I don’t think I can be alone in thinking how much energy must be wasted by the numerous office buildings and shops lit up at night with no one in them. It’s a thought I’ve had many times over the years but, as soon as all the unnecessary illuminations are out of sight, the thought always recedes.
Perhaps partly as a result of that, I’ve had a fairly simple idea in the back of my mind for quite some time, written down on a scrap of paper hitherto ignored or put to one side. The idea is based on the fact that we, as humans, are actually capable of some quite impressive feats individually but when we get together are collectively capable of the extraordinary. Unfortunately, often this is driven not out of simple curiosity but out of necessity – the codebreakers at Bletchley Park during WW2 for example or the incredible collective effort that made the Dunkirk evacuations possible or more recently the rapid development of covid vaccines.
The collective ability to deploy such ingenuity and hard work is always available. It is simply hiding in plain sight, sometimes deployed elsewhere and other times not at all.
In January, as some of you may be aware, the first One Week event took place. It was designed to utilize some of this unspent community effort by giving it a focus (energy consumption) and some coordination.
Energy is something that is very topical at the moment and many people have no choice but to limit their usage as much as possible. But, thinking back to the office buildings, this is not the case across the board. As the idea grew, I knew there was certainly more I could be doing to bring my energy consumption down and of course many people are already making sure they turn lights off and are saving energy where they can. One Week, however, asked people to go above and beyond their usual in that endeavour.
While the general message for energy saving is quite widespread, it tends only to skim off the tip of an iceberg of potential savings. The idea behind going all out for one week is to make a significant impact all in one go.
For the last week, I have tried to lead by example. At home I have had the lights off most of the time. I have used appliances only when absolutely needed and when not in use everything was unplugged (a minor inconvenience, but just for one week!). It’s thought that around 10% of a household’s energy consumption is from appliances that are plugged in but not in use.
To go the extra mile, the television remained off for the whole week, which gave me a chance to do other things (candlelit dinners, board games, reading by torchlight). The overall feel was a nice change if I’m honest. And that’s part of the design. To provide a bit of a change, bring people together, all in the knowledge that others are doing their part too.
I also made the decision to have cold showers for the week which is not for everyone I know but actually I found this far less challenging than avoiding hot tea or coffee for those seven days – that was a real slog!
One of the most rewarding parts of the week was seeing how enthusiastic some of the schools that took part were. Of course, while a lot of energy can be saved in one go, a key side effect of the event is in raising awareness of our need to save energy and there is no better place to start than with the younger generation.
At the GP surgery where I work, we managed to save a total of 172 kWh of energy compared to a normal week (a kWh is the amount of power needed to power a 1,000 watt appliance for an hour) – about 11% of the usual consumption and enough to boil 1,720 kettles – a good achievement I think.
I managed to save a further 20kWh from home. I have calculated that if all businesses in the UK saved 11% of their energy consumption for a week and all homes saved 20kWh power, it would save 907 million kWh of energy which is equivalent to 1.4 million barrels of oil.
The saving in just that one week therefore equates to
- the CO2 emissions produced by 138,497petrol vehicles over a year
- the CO2 emissions produced by 1.6 natural gas fired power plants
- the greenhouse gas emissions avoided by 175 wind turbines over a year
- the carbon sequestered by 10.6 million tree seedlings grown for 10 years.
Hopefully that shows that the small gains made by us as individuals can have a significant collective impact. Particularly if you consider that I’ve not even included the energy consumed by transport which accounts for 40% of the total UK figure. Not quite as easy to measure but, for one week, it’s just as easy to reduce.
One Week is a project that I have developed gradually in snatched moments of my own time. It’s been fun and at the same time quite eye opening. It gives people a chance, if embraced, to take some ownership of the problems we face rather than relying on answers from elsewhere and is also a good chance for us to perhaps readjust some of our perspectives on the elements of our lives that we progressively take for granted. Having been just another person, vaguely aware of climate issues and the ins and outs of energy beforehand, it has certainly had that effect on me.
And don’t forget, it can be fun and may even spawn some new habits. You don’t have to take a cold shower to make that difference. Everyone will have their own ways of saving but simply saying ‘I do that already anyway’ is not enough unless you are living completely off grid. It’s only for one week after all. One Week doesn’t always have to be about energy. It can be applied to any problem to which a simple collective solution is applicable. As the slogan goes, large numbers in small sacrifices for huge rewards. It’s a chance to recapture a bit of that Dunkirk spirit of old. So if there is anyone out there that took part, I’d love to hear from you via the ‘contact’ page on the website: www.oneweekuk.co.uk. Likewise, in order to make the next one even more successful, I would welcome all the suggestions, ideas, contacts and advice I can get.