Business Advice

A printer’s guide to cutting energy bills

by FESPA Staff | 25/07/2022
A printer’s guide to cutting energy bills

With help from the Carbon Trust, we’ve put together a specific guide for printers who want to make their businesses more energy efficient.

It’s a reality of business that the things that are ‘nice to do’ are often the first to be discarded when financial pressures come to bear. So, while there is easy virtue to be had in managing a business to behave responsibly when it comes to climate change, such steps can be quietly ‘forgotten’ if more immediate economic considerations raise their head. 

In the case of energy use, though, those two factors do not need to be mutually exclusive: energy-responsible business is also good business. With the corporate world increasingly motivated by sustainability, any steps you take to be more environmentally friendly may help to attract customers. But while that is a helpful benefit, much more importantly – and much more directly – saving energy simply saves you money and increases profitability.

According to the Carbon Trust, “even low and no-cost actions can usually reduce energy costs by at least 10% and produce quick returns”, and “a 20% cut in energy costs represents the same bottom-line benefit as a 5% increase in sales in many businesses”. Regardless of any other benefits, that should be enough to interest most business owners.
But how do you go about reducing the energy demands of your printing business?

Step 1 – Understand and identify

The first step is to understand how much energy your entire business uses on a daily basis and which machinery and systems are using the most energy in your print shop. 

  • Take a walk round your shop floor, looking at each individual piece of machinery, identifying any which are old or require maintenance and aren’t running efficiently. (You can download an Energy Walk Round Checklist from the ‘Better Business Guide to Energy Saving’ here.
  • Speak to staff to hear their thoughts about where energy is being wasted or where energy could be saved. 
  • Write down potential energy-saving steps that come to light and prioritise them, starting with the simplest to act on or the ones that offer the greatest savings – do not expect or even plan to take all the measures at once. 
  • Collate recent energy bills and take some meter readings before making any changes – these will serve as your baseline. Remember, you may have more than one meter for each type of fuel.

Typical electricity consumption profile before and after energy management procedures (courtesy Carbon Trust)

Step 2 – Heating  

According to the Carbon Trust, across all non-domestic sectors, the most significant energy-consuming end use is heating. In fact, heating accounts for around 40% of all non-domestic energy usage. So, whatever the energy demands of your printshop’s production line, heating is a significant energy use.

One of the biggest issues for businesses is overheating. The Carbon Trust says that heating costs rise by 8% for every 1˚C of overheating. The reasons for overheating are issues such as areas being heated that don’t need to be warmed – such as storerooms or corridors – or poor control of heating systems. However, there are other steps you can take to reduce your heating energy usage.

  • Improve insulation and reduce draughts throughout your premises.
  • Understand your business’s hot water requirements – and, again, insulate hot water tanks as efficiently as possible.
  • Ensure boilers are well looked after and serviced annually – heating costs can increase by 30% or more if a boiler is poorly operated or maintained.
  • Heat your premises in zones, so that storerooms, etc, don’t have the same heating demands as main workspaces.
  • For your printshop’s main heating system, make sure thermostats are placed in the correct locations; are set to the right temperature (generally 19-20˚C); and are on a correct timer.
  • Use thermostatic radiator valves where possible to provide local control of radiators.
  • Avoid using portable heaters and, if you must use them, install a simple timer switch so that they shut down after a set period.
  • Don’t open windows or use air conditioning at the same time as the heating! 

Step 3 – Lighting

While heating is by far the biggest use of energy in non-domestic sectors, lighting is solidly in second place. The BEIS Building Energy Efficiency Survey (2016) found that in non-domestic buildings, 17% of energy consumption was for lighting. For printing, good lighting is a vital element to ensure accurate quality control. However, installing efficient lighting units can help to significantly reduce high levels of electricity consumption.

  • Again, start by conducting an audit of your lighting systems. Are there any areas that are being habitually lit unnecessarily?  
  • Replace older fluorescent lights with LED units if possible – these have a longer life, lower maintenance costs and can represent cost savings of up to 80% for a business.
  • Keep lamps, fittings and especially rooflights clean.
  • Consider specific ‘task lighting’ to minimise the amount of electric light being used. Light the working or proofing area to a higher level and provide background lighting at a lower level. 
  • Finally, don’t forget what you always tell your children – encourage staff to switch off lights when not in use, including main shop floor lights and exterior lights. You could even carry out an ‘out of hours’ audit to check everything is switched off when the business is closed. 

Step 4 – On the shop floor

The shop floor might be where all the important work is done but that doesn’t mean it can be excused from doing its part in bring down your business’s overall energy consumption. 

  • As we mentioned in step one, check all your print machinery is well maintained and running as efficiently as possible. An inefficient machine is costing your business in more ways than one.
  • In the case of any computing equipment used in your workflow, make sure it has built-in energy-saving features – such as the Energy Star rating. Then make sure those features are enabled.
  • Turn equipment off at night and weekends to reduce their energy consumption. If computer monitors are also turned off when not being used (including lunchtimes, etc), and standby options are activated, their energy consumption can be reduced by up to 90% per year.
  • Many print machinery manufacturers are now meeting some sustainability demands. When replacing machinery look to see if your replacement product is fitted with higher efficiency motors or variable speed drives. Higher efficiency motors can save 3–5% of running costs.

Step 5 – Office and ICT

The office and computing systems that operate as the brains of a printing business also make their own significant energy demands. For example, in an air-conditioned office, it can take half as much energy again to remove the heat generated by office equipment as it takes to run the equipment in the first place. But they are ways to improve this.
  • As above, use equipment with built-in energy saving features.
  • Remember: a screensaver does not save energy and a photocopier left on overnight uses enough energy to make more than 5,000 A4 copies!

Percentage of overall energy use by system for typical SMEs (courtesy Carbon Trust)

Step 6 – Compare meter readings

While it’s nice to do things that, in theory, make your business more efficient, it’s even better to have some concrete figures put on those energy savings. We mentioned in section one the need to have past energy bills and meter readings as an initial baseline – now these will become useful.

  • To understand the effectiveness of any measures you have taken, take new meter readings regularly and compare them with your original or previous readings to gauge what effect your steps are having. 
  • Remember to take into account any differences in weather: if it’s colder, heating demands might be higher. And shorter days in winter will require more electric light. 
  • Workforce: fewer people on site will have a lower energy consumption. 
  • Workflow: less work means less printing machinery in use.
  • If you are a small company and you haven’t got a smart meter, ask your energy supplier if they can supply one. That way you can easily keep track of live energy consumption.
  • If there is a change to your meter readings that can’t be explained, or no reduction when you would expect to see one, check controls and settings – equipment may be left on when it is not needed. 
  • If there is an unexpected fluctuation, then it is worth looking further to check if an equipment malfunction or change in working method has caused an increase in energy use.

Step 7 – Pay less

As we said at the start, the point of this guide isn’t just to help protect the planet, it’s to make your business more profitable. By going through the steps above, that should be very possible. But there are other ways to reduce your energy bill.

  • Where you can, make maximum use of cheaper electricity rates, especially at night-time. Equally, minimise use of peak rate and winter units.
  • Check tariffs to ensure you are paying the minimum amount.
  • Check with your supplier that the load (the amount drawn from the supply) has no unusual characteristics that may affect the unit price.
  • Finally, ‘electricity profile classes’ determine the cost of electricity supply. Each business is assigned an electricity profile class which is based on a business’s overall consumption and load profile. Check with your supplier if you feel you have been placed in the incorrect profile class.

To read the Carbon Trust’s full ‘Better Business Guide to Energy Saving’, visit

by FESPA Staff Back to News

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