The CRC: Not Yet A Premier League

This year’s Energy Efficiency league table is just a friendly match, says Peter Judge. Next year it could be a fixture worth watching.

So Manchester United are top of the energy efficiency league. At the time of writing, the well-known football team also appears to be second in the Premier League.

The football tables may or may not be of interest to you, but the efficiency result is to me. The Environment Agency has published a list which ranks 2000 UK businesses according to their environmental performance in the first league table produced for the CRC energy Efficiency Scheme.

Tech firms did poorly in the league, with some hitting the bottom score of 402.  Meanwhile at the top (on 2092.5 points) came a couple of Government departments and British American Tobacco… and Manchester United.

That’s not the greatest endorsement of the quality of the list, I am afraid.

Selling and advertising products which burden the Health Service and kill people, lying about their effects for as long as you can, and then lobbying governments to continue doing so don’t strike me as very efficient activities.

On a lesser scale, Man Utd’s activity is essentially entertainment. To someone who is not interested it looks wasteful on every level, from players’ pay and the energy wasted in broadcasting matches, down to the price of replica kit.

It’s all about metering

More seriously though, what is the CRC league measuring?

The league is the last vestige of an originally very complicated scheme proposed by the Labour government, which would have given companies back money if they did well on efficiency. The payback is gone, leaving CRC as a “green tax” but the league remains as a “name-and-shame” device.

At this point, it is all about how well you are measuring your electricity use and whether you have been good and signed up to a scheme like the Carbon Trust standard.

The top 22 companies are metering all their electricity with half-hourly meters and have signed up to a Carbon measurement programme. Anyone who doesn’t do these things goes further down the list.

This is dressed up in quite a complex way. The amount of your power that is metered and whether you have signed up to a scheme get combined into an “early action metric”, which is then used as the basis for a “weighted score”.

In future this score will take into account how much your energy use has changed year on year, so companies have an incentive to be efficient. It will also include a “growth metric” which talks about carbon emissions per unit of turnover – so companies are not penalised for growing.

These future complications don’t apply in the first year. This year it is all about metering, and signing up to a scheme.

It’s disappointing to find tech firms aren’t very clued up on these issues, although we can hope they will do better in years to come – but we should be well aware that, this year, the results really don’t mean very much.

Anyone can meter their electricity and sign on with the Carbon Trust and go on killing the planet. And the companies that haven’t bothered yet, may turn out to be running very efficiently, thank you.

Give CRC a sporting chance

We can expect a storm of protest about the CRC of course. It will force companies to do the two things they hate most. Pay money, and secondly publish information about their workings.

Companies will have to pay more for their energy in effect, when they must buy credits. And they will have to keep publishing information in the CRC table in future years.

Already sworn enemies are lining up to criticise it. Network giant Cisco took the top spot last year in Greenpeace’s “Cool IT” leaderboard for green IT companies, but came in at number 537 on the CRC list. It says the league table doesn’t give people credit for reducing their carbon emissions by buying new (presumably Cisco) kit.

Friends of ours at second-hand network company Comtek got in touch to criticse the scheme for exactly the opposite reason. By not taking into account the embodied energy of new kit, it actually encourages wasteful purchases, says chief executive Askar Sheibani.

I’ll look into that argument in a future column.

For now though I’ll toast the future success of the CRC scheme, if it can survive the brutal kicking it will get from industry lobbyists, and the shaky support it will have from Conservative politicians.

Yes, companies will pay more for electricity. That is how we will be persuaded to use less.

And yes, companies will have to be more open about what they are doing. Even the environmental scientists found out the hard way that openness is good. Industrial players are used to playing their cards close to their chest and that will have to change.

So, this premier edition of the CRC league is really just a friendly match. In years to come, it will be a sporting fixture worth watching.