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Greening The Grid, Not Breaking The Bank: The affordable way UK businesses can make a difference

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UK businesses are under increasing pressure to reduce their carbon footprint. Stakeholders, employees, customers, and the government alike are all demanding quantifiable sustainable practices. The good news? Going green doesn’t have to break the bank. Ripple offers a simple, affordable solution for businesses to take meaningful environmental action.

Slashing Carbon Footprints, Boosting Credibility

Ripple helps businesses to co-own renewable energy sources such as solar parks and wind farms. This allows companies to power themselves with genuinely green electricity, thereby reducing reliance on fossil fuels, and significantly lowering operational carbon footprints. Reduced monthly energy bills are a further benefit of embracing the cooperative energy ownership model.

“We’re increasingly thinking about the CO2 emissions impact of our manufacturing. The difficulty is, in most cases still, the greenest solution is not the cheapest one and in a competitive market place you’ve got to be competitive.” Darren Joint of Viking Signs, a Ripple business member, noted. “Consumers are beginning to choose the more sustainable choice and we’re trying to drive that with the tools that we can create ourselves. With Ripple the opportunity to create new [energy] generation was what we were attracted to. As with many SMEs, we don’t own our building, it’s leased. So that’s an advantage of the cooperative model of remote resource.”

Such commitment to sustainability not only benefits the environment and business bottom lines, but also demonstrates a company’s position as an environmental leader in its sector. This, by looking at alternatives to commonplace ESG strategies which can include corporate Power Purchase Agreements and green tariffs. Instead, with Ripple, companies directly increase the UK’s renewable energy capacity while also reaping profitable rewards.

Engaging Stakeholders, Attracting Top Talent

Stakeholders are increasingly scrutinising professional environmental practices and ESG strategies. Aligning with Ripple’s mission of green energy for all represents a significant step in the right, planet-first, direction. Furthermore, recent data suggests that employees are increasingly drawn to companies that prioritise sustainability and reward such operations with low staff turn-over, another significant cost-saving.

Making The Switch Is Simple

Ripple makes transitioning to renewable energy effortless. Interested businesses can use the online calculator to understand how much their chosen number of shares will cost and what this will mean in terms of monthly bill savings for decades to come. Flexibility is built-in with companies able to create a green energy portfolio across multiple projects, equating to a maximum of 120% of their annual electricity consumption. Purchase and onboarding can all be managed online, or with assistance from the Ripple for Business team.

Once a project is built and operating, real-time generation and savings data is displayed on a personalised dashboard, making stakeholder reporting simple.

Leading The Green Revolution

By partnering with Ripple, businesses can significantly reduce their environmental impact, contribute to a country-wide push for sustainable practices, enhance their reputations, and attract top talent – all at an affordable price. Ripple membership represents a growing movement of UK businesses taking a stand for a greener future, today.

https://rippleenergy.com/business/ripple-for-business

‘Demonstrate climate leadership’, Ripple tells UK businesses

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To maintain credibility in an increasingly climate-conscious landscape, UK businesses are being encouraged to consider taking tangible action that will generate stakeholder and planetary benefits. Ripple–in particular–takes a proactive approach to helping companies progress their ESG strategies, through green energy ownership and environmental leadership.

Ripple’s latest project is Whitelaw Brae, a wind farm set to be the UK’s largest people-owned site of its kind. Located in Scotland, the site will be able to power more than 50,000 UK homes and businesses, while reducing carbon emissions and stabilising energy bills for everyone who participates.

Common sense climate action

Co-owning Whitelaw Brae will unlock a wealth of benefits for UK businesses. First and foremost, they’ll gain 30 years of stable energy prices, while being shielded from unpredictable cost spikes. Savings are applied directly to energy bills throughout the project’s lifespan, creating enhanced financial security. In addition, Whitelaw Brae is projected to be a masterclass in people-powered sustainability, saving an estimated 78,323 tonnes of CO2e annually. By participating, businesses will demonstrate a proactive commitment to environmental responsibility – a factor increasingly valued by customers, employees, and investors alike.

Ripple fosters a vibrant community of businesses that share a vision of a sustainable UK. Joining Whitelaw Brae connects a network of like-minded companies, presenting valuable collaboration opportunities and solidifying each operation’s reputation as a sustainability leader within its sector. It also allows businesses to align with a future-proof energy strategy. The UK government’s interest in renewable energy sources keenly positions Ripple members to navigate the evolving energy landscape with confidence.

Ripple’s community ownership model empowers businesses to take control of their energy future, alongside thousands of others. In addition to positive impacts on operational bottom lines, environmentally astute companies that participate will also actively contribute to a cleaner, greener UK grid and earmark themselves as climate leaders. It’s a win-win.

Ready to take action?

Visit Ripple today to learn more about becoming a member of the Whitelaw Brae Wind Farm and securing a sustainable future for your business.

