Energy: the Basics

What is energy?

Simply put, energy is the usable power that comes from resources such as heat and electricity. Renewable energy is created from resources that are replaceable and renewable, like wind, solar power, and wood pellets. These exist in abundance in nature and replenish themselves over time. Nonrenewable energy resources exist in finite quantities in the environment; oil, gas and coal are examples.  

Energy can exist in many forms such as electrical, nuclear, and mechanical. This power is used for almost every aspect of modern life and it can come from a variety of resources both non-renewable and renewable. 

Why does energy matter to sustainability?

The more urgent factor with non-renewables such as oil and coal is the resulting carbon dioxide emissions from the refining and industrial processes that prepare the raw materials for distribution. Apart from adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, nonrenewable energy also adds other pollutants to the air. This negatively impacts air quality which can be harmful to people with respiratory conditions. Poor air quality can trigger asthma attacks and other problems. As well as affecting quality of life for city dwellers it can also add to health expenses for the state. Additional costs such as higher absenteeism from work and school are other factors which could be linked to air pollution. 

The business case for changing your energy use

Looking at how your business uses energy, and the type of energy you use, can often result in cost savings. Aside from reducing energy use within your business by choosing renewable energy you can contribute to reducing pollution and improving air quality. This could have longer-term impacts such as reducing workplace absenteeism of workers with conditions such as asthma, or those caring for family members with respiratory health problems. In the shorter term our business may also be able to avail of grants or subsidised loans to improve your building’s energy rating. 

Energy and your business’s Carbon Footprint

There is more detail in the Footprint resources page about your business’s carbon footprint. However, when considering your business’s energy use for a sustainability strategy it is looked at in three levels or “scopes.”

What are scopes 1, 2, and 3

When we talk about scopes 1, 2, and 3 of your energy or carbon footprint, these are the different capacities in which you use that energy. 

Scope 1 includes direct on site emissions from the activities that occur under your control. Examples could include fuel combustion from a wood burning stove or gas emissions from a boiler. Combustion engine emissions from owned vehicles are also included in scope 1.

Scope 2 are emissions from all the electricity produced and used by your business. These are indirect emissions as they occur at the source of electricity production rather than at your place of work. This covers all electricity used on site to power equipment, lighting, heating, cooling, electric vehicle charging and any other electrical use. 

Scope 3 is often the largest source of emissions, especially for office-based businesses. It includes all other indirect emissions that occur from areas which you do not own or control. This includes procurement and shipping of products, use of contracted services, waste management and water usage. Business travel using non-company-owned vehicles also falls under scope 3.

All these areas of energy use result in varying levels of carbon dioxide emissions, which are known to contribute to human-caused climate change according to the IPCC

Want to make your business’s energy use more sustainable?