Luxury and efficiency – can you have both?

Without buy-in from people in your core business operations, saving energy can be a tall order.

But there’s no denying it can be a tough sell. Plenty of people still think of energy efficiency as scrimping and saving, and worry about the effects it might have on the customer experience or brand image.

It’s an understandable concern, and one that it’s worth taking seriously. Aseai Zlaoui, Technical Systems and Energy Manager at Harrods, had some interesting things to say about this at Talk Power 2012 last April.

Harrods is of course a luxury brand, and likes its customers to feel like it’s spared no expense to make them feel special. So to get buy-in from the retail part of the business, the Energy Manager and the rest of the technical, services and backroom people had to prove that the store could save energy in ways that would be invisible to customers.

If you’ve visited Harrods, you’ll know that it’s very impressively lit, both inside and outside. The team there recognised very quickly that lighting accounted for the bulk of the store’s energy consumption, so that’s where they started. They managed to cut consumption by 29% in four years just by making sure lights were turned off after hours, when no customers were around to see a difference. In fact, the customer experience was improved: turning the lights off at night improved the building’s issues with thermal inertia, giving the team better control over heating and cooling, the result being a more pleasant shopping environment.

That got the rest of the business’s attention, and helped the Energy Manager get buy-in for a major investment plan – still putting the customer experience first, of course.

Escalators at Harrods now run at slower speeds – but only when nobody’s on them. Air supply and extraction in the kitchens is ramped down – but only when sensors show there’s nothing on the range. And many of the shop-floor display cabinets now use LED lighting, which shows off the products better (oh, and it’s more energy efficient as well).

Aseai said at Talk Power 2012 that energy efficiency was the philosophy at the heart of every design decision at Harrods – but that maintaining the luxury and theatre of the retail experience was always at the forefront of their minds. It’s not easy to strike that kind of balance between internal and external priorities – but get it right and every part of the business benefits.

Posted by Daniel Bentham, Head of R&D Smart Customers at EDF Energy

Dan Bentham MEng CEng MEI Chartered Energy Engineer, has worked in the low carbon energy sector for over 10 years. He is currently responsible for the research and development of future energy systems and technologies such as Smart Cities, Smart Grids, Smart Businesses, Smart Metering, Connected Homes, Low Carbon Transport and Energy Storage for the UK market.