Five ways AI is transforming data centres

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The tech landscape is undergoing a remarkable transformation. This is currently driven predominantly by advancements in Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML), the Internet of Things (IoT), quantum computing, automation, virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and cybersecurity.

These advancements are bringing unprecedented opportunities for business growth and improved quality of life. However, they also pose wider operational challenges that must be addressed. This includes concerns over job displacement for many people, privacy concerns, and cybersecurity risks. Within this wider landscape, AI, in particular, is playing a significant role in transforming and improving how data centres operate. 

With that in mind, Mark Grindey, CEO, Zeus Cloud shares five ways that data centres can use developments in AI to their advantage to optimise efficiency, enhance performance, and streamline operations. 

Optimising Efficiency and Performance

  1. Predictive Maintenance: Data centres consist of numerous interconnected systems and equipment. AI algorithms can analyse real-time data from sensors and usage patterns to predict when equipment may fail or require maintenance. By identifying potential issues in advance, data centres can schedule maintenance tasks, minimise downtime, and reduce costs associated with unplanned outages.
  2. Energy Efficiency: AI algorithms can monitor energy consumption patterns and optimise energy usage in data centres. By analysing data on workload demands, temperature, and power usage effectiveness (PUE), AI can identify areas where energy can be saved and provide insights for improving energyefficiency. This not only reduces operational costs but also contributes to environmental sustainability.
  3. Intelligent Resource Allocation: Data centre resources, such as servers, storage, and networking equipment, need to be allocated efficiently to handle varying workload demands. AI can analyse historical data, usage patterns, and performance metrics to optimise resource allocation in real-time. This ensures that resources are allocated dynamically, matching workload requirements, and reducing inefficiencies or over-provisioning.
  4. Enhanced Security: Data centres store large volumes of sensitive and valuable data. AI-powered security systems can analyse network traffic, identify anomalies, and detect potential security threats or attacks. By continuously monitoring data traffic and patterns, AI can provide real-time threat detection, prevention, and response, enhancing the overall security posture of the data centre.
  5. Intelligent Data Management: With the exponential growth of data, data centres face the challenge of efficiently managing and processing large volumes of information. AI can help automate data management tasks such as data categorisation, classification, and retrieval. AI-powered data analytics can extract valuable insights from massive datasets, facilitating informed decision-making and improving operational efficiency.

Conclusion

By harnessing the power of AI, data centres can optimise their operations, improve efficiency, and provide better services to their customers. However, it is important to ensure that AI systems are implemented ethically, with appropriate oversight and safeguards in place. As AI technologies continue to evolve, the potential for innovation in data centres will continue to grow, enabling them to stay at the forefront of the ever-evolving tech landscape – all of which raises questions to end users around whether their data centre provider is making use of AI to not only improve the service they receive, but also to keep data secure.

Photo by NASA on Unsplash

The electronics trends manufacturers should know about for 2024

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Britain’s manufacturers have begun the year with renewed optimism, and the market sector of electronics manufacturing is no different. A growing number of UK manufacturers feel they’re moving ahead of their continental counterparts and are maintaining a positive outlook for the year ahead.

Increased automation, a focus on purpose-built solutions for healthcare applications and further usage of new technology are driving electronics manufacturing forward, with excitement in the sector around new innovations.

The recent news that Elon Musk’s Neuralink project has successfully implanted a brain-computer interface into a human subject’s brain gives an indication of the types of technologies we can expect to see in the short and long-term future.

Paul Dearman, Head of Business Development at specialist cable assembly and electronics manufacturer GTK, has noted a shift in the way that manufacturers interact with their suppliers, with increasingly more rigorous standards required, particularly for specialist projects. We spoke to him to better understand the other electronics trends that today’s original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) should be aware of for 2024…

Solutions for healthcare

With the release of the NHS’ business plan for 2023/24 in September, priorities for publicly-funded healthcare institutions like hospitals and care homes have shifted. Following the merger between NHS England and NHS Digital in February 2023, there’s a greater focus than ever on pushing the NHS forward using technology.

The NHS’ technological priorities for this financial year include delivering “technology upgrades across primary care,” “addressing legacy technology constraints,” and “leveraging innovation to transform health and care.”

“Demand for electronics to be used in healthcare applications is growing, as seen in Q4 of 2023,” notes Dearman. “Electronics producers who are unable to match the complex demands of the healthcare sector risk missing out on a significant chunk of business.”

Evolved manufacturing techniques

Expect technological advances to continue streamlining the electronics manufacturing process through 2024. Internet of Things (IoT) integration has increasingly taken precedence in the sector over the last few years, and that trend shows no signs of slowing down.

Automation will also become more important than ever in 2024 and affect an even greater number of business functions. Automation has already helped expedite the early stages of product development, enabling manufacturers to bring a product to market more quickly than ever. For instance, visualisation tools such as Graphisoft’s Archicad have made it far simpler to create serviceable early-stage designs, freeing up time and resources for the production process.

As such, says Dearman: “Firms who aren’t automating extensively can expect to get left behind by more efficient manufacturers.”

