Is ‘Less’ the new ‘More’?

July 12, 2007

Welcome to Brockenhurst College, winners of the western region ReDesign Challenge. Below they describe a future scenario where businesses and homes engage democratically in the use and production of power from renewable sources. Coupled with this would be a drive for energy efficiency to lower demand and save money. But there is a dilemma here. What if the savings made by producing some of our own power locally are directed back in to a linear system? What if the money is used to buy more stuff made from declining natural resources and delivered and disposed of using the last viable oil reserves? What needs to happen to make the brave plans put forward by the Brockenhurst team come to fruition in a fully circular economy?

Can We Power Our Own Lives?

Fossil fuels and oil are running out. Supplied by ever more volatile sources that are set to become unaffordable, we need to build energy resilience into our local communities – improving self sufficiency in a way which is not damaging to our environment.

Our Redesign Challenge proposes the remodelling of our communities at every level to be energy generating sources which may one day power our homes, schools and lives, whilst using the energy we can create as efficiently as possible – civilisations’ biggest challenge yet… an Energy Democracy?

Our team has looked at the viability of achieving 100% energy independence in our communities. Britain is run from 97% fossil fuel energy – only 2.2% comes from renewable sources yet in Sweden they manage a figure of 44%! We propose that by 2050, the UK could become powered completely by renewable sources, and this can most effectively be done by energy localisation. Will it work?

Sustaining our Businesses

Despite the huge potential for businesses to thrive in the circular economy, they are one of the main culprits of excessive energy consumption. In a localised community, the national grid would act as a conduit – businesses would have their own way of producing the energy they used, which in times of excessive production could be shared to needy sources.

Energy Production: Businesses

The use of photovoltaic cells, wind turbines and other renewable sources of energy not only cut costs long term for a business, but can also cut their carbon footprint. For example, in our closest city, Southampton, hot brine from the geothermal well provides 18% of the total district heating mix; not totally sustainable, but a sure step in the right direction.

Other solutions include the installation of ‘Green Roofs’ on buildings with both environmental and financial benefits. These are roofs covered in vegetation, planted over a waterproof membrane. Green roofs:

  • Provide insulation for buildings
  • Absorb rainwater
  • Create habitats for wildlife
  • Filter CO2 from the air
  • Filter metals and pollutants out of rainwater
  • Dramatically increase the life span of the roof itself.

Transportation plays a huge part in most businesses, either distributing products or the commuting of employees. Self-sustainability can be achieved further with the use of electric cars (or scooters) that can be charged during the night with relatively small distances being travelled to and from work.

Energy Efficiency: Improving Performance in Local Businesses

Producing your own energy is a tough challenge, and one way to make it easier is to use the energy you’ve created as efficiently as possible. Although spoilt for choice, here are some of the methods we suggest would be most effective in contributing to successful energy conservation in small (and large) businesses. These solutions would be sure to save money, and perhaps government legislation could even play a part in how much energy businesses are able to use outside their working hours.

  • It’s crucial that energy usage is monitored. Knowing exactly how much energy is consumed allows change and improvement to be closely monitored.
  • Businesses must consider the lighting. Inefficient lighting not only uses more energy than is necessary, but elevates costs. Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning are similar. Almost all businesses make use of these, and limiting usage to when staff occupy the buildings is another large saver.
  • Should legislation enforce on-the-spot fines upon businesses which use excessive percentages of their normal energy use outside opening times?

Sustaining our Community - Public Buildings

‘Name and shame’: compulsory since 2009, ‘Display Energy Certificates’ must be in clear view in all public buildings, showing their annual CO2 emissions and energy efficiency rating. Organisations ‘cut back’ to avoid public humiliation in the transition to a Circular Economy.

Energy Production: Innovations within the school & college community

  • Gym is compulsory for 2 hours a week, and this is set to increase soon; why not give students reason to spend their gym time on treadmills and stationary bikes that generate energy for the building? Incentives could include an increased prom budget, or ‘credits’ to reduce trip costs…
  • Assess suitability of wind and solar power as an efficient energy source in each public building, creating a quota for organisations to generate a given percentage of their own energy consumption in this sustainable way. (The price would be cheaper for ‘grid energy’ too as every public building would need a wind turbine or solar panels; more is manufactured and at a cheaper price per unit).
  • Public transport could be fuelled by bio fuel, following the example of the popular ‘lemon bus’ in Brighton or the restaurant oil fuelled taxis in London!

