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Breaking the energy barrier for smaller firms

by Katie Bird on
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Energy management and energy efficiency remain largely the preserve of big business. This is why tailored advice for SMEs might help break the energy barrier and open more energy-saving opportunities.

Energy management and efficiency is not just for big companies, small businesses can also achieve big savings. According to the US Department of Energy, small buildings account for almost half of the overall energy use and have the potential to save approximately USD 30 billion annually.

Since energy, environmental and operational savings are so great, it is no longer a question of whether a business can afford to upgrade, but whether it can afford not to. 

Liam McLaughlin, principal author of the new ISO/ITC/UNIDO handbook ISO 50001 – A practical guide for SMEs, explains why tailored advice for SMEs will help them cut costs, be less impacted by future variations in energy prices, and make their business more sustainable long term.

This handbook complements the already popular collection that includes ISO 9001, ISO 14001 and ISO 22000 for SMEs.

So, what are some of the energy challenges SMEs face today? Are there any misconceptions?

Liam McLaughlin: With pressures on to remain competitive and reduce costs, SMEs – like most companies – are looking for ways to become leaner and meaner with their energy use.

Here’s the thing. SMEs may think that energy management and energy efficiency are for big businesses with lots of extra resources/money to invest, as well as the technical know-how to reduce energy cost. This, however, is not the case. In reality, few organizations “naturally” have the necessary technical expertise in that area.

What’s more, it is often easier for SMEs to implement these principles than larger organizations. This is because a small business usually has fewer layers of management, and therefore less bureaucracy, making it simpler and faster to make changes and improvements.

Why is targeted advice for SMEs important?

It is important for SMEs to realize the potential of energy savings and other benefits. They frequently do not know where or how to begin, often steered by advice rather than by the best financial return in terms of cost and benefit. This is where targeted advice enables them to develop a better understanding of where energy is being used in the organization and how savings can be made.

Any tips to SMEs?

There are plenty, but I will focus my advice on two areas: management and technical.

Management ideas:
  • Be open to changes in work practices.
  • Get support from top management.
  • Assign clear roles and responsibilities for those involved.
Technical ideas:
  • Understand where and why you use energy.
  • Understand how your energy consumption varies. Does it vary from day to day or week to week? Why? Or, more importantly, why not?
  • Measure and work out your baseload. This means understanding why you use energy when there is little or no activity in your company, i.e. at night or at weekends or during periods of no production. This can be measured by taking manual readings of your electricity and fuel meters.
  • Keep metrics and reports as simple as possible.

The new handbook ISO 50001 – A practical Guide for SMEs has been designed to be used alongside ISO 50001 and provides concrete examples of how to plan and implement energy efficiency measures, often without the need for investment in new technology or systems.


The handbook can be purchased from your ISO member and through the ISO Store.