IoT for manufacturers and customers alike

Just as IoT has become an integral part of the manufacturing process, it’s also being increasingly implemented in both residential and business applications. As well as smart homes, business use applications such as supply chain management are becoming more common.

One of the impacts of the growing use of IoT and smart-connecting devices, according to Dearman, is the increased demand for reliable connectivity solutions. “These technologies have necessitated a call for reliable data and power transmission in non-standard settings – OEMs require cable assemblies and connectors that are robust enough to meet those needs in more difficult environments.”

OEMs should therefore be aware of the increased demand for purpose-built solutions, and consider how their existing infrastructure can adapt to support that.

Customisation is king

In 2024, expect your customers to be looking for more bespoke, customised solutions than ever before. Hyper-personalisation has been a growing trend across a range of sectors for a number of years, but demand for bespoke electronics is expected to increase during the year ahead.

Technological advancements are part of the reason behind this – the growing use of machine learning means that businesses can understand their customers in more depth than ever and cater to them more efficiently.

“The demand for personalisation is taking a number of forms”, says Dearman. “Whether it’s small customisations like one-off overmoulding or entirely bespoke solutions, firms need to be prepped to create built-for-purpose solutions.”

Capacitive touch solutions

Given the wide range of electronics that the average consumer interacts with during a given day, OEMs should consider the importance of UI, ergonomics and aesthetics when creating a device that’s designed for direct user input. For example, GTK reports an increase in the level of demand for capacitive touchscreens in its display solutions, as users have now come to expect on-screen controls.

Google Search data backs this up – searches for “capacitive touchscreen” and “capacitive touch sensor” have increased by 23% and 21% respectively compared to January 2023, indicating that demand for these solutions is growing, especially as they becomes more cost-effective for industrial applications.

Sustainability concerns remain vital

As net zero edges closer, businesses across the country are interrogating their operating practices in more depth. Sustainability is becoming a more important concern than ever, as stakeholders at every level become increasingly concerned about the provenance of their electronics.

Offering your customers alternative or sustainably sourced materials could be the difference between winning their business and failing to do so. Many of today’s alternative cabling solutions provide the same durability and performance as their traditional alternatives, so it’s worth considering whether your business has incorporated these into its new product designs.

“Understanding your customers and their habits for the year ahead could be the difference between your business surviving and thriving, so it’s vital to get in front of those trends and understand exactly what they need”, Dearman comments.

Photo by Louis Reed on Unsplash

Prepping for Net Zero: How your SME can create a Net Zero strategy

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Small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs) are vital to the consumer fabric of the modern world and are responsible for between 60% and 70% of the world’s industrial carbon emissions. However, they’re often overlooked when it comes to national policy, with huge corporations usually afforded the focus of UK policymakers.

With Sir Keir Starmer’s recent announcement that the Labour Party will shred its flagship pledge to spend £28bn a year on renewable energy projects, the UK’s commitment to its net zero goals have been once again called into question.

We spoke to Charlotte Enright, Renewables Specialist at green finance experts Anglo Scottish Asset Finance, to discuss the state of the net zero landscape, how environmentally minded SMEs can overcome the obstacles they’re faced with and how to create a robust net zero strategy…

The onus on SMEs

The Labour Party’s U-turn on renewables spending mirrors a policy change by Rishi Sunak’s Conservatives back in September, where he decided to relax some of the country’s net zero commitments. This means that, irrespective of the result of the impending general election, the UK’s SMEs face uncertain governmental guidance when it comes to achieving net zero.

The lack of cohesive guidance has already caused problems for UK businesses, who face further uncertainty going forward. The 2023 edition of the Net Zero Barometer Report by the British Standards Institute (BSI) indicates that two-thirds of decision-makers at UK SMEs do not feel confident in their path to net zero.

Similarly, the same study showed that SMEs across various UK sectors are crying out for guidance from the government. 28% of respondents believed that educational projects would help them reach net zero, while a further 22% feel they need more information in order to get there.

Cultural change…

Money and funding issues aside, it’s particularly difficult for SMEs to completely adapt their business practices without total buy-in at all levels of the company. Enright advises that there’s no substitute for real operational change.

“Everyone, at every level of your company, must be pulling in the same direction to begin making real strides from a net zero perspective,” she states. “Too often, we’re seeing firms nominate dedicated net zero individuals or teams. These staff members are given the impossible task of reducing company emissions without sufficient funding or support from upper management.”

…from top to bottom

It’s not just the upper management who should be involved in the net zero process, however. SMEs should be looking to engage employees of all levels in net zero strategies. It’s often those who are working with company technologies and procedures every day who can provide the most insight into how to streamline those processes.

“Company-wide consultation on net zero strategy might be a challenge to organise initially, but it’s likely to lead to increased employee advocacy for your net zero program and the wider company alike,” says Enright. “Your company could even gain a competitive PR advantage by doing so.”

