However, Dave explains that finding efficient solutions to cooling staff down will become increasingly important for employers.  He explains:

“We need to find a solution that does not make the problem worse. Carbon dioxide emissions rose another 2% in 2018, the fastest pace in seven years – at least partly attributable to more demand for air conditioning and heating in 2018, according to BP Plc in its annual review of the energy sector – and the demand for aircon is growing.

“The number of air-conditioning units installed globally is to jump from about 1.6 billion today to 5.6 billion by the middle of the century, which could create a new vicious cycle. Many air conditioners still use hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), greenhouse gases which can trap 23,000 times more heat than CO2. While the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol will eventually reduce the use of HFCs, many developing countries still have six to ten years to comply.  Meanwhile, employers who do not have their aircon serviced regularly will use excess energy.”

“Finally, in cities, the heat removed from premises through cooling ends up in the atmosphere – which can contribute to ‘urban heat island’ effects. In the UK methodologies such as TM52 and TM59 can help to predict levels of adaptive comfort during design and refurbs, and can take account of likely future temperature increases but in many existing buildings there can be issues.”

Dave says that the worst ways to cool staff down are inefficient personal fans stuck under desks and portable aircon units – or air conditioning that hasn’t been serviced.  These are likely to  consume large amounts of power but only have minimal cooling effect.  However, there are other ways to keep your staff cool that work better – which can also save employers money.  Dave recommends:

  • Look at changing or relaxing your staff uniform for summer – encourage staff to wear loose, light-colored clothing and light, open shoes if safe for them to do so. Natural, light materials such as 100 percent cotton and linen allow your skin to breathe more than synthetic fabrics do.
  • Open windows where possible to encourage airflow, preferably before heat builds up – maybe even overnight if it can be done securely
  • Provide light cold snacks in the office, such as a fresh salad bowl, low-fat dairy or frozen treats. Your staff will appreciate the gesture as well as the added rehydration.
  • Encourage staff to drink water – keep large bottles of water in empty office fridges rather than paying extra for a water cooler.  Encourage staff, too, to use refillable bottles to cut down on plastic waste.
  • Encourage staff to take more frequent short breaks in warm weather, rather than a long lunch break. Think too about working hours – could staff work from home, or start and finish earlier than normal, to make temperatures more bearable?
  • If you have fans, then use them strategically. Set them up in windows or halls to get a cross breeze going. Use them at lower settings and place a bowl of ice at an angle in front of a fan so that air blows across it to create a cool breeze.
  • If you have a ceiling fan with two directions, make sure it is running counterclockwise at high speed to push cool air down.
  • Make sure your staff turn off PCs and monitor screens when not in use, and preferably unplug them overnight, as they can still generate heat even when turned off. Leaving equipment on overnight with all the windows closed means you’ll come in to a warm office, whereas turning them off will allow the air to cool and cut energy bills too!
  • Replace any incandescent bulbs, which waste 90 percent of their energy as heat, with compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs) or LEDs. Use lights as little as possible because all light bulbs, even CFLs, emit heat.
  • If you do invest in air conditioning, make sure it is modern and serviced regularly. Inefficient air conditioning is expensive to run and won’t keep staff cool enough.

Hopefully, UK PLC will manage to keep it’s cool through the latest hot weather forecast.  However, while we undertake the essential task of cooling down the office, it’s important we keep our eye on trying to keep the planet stable too.

About Dave Cadwallader

Dave Cadwallader is a Director at MEES Solutions,  one of the UK’s leading Low Carbon Consultancies and provider of Non Domestic EPCs and MEES Compliance advice as well as TM52 and TM59 assessments.  They specialise in advising landlords on the low carbon investments which will have the highest and fastest impact on improving their energy rating, something they call ‘common sense compliance’.

 

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