Closing the door on energy efficiency

By Ed King

Imagine it’s is the middle of winter, but instead of battening down the hatches you wedge the front door open, and put the heating on full blast.

Simply bonkers. And quite simply happening in a street near you.

Thousands of shopkeepers in London are doing just that today, hours after a layer of snow descended on the capital.

As I shivered my way down Regent Street at lunchtime I was struck by the hurricanes of hot air gushing out open doorways.

In the space of a few steps shoppers wrapped up in fleeces, hats and thick woolly coats can experience Caribbean temperatures created by fan heaters blasting hot air around huge stores.

Not only is this seemingly unnecessary – it’s clearly a massive waste of energy.

A Saturday in Bath: Crew keeps its door open on a freezing day, but nextdoor neighbours Oska seals out the cold

Research from Cambridge University in 2010 revealed shops who kept their doors open consumed twice as much electricity as those who did not.

Put it another way. Shops that shut their doors could save up to 10 tonnes of CO2 and cut their energy bills in half.

It’s significant. Figures from the UK’s Department of Energy reveal  the service sector accounted for 19% of final energy consumption; of that 20% relates to retail.

And perhaps more pertinently for shopkeepers, on 2010 prices it costs them over £1 billion a year.

Jeannie Dawkins runs the Close The Door campaign, which started in Cambridge a decade ago and now has the backing of London Mayor Boris Johnson, Foreign Secretary William Hague together with high-street chains Tescos and John Lewis.

“Most independents are good, and very close to their energy bills, but it’s the chain stores that are the problem, and they are the majority these days in Britain,” she says.

Burberry’s Regent St store gets a 5/10 for keeping two doors closed

“Going back to the 70s and 80s, a lot of stores think that people will be like marbles, will bounce off the doors and won’t go in if the door is shut.

“But it is clear that there are so many places that do keep the door shut and are trading successfully. People do go through doors.”

Not everyone agrees. Tony Reilly works for retail display specialists Triplar – and he holds a more orthodox view of shopper’s habits: “It is mainly to entice customers into a store as they can see the store is open without looking at signs on the doors.

“If stores are fitted with an air curtain the warmth felt when walking past can also entice them in. Food stores, especially bakeries, will sometimes leave them open as the smell of fresh baking will also bring customers in.

“And believe it or not, customers will sometimes walk by a store because they cannot be bothered to open doors – it is as simple as that.”

Over the weekend I asked one of the staff at the Bath branch of Milletts why their door was open when the temperature was just above freezing?

“It’s crazy” they told me, but “it’s company policy so we appear welcoming to customers”.

They agreed with Dawkins that smaller independent retailers keep their doors shut to save on energy bills – a cost that does not appear to affect larger stores.

Hot ‘n’ cold

This is not simply a winter issue.

The ‘air curtains’ above doorways can be turned to pump out freezing air in the summer, enticing customers in from the heat.

That policy was targeted by New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg in 2008, when he passed legislation banning many stores from leaving their doors open during the summer.

Dawkins says Toronto City Council have followed suit, giving her hope that the movement can build momentum worldwide.

Nothing comes between me and my Calvins. Not even a door. 0/10

“It’s going well, much better than it was. And the research from Cambridge makes it much easier for people to relate to. You wouldn’t do it at home, so don’t do it in the store,” she said.

“We also found a real decline in shoplifting when the stores are shut – that’s worth a lot of money to stores.”

But while the likes of Tescos, Wickes, Selfridges, Rymans and John Lewis have bought into the concept, Dawkins reveals that some stores that market themselves as ‘green’ appear to be less willing to play ball.

“There are a lot of companies who are using a lot of greenwash in their sales, and what they have done is to devolve all responsibility onto their individual managers who say – off the record – that they cannot take the risk, because if their sales go down it will be on their head,” she says.

“The head office if they will not get behind the policy it means nothing – and they are well aware that it means nothing.

“So you have ludicrous situations where Lush is running the Climate Revolution campaign, where it says ‘what’s good for the climate is good for the economy’ – it’s blatant greenwash.

“And quite often the effect is to make customers question what the message is. It’s like saying ‘save water’ with a hose running.”

Few would bet against Lush or the equally recalcitrant Body Shop changing their policy in the next year.

In London, Kingston and Croydon town centres recently joined the cause, together with Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith, which makes Dawkins believe they could be at a ‘tipping point’

“Ideally we’d like to bring 10 more major chains over the next 12 months, which will be hard work, but also to get more going in individual locations,” she says.

“We have somebody in Beijing, Sweden, there’s a Malaysian University campus and Toronto City Council asked for our findings, so there is a good interchange with other places.”

RELATED VIDEO: Campaigning to stop shops wasting energy

Read more on: Climate finance | Living | |