As the temperature rises, businesses need to keep things cool

  23rd Jul 2019

Low Carbon expert Dave Cadwallader of MEES Solutions explains why, in a heatwave, it’s important for businesses and their landlords to keep an eye on the need to cool the planet while taking short-term measures to keep staff cool:


One of the downsides of climate change is that the temperature is rising – however landlords and business owners taking steps to keep people cool could force the planet to warm even faster.

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 via MEES regulations 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.  The new MEES regulations are forcing landlords, both domestic and commercial, to put energy-efficient solutions in place.  However, in the UK, most of the solutions focus around heating and lighting – not keeping people cool.

Cooling is important – excessive heat means the brain does not function so well, people do not sleep so well and therefore less productive at work.  At extremes, heat stress can lead to organ failure and death, with heat stroke causing 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, the challenge for employers and landlords is finding a cooling solution that does not make climate change worse.  Carbon dioxide emissions rose another 2% in 2018, the fastest pace in seven years – at least partly attributable to more demand worldwide for air conditioning and heating in 2018, according to BP Plc in its annual review of the energy sector.

In fact, according to the International Energy Agency, 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 Bloomberg warned only last month was likely to 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. Within cities the heat removed from premises through cooling ends up in the atmosphere and can contribute to ‘urban heat island’ effects in cities. 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.

So, are there any climate friendly ways to keep cool?

One thing is sure, the ad-hoc purchase of inefficient personal fans stuck under desks and portable aircon units aren’t good for staff or the climate – they consume large amounts of power but have only a minor impact on temperature.  However, there are other ways to keep your staff cool and we’d recommend businesses take some of the following steps:

  1. 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, whereas synthetic materials will make staff warmer.  At the very least, if uniform cannot be relaxed, then let staff roll up their sleeves.
  2. Open windows where possible, preferably before heat builds up- maybe even overnight if it can be done securely
  3. Consider providing 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.
  4. Encourage staff to drink more water, and think about keeping bottles of water in empty office fridges rather than paying extra for a water cooler. Get them to bring re-usable bottles in to reduce plastic waste.
  5. Large offices with lots of people and PCs can create a massive heat source.  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 on laptops from home, or start and finish earlier than normal, to make office temperatures more bearable?
  6. If you have fans, then use them strategically. Set them up in windows or halls to get a cross breeze going. Place a bowl of ice at an angle in front of a fan so that air blows across it to create a cool breeze.
  7. If you have a ceiling fan with two directions, make sure it is running counterclockwise at high speed to push cool air down.
  8. Ensure that 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 computers on overnight with all the windows closed means you’ll start with a warm office, whereas turning them off will allow the room to cool overnight and cut energy bills too!
  9. 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.
  10. If you do invest in air conditioning, make sure it is modern and serviced regularly.  Inefficient air conditioning, like portable units 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 are cooling down the temperatures in the office, it’s important to keep our eye on cooling down the planet too.


About the author

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’.