Increasing emission visibility

Once you’ve ensured that the entire company is onside with your company’s sustainability mission, it’s vital to take a strategic view in terms of monitoring emissions. “For most SMEs,” says Enright, “the best primary course of action is getting a handle on where exactly your emissions come from.”

Corporate emissions can be categorised into three distinct groups – or scopes – a system devised by the Greenhouse Gas Protocol – the world’s most-common greenhouse gas accounting standard. These are:

Scope 1 emissions

Emissions from sources that an organisation owns or controls directly – for example from burning fuel in a fleet of vehicles (if they’re not electrically powered).

Scope 2 emissions

Emissions that a company causes indirectly. These emissions tend to come from where the energy that the company purchases and uses is produced. For example, the emissions caused when generating the electricity used in your building would fall into this category.

Scope 3 emissions

Emissions that are not produced by the company itself and are not the result of activities from assets owned or controlled by them. These emissions are those that your business is indirectly responsible for up and down its value chain. Scope 3 emissions include all sources not within the scope 1 and 2 boundaries.

Understanding where the bulk of your company’s emissions come from is the first – and perhaps most vital – step in ascertaining your goals.

Setting goals

With visibility over where your company’s emissions come from, the next step is setting your goals. The best plans for net zero are regularly reassessed at regular intervals to ensure progress is being met. Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-sensitive (SMART) targets of varying lengths are necessary to keep the big picture in mind and to meet shorter-term targets.

Planning for 2050 – the UK’s current net zero goal – should be the endgame, but successful net zero strategies must be reachable via a series of shorter two-to-three year targets that work in pursuit of the wider goal.

Success will look different for different companies. Your targets can take inspiration from similar, aspirational businesses, but must be tailored to you and your needs. The Oxford Martin Net Zero Carbon Investment Initiative has published a series of Principles for Climate-Conscious Investment to inform and guide your firm’s spend on the way to net zero.

Taking collective action

Collaboration with businesses across your supply chain is a great place to start your net zero strategy, enjoy increased visibility over results and maximise your impact. Most SMEs work regularly with partners or suppliers who will be in the same boat as you when it comes to net zero compliance – and working together can reap a whole host of shared benefits.

Consult with your partners to collectively adopt and promote net zero initiatives, and ensure that your entire value chain is contributing to reducing emissions. As well as helping progress each partner towards net zero, you will likely enhance your collective reputation as a result of standing together on environmental issues.

Recent months have also revealed strong results from a number of collaborations between larger corporations and SMEs. If your SME functions as part of the supply chain for a larger corporation, it may be worth discussing how they can utilise their resources to support associated businesses.

However, it’s vital that any net zero collaboration your business makes is aligned with the Green Agreements Guidance, monitored and administered by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA). This set of guidelines can be used to ensure your collective green action does not fall foul of competition law.

Financial modelling

“The U-turns from both the Tory and Labour parties indicate just how volatile the net zero landscape is,” comments Enright. “So, it’s understandably daunting for SMEs to invest in sustainable infrastructure, particularly when we take fixed cost increases and inflation into account.

“One way to combat this,” she states, “is by first investing in dedicated sustainability modelling tools. These could take the form of training courses, to help better understand the risks associated with a sustainable investment, or a digital tool, to project the performance of your investment in various sustainable initiatives.

“Knowing how to accurately conduct sensitivity and scenario analyses could be the difference between rushing into an ill-advised outlay, or investing successfully,” she advises.

Accessing funding

Even with access to the latest financial modelling software and training, the amount of operational change required for some SMEs may be impossible using only internal funding. In the current landscape, it’s vital that mid-sized businesses are aware of the external funding facilities available to them.

These could come in the form of government funding. SMEs may be eligible for different government grants or loans intended for businesses investing in green technologies with a view to limiting emissions.

Dedicated green bonds and green loans are another valuable facility at your disposal. Global uptake of these green finance methods increased from $5.2bn to $540.6bn between 2012 and 2022, indicating the importance of green finance in the route towards net zero.

These are monitored centrally according to the Green Loan Principles (GLP), which dictate that you must report your company spend on green initiatives, as well as the impact those projects have made.

Enright comments: “Inconsistent messaging from UK leaders has made it difficult for SMEs to know where they stand with regards to national sustainability and how much of the weight of the UK’s net zero push falls on their shoulders.

“Regardless of what your company is being asked to do by the government, a net zero policy is important in terms of your company’s role in the wider push for sustainability. It can also give you a competitive advantage!”

With the right guidance, creating a net zero strategy for your SME need not be as as daunting as it might seem

Photo by Hendrik Schuette on Unsplash

Why now is the time to transition your business to EVs

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By Nicola Mahmood, Business Development Director, Equans EV Solutions

As businesses across the UK look to play their part to support the governments net zero target of 2050 (1), EV adoption naturally becomes part of the conversation. That said, the first question often asked by businesses isn’t ‘should we invest in EV’, ‘but rather ‘when should we start investing in EV?’ – the answer to that question, in the simplest form, is now.

