Energy efficiency in the public sector

With lighting and office equipment accounting for up to 40% of this sector’s costs, small changes can make a big difference.

The public sector has seen an increasing pressure on budget cuts and spending, so any efficiencies in energy costs will help your budget as well as the planet. Being proactive about energy efficiency measures and taking steps to reduce your consumption could result in bills that are 18-25% lower, getting your investment money back in less than a year and a half.

We’ve put together a list of measures you can take regardless of your budget size.

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Who is this for?

Simple no cost changes

Heating energy efficiency


  • Avoid opening doors and windows when the heating is on, because the thermostat will sense a change in temperature and fire more heat
  • Obtain feedback from staff – encourage them to report draughts, or if they are too cold or too hot. This will minimise the amount of people who use additional small heaters or open windows to regulate the temperature.
  • Keep temperatures on minimum settings for comfort:
    • Libraries and courtrooms: 19-21°C
    • Sedentary work spaces like offices: 21-23°C
    • Unoccupied areas: 10-12°C
  • Staff will usually dress appropriately for the weather – account for this when setting the temperature in the workspace. Avoid turning the heat on too high or they might open the windows and cause heat loss.
  • Make sure furniture doesn’t obstruct radiators and fans as the space won’t heat evenly.
  • A temperature reduction of 10°C is sufficient during the night for most buildings.
  • Reducing the temperature by 1°C can save enough energy to print over 40 million sheets of A4 paper. Turn the heating down by 2°C could save you £140 on a £1,000 bill.

MYTH: Turning the thermostat to maximum warms up a space faster. TRUTH: No, it just overheats.

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Office and small power equipment

  • Electrical equipment can account for up to 20% of total energy costs.
  • Encourage all staff to turn off equipment at the end of the day. This saves energy costs, but also lowers cooling costs and extends the lifespan of the equipment. A single computer left on 24 hours a day costs £45 per year. With turn-off and standby features enabled you could reduce it to £10.
  • Place heat-emitting equipment like printers in a cooler area of the office (e.g. north side of the building) with good ventilation. Clean parts and maintain regularly for optimum efficiency.
  • A red light on a monitor or any other appliance will usually show that it’s in standby; each of those red lights will cost about £1 a year, which adds up.
  • A lower use of paper leads to more efficient workspace, less printing, less storage and less damage to the environment (through overuse of paper and incorrect recycling).
Catering icon


Raising awareness with your staff is an important step; implementing simple practices can reduce your bill by as much as 25%. Advise them to:

  • Not switch on appliances too soon
  • Avoid using kitchen equipment to warm the space
  • Switch off cooking appliances immediately after use
  • Avoid overfilling saucepans and kettles
  • Use lids, keep refrigeration unit doors closed and defrost regularly
  • Switch off lights and extraction fans when not in use
  • Make sure refrigeration units are well ventilated and not stored against the wall
  • It's more efficient to run a dishwasher on an eco-mode that it is to wash the same load of dishes by hand.
Ventilation and air energy efficiency

Ventilation and cooling

  • If you overheat through overusing lighting and office equipment, the ventilation has to work harder in turn to maintain the temperature, which uses more energy.
  • Take advantage of natural ventilation and free cooling with doors and windows and halve costs. Make sure you don’t do it in such a way that it poses a risk to your business or staff.
  • Align cooling times with working hours and occupancy, so you don’t overcool out of hours.
  • Plan for an outside temperature range when neither heating, nor cooling, are on, for example between 19-24°C.

MYTH: Leaving air conditioning on overnight reduces energy costs as the system stays at the required temperature. TRUTH: It only needs a fraction of power to maintain the temperature and it naturally cools during the night anyway.

Lighting energy efficiency


  • Can account for up to 20% of total energy costs in this sector, but basic maintenance can reduce costs by 15% and regular maintenance by 30%.
  • The first step is to have a switch off policy. Involve your staff in discussing the best ways to achieve this; they will appreciate being consulted and could help you come up with creative ideas.
  • Use simple light switch stickers so everyone feels confident that they are turning off the right light! The Carbon Trust website also has printable posters and labels you can use.
  • Keep windows, skylights and light fittings clean to let through as much natural light as possible.
Building fabric energy efficiency

Building fabric

  • Check the building for damp once a year before winter and look for issues like faulty gutters or split downpipes.

Straightforward low-cost changes

Heating energy efficiency


  • Clean and replace filters with the recommended regularity from the manufacturer.
  • Make sure you get boilers serviced as regular maintenance could save up to 10% on costs.
Ventilation and air energy efficiency

Ventilation and cooling

  • Make sure you review the performance of your ventilation and air circulation systems. If you’re not getting the desired results, there might be a fault with certain parts that you could easily replace. A system that is well maintained every year could lead to a 60% increase in efficiency.
Office equipment icon

Office and small power equipment

  • Consider installing plug-in timers which you can find for under £10 online or in a DYI store. You can use them to automatically cut the power at switches outside of working hours. Make your staff aware in case they are working late.
  • A red light on a monitor or any other appliance will usually show that it’s in standby and every of those red lights will cost about £1 a year, which adds up.
  • When buying new equipment, account for energy efficiency ratings not just the initial cost. Buy equipment rated at least A+.

