Realising just how energy inefficient most office equipment is can be a sobering concept. However, new technologies are emerging to challenge this


As of September 2016, SA was host to 200 green buildings; by late 2017, that number had passed 300. But inside those energy-efficient improvements to our built environments are many businesses that continue to use inefficient – and often wasteful – machinery around the office.

There’s been a push towards energy-efficient appliances in the country’s households, at least since the South African Bureau of Standards introduced a product-labelling standard for electrical and electronic appliances in 2012. Appliances that receive those labels – together with an efficiency rating from A (green) to G (red) – include everyday white goods such as ovens, dishwashers, washing machines, tumble dryers and fridges. Notably absent from that domestic-dominated list were workplace devices, including computers, fax/copier machines, printers and servers. That’s a problem in a world where we live at home, but spend most of our lives – and energy – at work.

The problem is compounded when one considers research published in 2016 by Anders Andrae, senior expert of life-cycle assessment at Huawei. Andrae’s Total Consumer Power Consumption Forecast found that by 2025, data centres alone will make up 33% of the ICT sector’s share of global electricity production, followed by smartphones (15%), networks (10%) and TV (9%). Andrae’s research also predicted that data centres will use 20% of the world’s energy, unless adoption of more efficient energy sources evolved at speed.

So while cloud computing and the internet of things may promise faster, leaner and more efficient homes and workplaces, the machinery that drives those technologies remains hugely energy inefficient. And that’s before you get down to the level of the actual machines in the office: the printers, copiers, air cons, overhead projectors and so on. How much energy do they consume? And what happens to them when they’re replaced?

A number of manufacturers have devised solutions in response to the growing need for energy- efficient offices (and, more particularly, office equipment). Schneider Electric South Africa, for example, recently launched KNX.

‘The KNX system offers comfort, efficiency and safety in residential, small commercial and large and critical structures through its wiser convergence, IP connectivity and smooth integration into existing systems,’ says James Calmeyer, VP of building (Southern Africa international operations) at Schneider Electric. ‘We see its strengths in lighting and room control, HVAC control, and safety and access control. Typical applications include smoke alarms, door entry systems, emergency lighting systems and SAE [site area emergency] sensors.’

As a bus communication system, KNX differs from conventional smart systems. ‘In a conventional system, every function must be realised with one or more cables, must be planned in detail before installation and, if a function needs changing, the physical installation has to be changed,’ says Calmeyer. ‘Each device is used for one function only, and even low-level interaction between different functions becomes complex and cost- intensive. However, with the bus system, there is a separation of information and energy, so only one cable – the bus – is used for all information, resulting in fewer control cables. The functions depend on programming; therefore, logical connections between inputs and outputs replace physical connections. Users can change functions without touching the installation, it enables multiple use of single devices, and complex interactions between different functions are easy.’

The KNX system – and others like it – allows for smart facilities management, enabling the measurement and metering of air conditioning, electrical and water usage, as well as building management, and supervisory control and data acquisition systems.

Yet while smart systems allow for the efficient management of office equipment, what about the equipment itself?

Office printers are a good (or, indeed, bad) place to start. According to estimates by the US Environmental Protection Agency, the average office worker uses 10 000 sheets of copy paper per year – about 45% of which is thrown away. Added to the environmental impact of the paper (including milling, bleaching, transporting, and so on) is the impact of the printer and toner. In 2010, research by printer manufacturer Preton found that it takes almost 4 litres of fossil oil to produce one laser printer cartridge, and about 74 ml of oil to manufacture one inkjet cartridge. Most of these cartridges end up in landfills after use.

To combat this, printer manufacturer Epson recently launched a new EcoTank ITS product range, which uses refillable ink tanks instead of cartridges. According to the company, a single ink tank can print more than 14 000 black-and-white pages and 11 200 colour pages.

‘Our original ink tank system broke away from printing conventions,’ says Mona Belle, Epson Europe product manager. ‘It came with a substantial quantity of ink and removed the need for cartridges thanks to an integrated ultra high-capacity ink tank fitted to the side. The latest models continue to offer the same benefits to customers while also being even easier to use and more compact. There are now more models across the collection, which covers home, photo, home office and small office users.’ Epson claims the EcoTank ITS range reduces printing costs by 90% on average.

That printer range is in line with Epson’s Environmental Vision 2050, which was established in 2008 as the company’s long-term guide for environmental action. Included in that vision is the aim to reduce CO2 emissions by 90% across the entire product life cycle, and the inclusion of all products in the resource reuse and recycling loop.

Driven by that goal, Epson recently announced that 45 of its office projector display products had achieved the global, third-party, sustain- ability TCO certification. Here they join Casio, which received TCO certification for seven of its LampFree projectors, which combine a laser, a fluorescent element and an LED light to deliver a hybrid and very bright light source that lasts up to 20 000 hours. They’re also mercury- free, which means they eliminate the need to replace bulbs.

‘At Casio, it is important to us to deliver technology that is safe and environmentally conscious to use in classrooms, boardrooms, and beyond,’ said Joe Gillio, senior director of Casio’s strategic planning and marketing of business projectors division, in a statement marking Earth Awareness Month in April. ‘Hundreds of thousands of mercury lamps are discarded in landfills every year, but Casio’s LampFree projectors help to lessen the hazardous waste made, making it an eco-friendly projection choice,’ he said.

Meanwhile, Samsung is tackling HVAC issues through its innovative Wind-Free technology. HVAC systems typically make up about half the electricity requirements of a commercial building, so this technology plays a key role in driving environmental efficiencies.

‘Samsung’s Wind-Free technology offers a highly energy-efficient solution because not only does it ensure that the temperature is constant, the digital inverter 8-pole consumes only 32% of the energy used by conventional air conditioners,’ according to Mike van Lier, director of consumer electronics at Samsung South Africa. The Wind-Free product range is monitored by Samsung’s Smart Home app, which allows users to control the system from virtually anywhere.

It all circles back from office equipment to integrated smart office systems. The two will continue to work hand-in-hand as businesses invest in energy-efficient smart management systems that monitor energy-efficient machines. And while the push towards green buildings continues, there’s a growing awareness that energy can also be saved – or spent more wisely – by re-examining the tools that allow business to happen inside those buildings.

By Mark van Dijk
Images: Gallo/Getty images

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