M&S Plan A boss: There is more low hanging energy efficiency fruit than ever

Munish Datta: New tech and AI a boon to energy efficiency, but don't forget the humans
Munish Datta: New tech and AI a boon to energy efficiency, but don’t forget the humans

Marks and Spencer head of Plan A and facilities management Munish Datta says the opportunities for energy efficiency are greater than ever – pouring cold water on “the old adage that the low hanging fruit has been picked”.

Speaking at the The Curve’s XEnergy event in London, Datta argued that “the tree is actually getting heavier, with new fruit growing all the time”.

In 2006 the firm set a target to reduce its energy consumption per square foot by 25% and met it in 2012. M&S has now achieved a 39% reduction, setting its sights on a 50% reduction by 2020. Since 2012, it has sourced power from 100% renewable sources for UK and Ireland operations, increasingly from on-site generation, and aims to apply similar targets to international operations.

Early gains were made from easy wins such as lighting replacement, said Datta, which offered “instant returns”. However, he said retailers now have the opportunity to turn lighting into a potential revenue stream as well as bottom line savings.

“To limit the purpose of lighting to providing purely light is perhaps blinkered thinking,” said Datta. “There is now a technology called LiFi that can transmit data one hundred times faster, locally, through LED lighting to smart devices.”

He believes retailers could leverage that technology to enhance customer experience and potentially, increase sales.

“Suddenly, an energy efficient light, which is already costing you less to run, offers the ability to interact with customers, influencing the journey the customer is taking through the store. Suddenly you have a revenue generation case alongside the cost-efficiency business case.”

Datta suggested energy managers look at “hidden” business cases around increased occupant comfort and revenue generation as well as efficiency business cases in order to access further low hanging fruit. Doing so, he said, means that “a simple light has a whole new perspective.”

Datta was speaking as part of a panel session which discussed the impact of technology, data and artificial intelligence on energy management. However, he underlined that people remain crucial to deliver the savings promised by smart technology.

“It is very easy to be seduced by technology and to think it will solve all of our problems. But it is people that make technology happen,” said Datta.

“I would say that 25-30% of the benefits gained from our technology deployment are from training people to use them properly. That is easy to forget in the AI world we are looking ahead to, but it is key.”

Meanwhile, Datta warned that technology could potentially also create problems for businesses that fail to prioritise energy efficiency.

“You cannot underestimate how much more knowledgeable the general public has become about energy and energy efficiency,” Datta suggested.

“With the devices [mobile phones] that everyone walks around with, we are on the cusp of being able to know much more about the building that you are in, its energy use, air pollution levels and so on.”

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