Currently, there are over 810,000 fully electric cars (2) on the UK’s roads – more than double the amount in 2021. Of this figure, 43,000 are vans – highlighting that many businesses are already driving forward the switch to EV.  In addition, ownership of electric commercial vehicles has also risen, with vans up some 67.3% (3). This signifies the increased demand for more sustainable transport, supporting the plans to accelerate a greener future for the transport sector.

In addition to the increased demand, the government’s ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars will be enforced from 2030 in the UK. This may seem far into the future – however, the reality is that for many businesses, that’s likely just one, or two fleet replacement cycles. It’s now more important than ever to start the transition to EV, to ensure your business doesn’t get left behind.

Start small, scale up

If you operate a large-scale fleet, it would typically require significant upfront investment to transition your entire fleet to EV, which many businesses are likely not prepared for. However, it’s important to understand that EV infrastructure doesn’t need to be a single, outright investment. Transitioning to EV is completely scalable, and the solution you choose should be modular, meaning it can grow in line with business growth.

By starting small and scaling up, you will learn what works for your business and have the flexibility to change your strategy if needed. Having a tried and tested model will provide you with a proof of concept and evidence the feasibility of EV to your stakeholders, before making a large-scale investment and a full fleet transition. Adopting EV should be viewed as scalable programme that works around the demands of your business – not a one-time project.

What’s more, as the industry continues to grow, you will also benefit from developments in technology as you expand your infrastructure.

Invest now to reduce costs

The combination of an ever-increasing need for EVs and continued regulatory pressure, has in turn

created a surge in demand for EV infrastructure. In fact, statistics have shown that almost two-thirds of businesses (5) expect to operate a 100% electric fleet in the next four years. With that in mind, as we approach 2030, it’s highly likely that demand will significantly increase as businesses rush to get prepared.

Delaying your transition, or waiting until you are forced to switch could result in higher costs and longer lead times. When infrastructure demand increases, wait times for new grid connections will rise, infrastructure providers will have less capacity and charger demand will increase. By investing now, your business can get ahead and in turn, save valuable time and money in the future.

How to get it right the first time

In an attempt to start the process quickly, many businesses make the mistake of investing in electric vehicles before considering their overarching roadmap to EV. This often leads to an ineffective strategy that doesn’t support the needs of the business or fleet drivers. For the transition to EV to be seamless, businesses should look to start the EV infrastructure conversation first. This ensures your entire EV programme is built around your business operation, rather than as a reactive measure.

A good place to start is by mapping out your business and operational needs, in particular where your fleet vehicles are returned to once they’ve been on the road. For example, if your drivers return vehicles to a depot overnight, installing on-site charging is likely to be most suitable. However, if they return to base throughout the day and require a fast charge before their next route, then rapid charging should be taken into consideration. On the other hand, if your drivers take vehicles home at the end of the day, domestic charging may be considered. Or, you may find that a combination of the three works best to keep you fleet on the move in an optimal way.

Taking all of the operational factors of your business into consideration can be complex and many businesses are unsure where to start, which means they often don’t. This is where involving a charge point delivery partner in the early stages can prove beneficial. Your partner will support you to map out the needs of your fleet and business, including uptime, range, and routes, as well as your power availability and required capacity. Ensuring you get this right at the start will make your transition smoother, and reduce costs in the long run.

Now is the time to transition

It’s clear that the EV revolution is within reach. However, businesses who don’t consider adopting soon will face higher costs and significant delays. Involving a delivery partner in the early stages will help to ensure your solution is fully suitable and scalable, supporting the demands and needs of your business.

The benefits of adopting EV for businesses are endless from a reduced corporate carbon footprint, to cost savings via lower running costs. There are also various government funding initiatives and grants available to support your journey – meaning there’s never been a better time to switch.

Avoiding unnecessary climate change corporate conflict

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The fight to prevent climate catastrophe has led enterprises across the globe to continuously navigate new policies, standards, laws, and regulations that are driving significant business change. Yet conflicting strategies continue to undermine progress. One of the fastest and most effective ways to reduce scope 3 carbon emissions is to minimise employee commutes and eradicate business travel – but this can only be achieved if companies provide a truly effective and engaging digital workplace experience for every single employee, insists Dave Page (pictured), Founder & Chief Strategy Officer, Actual Experience…  

Confused Strategies

The continued siloed nature of corporations globally is undermining essential progress in achieving vital change to support climate change goals. Why are so many businesses, for example, pushing employees to come back into the office at least three days each week when that is totally at odds with the need to reduce carbon emissions? Why are companies advocating more face-to-face meetings – often overseas – and attendances at conferences when this escalation in business travel contributes so heavily to a company’s carbon toll?

Add in the carbon emissions associated with offices, including cooling, heating and lighting, and Working from Home (WfH) offers tangible opportunities to reduce the business’ energy consumption – even if it is only by mothballing certain unused areas or floors within a building.