DID YOU KNOW? Laptops are more energy efficient than desktop computers and allow your staff to be more mobile. For example, they could take notes or share presentations on a laptop rather than use the printer when they go into a meeting.

Lighting energy efficiency


  • Use blinds that redirect daylight to the ceiling or the wall rather than block it altogether and open blinds when there is no glare.
  • Use timers to match working hours and/or occupancy of the space so lighting is switched on and off automatically.
  • Occupancy sensors in toilets or less used areas save 30% to 50% on lighting costs, while daylight sensors turn artificial light off when there is enough daylight.
  • Install sensors that dim the light rather than switching it off completely.
  • The amount of light necessary in offices is only 8 watts, but generally 30 watts is used.
  • Replace conventional bulbs with CFL (Compact fluorescent lightbulbs) – they last 8x longer and use 80% less energy. What’s more, LEDs could give you 30,000-50,000 hours of use.

Cost per lamp: LEDs vs CFLs vs halogens

  LED CFL Halogen
Watts (equivalent lamps) 6W 11W 35W
Purchase per lamp £6.00 £3.50 £2.00
Typical annual lamp use (hours) 1,000h 1,000h 1,000h
Typical lamp lifetime (in hours) 30,000h 10,000h 2,000h
Typical lamp lifetime (years) 30 years 10 years 2 years
Cost of lamp purchases over 30 years £6.00 £10.50 £30.00
Annual energy consumption per lamp 6kW 11kW 35kW
Annual electricity cost per lamp at 14.05/kW £0.84 £1.55 £4.92
Total cost per lamp per year (Averaged over a typical LED malp life - 30 years) £1.04 per year £1.90 per year £5.92 per year

*Data from the Energy Saving Trust's "Selecting low energy lighting" guide.

Long-term savings from the right investments

For larger savings from energy efficiency you might need to spend some money upfront, especially when you’re planning refurbishment already.

Heating energy efficiency


  • Insulate to minimise heat loss. You could get a payback in the first few months by insulating pipes, boilers and tanks.
  • Upgrade your heating controls. For example, use a compensator which works based on external weather to regulate the temperature. Or use an optimum start controller which optimises heating based on the time it takes to reach desired temperature. These two devices will give you a return on investment in about 2 years.
  • Create zoned areas with different thermostats and different default settings.
Building fabric energy efficiency

Building fabric

  • Heat loss in a building is 9% through walls, 8% through floor, 22% through roof, 26% through windows, 35% through ventilation and air circulation. Investing in better insulation can lower these costs, as well as increase the value of the buildings. Did you know that insulating pipework can reduce energy losses by 70%?
  • An insulation of 100-150mm of glass fibre could reduce energy loss by up to 90% in lofts.
  • Improve glazing. The most efficient is triple glazing, or you can also coat windows for insulation.
  • When doing refurbishment plan for draught lobbies at entrances. These have two sets of doors where one is closed when the other one is opened. Automate doors where possible to reduce heat loss.
Catering icon


  • Buy energy rated A+ equipment, preferably with built-in sensors that automatically switch off when not in use.
  • Buy ovens with large double-glazing viewing to prevent doors being opened too often, which can lead to heat loss.
  • Consider heat recovery from the kitchen to be used for heating water. The Carbon Trust has a guide that can help you understand how it works.

Action plan


Start by making a note of your current consumption.

By default, your smart meter will record consumption data in 30-minute intervals. You can use this starting point as a benchmark.


Do you notice any variations during the year?

Make a note of them and think about what could cause them. For example, if your business is affected by the weather, you could save energy by investing in better insulation and save money in the long term.


Benchmark your current energy use

How does it compare to last year or last season? Make sure you analyse similar time periods (for example, December 2018 with December 2019) to make sure the improvement in efficiency isn’t influenced by other factors.


How much are you going to reduce your consumption by?

Set a realistic goal and a target date of when you’ll measure consumption again to track how you’re doing.


Choose the steps you’ll take to achieve those goals

Use the categories above to put advice into practice and involve your employees. To motivate staff, try to make it into a competition. Why not offer a free meal out to the team that comes up with the most energy saving ideas or commit to donating the savings to a local charity that they choose?


Make the changes and measure the results

Communicate all improvements with your staff, no matter how small, to encourage an energy efficient state of mind. And when you're ready to make more changes to become energy efficient, come back to this action plan and start again.

The facts, figures and advice have been sourced from the Carbon Trust, Energy Trust and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (formerly known as the Department of Energy and Climate Change).