Energy Efficiency: Ideas

  • Include Recycling with rubbish collection in all public buildings; even cardboard boxes in each room for paper are better than nothing.
  • Install push taps with a lower pressure to save water. (Easily adjustable manually) and more energy efficient hand dryers (i.e. 10 second hand dryers)
  • Shut down computers, don’t just log off, and turn off lights. Hall monitors could be used to assert this…
  • Install more insulation in new buildings
  • Create a ‘master-button’ to turn off all energy consuming appliances, which can be done at the end of the working day, to ensure nothing is left eating electricity overnight (when not in use)
  • For more ideas visit

Energy Efficiency: in the Home

For energy efficiency at home, you have to pay attention to the little things. Most of us can’t live without a fridge, washing machine, or dishwasher; in our 21st century lives, these appliances are necessities. However, when it comes to replacing them, you can choose the most energy efficient appliances available – the same goes for lighting. Every time you leave a room, turn off the lights! Also, when watching TV or DVDs, don’t just use the remote, walk those few steps to the wall and pull the plug. It’s surprising how much that little standby button burns!

So, how to improve efficiency?

  • Only use your washing machine or dishwasher when full to capacity –if you need your favourite cup, wash it by hand
  • Replace regular incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent light bulbs – CFLs use 60% less energy. It’s a simple switch but can save 136kgs of CO2 in each household per year
  • Insulate your roof – you could save the emission of 730kg of CO2 from your house. Installation of 270mm loft insulation in every UK house could save nearly three million tonnes of CO2 every year – enough to fill Wembley Stadium nearly 380 times!
  • Every family member can make a difference – we can reduce the cost of our own energy bills whilst saving the planet at the same time.


Rooftop solar panels on homes in Vauban, Germany ©

Energy Production & Innovation: in the Home

Looking at the stats, we clearly need to invest in more than just efficiency. North Sea oil is set to last only until 2030 – world oil supplies will be dry in the next 70 years and there’s a growing need to change the way we produce our energy. It’s not fair to leave our mess for future generations, is it?

Can it be done? Well as it turns out, the switch is surprisingly simple.

  • One solution: switch energy suppliers. Good Energy guarantees 100% renewable juice, estimating a rise in cost of just 75p/week in the average household.
  • Solar panels can now be installed in most houses at no extra cost; British Gas (and other providers) will cover the £10,000 installation fee, in return pocketing the Government’s Feed-In Tariff of 43.3p/kWh generated – you’re doing what’s right for our planet and your bills!
  • Covering the costs yourself, an average £1,000 in annual profit is a genuine prospect; £120 from electricity savings and £850 from the Feed-In Tariff – an average of £30 per household is also given by the government for your unused energy. Costs could be recouped and the earning could start in just 10 years.

Looking at the figures, it’s obvious what we should all be doing – why don’t we? We refuse to be old fashioned in respect to our media and lifestyle innovation, why is it acceptable when it comes to energy? It’s our mess, we’re the adults of the next fifty years – we need to start the change.

Or should we just live like termites?

This picture shows the Eastgate Building in Harare, Zimbabwe. Designed by the architect Mick Pearce, it is just one example of sustainable architecture that uses less than 10% of the energy of a conventional building by copying the successful strategies of indigenous natural systems. The building – the country’s largest commercial and shopping complex – uses the same heating and cooling principles as a local termite mound. The key here is that the architect has reduced the need for fossil fuels by planning for heating, cooling, water systems and lighting all at the same time. The need for additional energy from outside has been reduced by optimsisng the whole sytem.


© Yewenyi / David Brazier

For more details go to

Undoubtedly energy efficiency measures are important as societies move towards a solar powered circular economy. But often the cost of adding on new technologies to old structures and systems can be expensive and with minimal gain. The best rewards come from thinking big – or maybe thinking small!

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