Both investment and reputation hinge increasingly on not only pledges to minimise carbon emissions, but tangible proof of progress toward the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SGDs) and regulatory plans to enhance and standardise climate related disclosures for investors. So why are so many businesses still failing to grasp the value of an effective digital working environment to its Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) strategy?

Embrace Cultural Change

What is even more confusing is that employees are already on board with this shift in working experience. Individuals may have their own reasons for preferring WfH to the commute or a collaborative video call to the flight to New York, but this is a corporate win: win. There is no need to compel employees to change behaviour in order to achieve a reduction in scope 3 emissions – they have already embraced the Future of Work. Plus, a business able to demonstrate the additional carbon reduction value of this strategy can win serious employee plaudits, especially across a younger generation driven by environmental values.

Rather than fight against the tide, companies should be prioritising the delivery of a high quality digital human experience that accelerates this changing behaviour. And that means investing in a digital workplace that enables every employee to work effectively remotely. It means ensuring the quality of the experience is so powerful, so compelling that employees can confidently replace face-to-face meetings with key overseas clients with a virtual interaction. It means rapidly identifying the experience of each individual to ensure every single employee is consistently engaged and productive.

And that means understanding each employee’s unique individual experience, in detail and continuously, and using that insight to firstly reveal and address any areas of digital inequality and then build on the quality of experience to create an even more compelling digital workplace experience.

Conclusion

A truly effective digital workplace will drive cultural change. It will enable employees to prove the value of remote working to management and, critically, it will provide the ESG team with tangible measures of carbon reduction. With complete insight into employee location, it is simple to track activity and demonstrate change. How often are employees commuting into an office or remote working hub? Are they travelling abroad? Using standard carbon emission numbers associated with commuting and business travel, a company can quickly assess the current situation, measure the impact of digital experience enhancements on employee behaviour and demonstrate improvements year on year.

The carbon emissions associated with individuals commuting daily, compared to those primarily based at home are significant – and the reduction in scope 3 emissions that can be achieved when employees are empowered to make the most of a digital workplace are compelling. So, when will companies recognise the importance of embedding ESG strategic thinking into every aspect of business decision making?

The road to smarter buildings & facilities management with IoT  

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Inflation, energy costs and the cost of living are increasingly causing challenges for businesses and consumers. This is resulting in higher operational costs for organisations to not only manage, but run their facilities – placing pressure on facility managers’ shoulders to operate their sites more cost effectively and productively. In addition, the industry faces labour and skills shortages, which are causing operational challenges for many teams.

That in mind, what should facility managers consider as they strive to cope with these pressures? Moreover, what is the role of people alongside technology in managing facilities during 2023 – especially as buildings become smarter, digital transformation continues to thrive, and IoT becomes affordable? Chris Potts, Marketing Director, ANT Telecom discusses how IoT monitoring can support smarter and more effective facilities management…

The role of people and technology
One of the problems many facilities managers come up against in managing their sites is that they lack the time, resources and information required to do so. With the many sites and the many systems required to keep a building functioning, facilities managers are up against it as they travel from site to site, or from one part of a property to another, to check the status of their facilities.

This often comprises assessing if facilities are safe and secure, and that occupants are happy in the environment that they operate in. Factors that many facilities managers are often checking include room temperatures; whether there is enough good lighting (especially for those that are not near a window); and they are increasingly focusing on ensuring areas are properly ventilated in efforts to ensure that premises do not become too stuffy or difficult to concentrate in, promoting productivity.

So, they are continuously monitoring whether critical systems, such as Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) systems, are in good working condition – as we all know, it can very disruptive on hot or cold days if these systems fail, because they can make conditions difficult to work in. Further, facilities managers face the constant battle of providing people accessing a space an optimum room temperature – one colleague wants a warmer office, another complains that it’s too cold. What is the best way to control this without true knowledge about the state of play?

The challenge here is that facilities managers often do not  have reliable, intelligent data to draw on to help manage room or site temperatures. It’s very difficult to know what the current temperature of a room is unless they’re continually checked, which is very time consuming. It’s also impractical to do this manually on a daily basis, when facilities management teams are already stretched and responsible for multiple sites and systems. However, despite the time and effort required to do this, it’s quite a common process in many industries to monitor HVAC, environments and equipment manually.

Manual processes, ripe for improvement

Take the food and hospitality sector as another example. Staff often manually monitor and record the temperature of fridges/freezers regularly throughout the day to ensure appliances are working correctly and that food remains fresh and good to eat. Similarly, in hospitals, care homes and hotels staff are typically tasked twice weekly to systematically flush all water outlets (e.g. taps and showers) to measure water temperature, and to record all activity to control the risk of legionella growth.

Organisations are also trying to tackle high energy costs by cutting appropriate usage where possible.  This involves turning lights and heating off, in many cases, when staff leave premises; or using high powered equipment only when necessary; or replacing old appliances with more energy efficient models. But, who is responsible for checking that lights are, indeed, off – something normally done manually, and what about the other systems and appliances used?

