Tuesday 6 December 2011

Keeping the home fires burning

At a lecture I attended many years ago presented by Matthew Fox, I was struck by his observation that as a member of homo urbanus, I was cut off from the elements.

So much so, that in our homes we no longer really feel them - the earth is covered over and built on, fire is boxed up in boilers, water travels through pipes, and the air is often messed about with by conditioners, humidifiers, and any number of interventions. In many modern offices you can't actually open the windows.

This sense of disconnection is also true of our energy usage. Anyone living little more than 100 years ago would be astonished at our steady supply of energy in the form of electricity and gas, and the assumption that we can have it exactly when needed, instantaneously, on demand, invisibly driving everything that heats, powers, and makes our home work. Faraday was indeed a genius.

Before the oil and coal revolution, fetching fuel (usually wood), and water, was an integral and time consuming part of survival. And, of course, two-thirds of the current world's population are in this position. It has been calculated that on average, today, an African living in a rural location spends 2 hours per day simply fetching water. So.... glad to be out of that, we think. Fine, as long as we continue to be aware of and value where our resources come from now, and how much we consume. But most of the time we are oblivious of this, because the process is invisible.

If this is true of the home, it is even more true of our workplaces, given that we are not usually responsible for the bills. 3 years ago, Mark Crutchley and Maria Price of the then TN Energy Group, invited the BBC locally to record on camera apparent energy wasteage late at night in Norwich - this ranged from office block lights left on, to car sales showrooms and shops with very large outputs of lighting on at 11.00 p.m. It featured as an item on BBC Look East and clearly the media team thought this was a striking and newsworthy piece.

This great idea is now being re-shaped and formed as our very own Energy Look Out initiative. So now, everyone has a chance to report us examples of energy waste - or indeed any kind of resource waste ( what about those constantly running taps in some of the cafe chains?) - and members of the Look Out team will contact the retailer or company concerned. See this month's bulletin.

However, unlike the mainstream media approach, we are not out to 'name and shame', but to firstly alert the company, and suggest ways they could save energy - and money. We will then publish the companies where positive change has been evidenced.

Research shows that in comparing companies that have adopted carbon and energy-saving measures, with those that have not, the latter group, when asked 'why not?', simply did not believe any significant savings could be made. Given some of the first group managed savings of 20% and more, this was yet another example of the need to change behaviours, assumptions and attitudes. So right on the transition agenda then!

Keep those reportings and sightings coming, and thanks to those who have already written to us.

Report your concern by e-mailing here . We will also be meeting informally at Take 5, Tombland, Norwich on December 12th 6.30 p.m. to further develop this initiative


  1. "...be aware of and value where our resources come from now, and how much we consume. But most of the time we are oblivious of this, because the process is invisible."

    This is so true, Chris. And in this context at least it gives lie to that old saying 'what we don't see won't harm us...'

    Nice piece, and the project sounds great. Really like the thing about not naming and shaming.

  2. A lot of people don't understand how a thermostat functions and when they are cold they set the thermostat to a very high temperature in the expectation that they will feel warm quicker than if they left the thermostat at a more reasonable setting. This is often followed by someone feeling too hot and opening the window rather than adjusting the thermostat!

    Many buildings have computer room air conditioners venting heat to the atmosphere whilst at the same time fuel is burnt to heat the office where the people are!

  3. "Many buildings have computer room air conditioners venting heat to the atmosphere whilst at the same time fuel is burnt to heat the office where the people are!"

    At university, we modelled heating and cooling in buildings using computer programs for the purposes of specifying air conditioning equipment. One of the "loads" that must be considered is electronic equipment. If you're clever, you can use the heat that's generated in a building (from people and equipment) to create a natural flow of air, drawing cool air from other parts of the building, or from outside, and then guiding the warmer air through parts of the building that need to be warmer.

    Some new buildings have been designed using these principles, with varying successes, but it's not standard practice, and certainly existing buildings are very difficult to adapt to these principles. However, I'd very much like to take on the challenge!

  4. The Look Out project sounds really great, I will definitely be on the look out for offending businesses and be in touch, also agree with the constructive change approach for the businesses.

  5. excellent initiative - most individuals, households and firms could do with advice as to how best to mnake savings - in energy and in cost. Not many people manage their central heating timing properly in their own homes as it often seems so complicated (and not everyone is good at following the isntructions provided in the booklets that often get lost anyway)- as a result they may leave it on all day or have it on a routine timing programme when they could be more flexible - a service to provide advice, for a small charge even, the income to go to some named energy-saving group or activity, might be worth setting up. david