All these manual, resource intensive processes are ripe for improvement. However, without the ability to measure key parameters across these scenarios, it’s difficult to know if any new procedures or processes implemented will address the issues raised, and if they are working effectively or not.

IoT sensors provide insight centrally

This is where IoT sensors can help. Installed in key locations, they offer site managers the capabilities to monitor equipment and key parts of a particular building, site or facility centrally.  Sensors can be installed in any number of scenarios too these days to automate and monitor all sorts of equipment and conditions such as room temperature, CO2, lighting and energy.

Further, with no cables to worry about, installing a sensor today is easy, as it only takes a few minutes. Batteries within sensors typically last 3- 5 years too, depending on data transmission rates, meaning they require very little maintenance.

Once data has been collected from sensors it is uploaded to a secure online portal where registered users, like facilities managers, can access and review at any time from any PC, Laptop or Smartphone. Thresholds across key metrics can be set to notify key individuals when levels have been breached, and floor plans can be loaded so that facilities managers can visually see where sensors are located. What is more, it is possible to document causes for threshold breaches to discover trends, and generate paperless reports that can be automatically shared with appropriate colleagues or fulfil compliance obligations.

Essentially, this data provides valuable insights, enabling teams to implement measures that improve site operations, monitor equipment or track equipment issues, in efforts to reduce energy, waste and save money.

Conclusion

Today facilities managers are expected to spread themselves across many sites in efforts to improve site operations. This is not physically possible all the time, and is immensely time consuming, resource intensive and impractical in certain occasions.

As the capabilities of the IoT sensor market improves, facilities managers can harness this technology to reduce the burden for themselves, and their respective teams, to automate the checking, monitoring and management of some sites, environments, facilities and equipment. This will enable teams to spend their time on other meaningful tasks more productively.

What is more, since this technology has reached a state of affordability, it can be implemented incrementally in stages, in such a way that allows teams to start with small trial projects, before developing more sophisticated monitoring strategies, with a view to ultimately providing organisations with the much needed knowledge required to improve operations.

EU Hydrogen Bank could bring renewable hydrogen costs below 1 euro/kg

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By Jake Stones, ICIS

ICIS data shows that renewable hydrogen could be sold for below €1/kg if a producer obtains the maximum support provided by the European Hydrogen Bank, according to the heads of terms for the bank published by the European Commission on 31 March.

The bank, which was announced in September 2022, aims to support hydrogen producers using an auction bidding system, which ranks bidders according to price per kilo of hydrogen.

Utilising the Innovation Fund, the commission will allocate €800m for the first auction for support from the bank, with subsidies capped at €4/kg of hydrogen. The hydrogen has to be aligned with the delegated act for renewable fuels of non-biological origin (RFNBO), also known as renewable hydrogen, and projects must reach full capacity within three-and-a-half years of being awarded funding. Funding is granted once hydrogen production starts.

Successful bidders will then be granted a fixed sum according to the volume bid, over the course of ten years. Bidders cannot win more than 33% of the available budget, and must have a project size of at least 5MW.

€1/KG HYDROGEN

ICIS assessment data from 4 April shows that renewable hydrogen produced using a 10-year renewable power purchase agreement (PPA) starting in 2026 in the Netherlands would cost €4.58/kg on a project breakeven basis. For 10-year PPA renewable hydrogen, ICIS accounts for the recovery of the capital investment for the electrolyser over the duration of the PPA, meaning by the end of the subsidised period, costs would be recovered.

Given a hydrogen producer could receive the full subsidy of €4/kg, this would mean just €0.58/kg of hydrogen would be needed to achieve capital cost recovery, meaning the producer would need to charge buyers less than €1/kg to ensure project breakeven.

Comparatively, renewable hydrogen production in Germany commencing in 2026 and utilising offshore was assessed at €5.96/kg on 4 April, meaning post-subsidy hydrogen would be just under €2/kg.

However, given the competitive nature of the bid, namely that ordering is a result of lowest-bid first, there is potential that the full subsidy will not be awarded.

Further, the auction limit depends on volume and bid amount, meaning once the €800m is allocated, there will be no further subsidy for this round.

ICIS data shows that European hydrogen demand by 2030 is forecast to reach 10.3 million tonnes (mt) by 2030. If full subsidy was distributed to all bidders, it would cover just 200,000 tonnes of renewable hydrogen, just under 2% of projected demand by the end of the decade.

The commission is aiming to hold further auctions however, meaning that the €800m is an initial starting point, not the limit, for the European Hydrogen Bank.

MARKET DEVELOPMENT

Alongside the development of hydrogen support and therefore expansion of hydrogen supply, the bank mechanism indicated the benefit of the auction system for driving competition. By awarding hydrogen to the lowest bidder, and by maintaining an auction limit of €800m, participants are encouraged to reduce costs of production where possible.

The heads of terms document for the European Hydrogen Bank notes that a fixed premium, namely a single subsidy figure provided over the course of 10 years for every unit of hydrogen produced, was opted for due to the absence of price transparency in the current hydrogen market.

By utilising a fixed premium, there is no need for a market reference price, the document outlined.

During the pilot for the European Hydrogen Bank, just renewable hydrogen is being targeted. However, low-carbon hydrogen could be included in future iterations.

On the basis of price discovery, the heads of terms noted that the auction type was referring to as “static”, meaning bidders bid a single price that is not changed. The alternative was 

noted as “dynamic” whereby bidders could receive some information on the activity of other auction participants, providing a component of price discovery.

The first auction will be held in autumn of 2023.

Rising energy costs and potential blackouts – impact on employers

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By Jayne Flint, Associate in the Employment Team at Law Firm Womble Bond Dickinson

Increased energy and supply costs and the potential for blackouts this winter are forcing many organisations to consider reduced opening or manufacturing times. This article looks at the options available to employers and how to consult effectively with staff about changes to terms and conditions of employment.

Background

The National Grid has warned that from January, a series of staggered regional blackouts might be imposed from 4pm to 7pm to manage UK demand for energy.

Most businesses will be affected save for a limited number of “protected sites”, which includes hospitals, care homes, food manufacturers and other organisations that are part of critical national infrastructure.  Organisations that generate their own power will also be able to continue running during any blackouts.

Given this, it is vital to ensure that your business has a plan in place to manage the consequences of blackouts on your operations.

Options

The impact of blackouts will vary according to the size of the organisation, the nature of the work it does and the hours of work or shift patterns it operates.  Employers that already operate flexibly and have embraced remote and hybrid working will, arguably, be much better placed to cope with any  blackouts and less likely to see a significant drop in productivity levels.

This does not mean that such organisations should be complacent. It would be prudent to implement a communication plan and discuss with employees what this means in terms of their agreed working hours, whether those hours can be met through the blackouts (by, for example, varying the times of the day or week that employees work) and, if not, whether the time can be made up later or taken as holiday etc.

For many employers, the reality of managing blackouts and the negative impact this will have on productivity will be much more serious.

Organisations in the manufacturing, hospitality and retail sectors often engage staff on a fixed number of contractual hours each week.  If a decision is made to close or reduce the business during blackouts, this will in all likelihood reduce the number of staff required that week.  This may lead to discussions about a temporary reduction in hours of work, which will be a real challenge for employees who are also feeling the impact of the squeeze on their finances.

Employers need to ensure they navigate these conversations very carefully, as this will give rise to a number of legal risks. Considerations for employers include:

  • whether a temporary reduction in work will trigger the need for collective consultation under section 188 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations Consolidation Act 1992 (TULRCA). Failure to get this right can lead to the automatic payment of a protective award at the employment tribunal of up to 90 days’ pay per employee.
  • consulting with individuals effectively to try and reach agreement on the proposal for a temporary reduction in hours of work. This may well include consideration of alternative suggestions put forward by employees.  “Outside the box” thinking can be a useful mindset for employers to adapt in such scenarios.
  • whether this will technically amount to a “lay off” situation.  This arises where staff are being offered no work or pay (or shorter hours of work) for a temporary period in order to deal with a  downturn in work.  An employee’s contractual and statutory rights (such as, for example the right to guaranteed pay,) will depend on whether or not the employer has the contractual right to lay them off or put them on short-time working, and where a reduction in work legally amounts to a layoff or short term working, this can give rise to claims for constructive unfair dismissal and/or redundancy payments. Getting this wrong can therefore be very costly to the business.
  • ensuring that any decision taken by the business does not lead to claims of discrimination by anyone in the workforce with a protected characteristic on the grounds of, for example, sex, disability, race or nationality, or age.
  • whether a continuation of blackouts will lead to the risk of redundancies. If so, appropriate timeframes will need to be put in place to submit the HR1 form and manage the redundancy process in line with collective and individual consultation measures. The duty to collectively consult and submit the HR1 will be triggered once an organisation “proposes” to make 20 or more employees redundant at one establishment within a 90 day period. Failure to submit the HR1 form on time is an offence under TULRCA, which can lead to the imposition of an unlimited fine. This, along with the employment tribunal’s power to make an award of up to 90 days’ pay per employee for failure to collectively consult, is certainly a cause for focus,

It is also important to consider the wider implications on employee and industrial relations. Unions may object to the measures in an attempt to leverage better overall packages for their members, and businesses in this scenario need to be prepared for some tough conversations.

Preparing a well thought out plan and communicating openly with staff as early as possible will be key to both ensuring the legal risks are well managed and endeavouring to get staff on board with the need for the measures in advance of them being implemented.

Womble Bond Dickinson has a strong national team of employment lawyers and can support your business to manage the legal risks. If you would like a further discussion on a confidential basis about how we can help you, please do not hesitate to get in touch with your usual WBD contact or the author of this article.