TESTIMONIES. “We conditioned a vacuum”: employees lament the waste of energy in their company

TESTIMONIES.  "We conditioned a vacuum": employees lament the waste of energy in their company

Outside we sweat profusely, but at work Nicolás* puts on his sweatshirt. The computer scientist assures that during the heat of this summer, the air conditioning was well below 26 degrees, the regulatory limit, in the giant hangar where his office is located. “With my colleagues we end up making jokes about it, I ask them if we should not turn on the heating”, the clerk of a sporting goods store is having fun. “There are many unoccupied offices and meeting rooms, we air-condition empty spaces, that’s what’s impressive”continue, more serious.

Beyond the climate emergency, energy saving has become a pressing issue in the face of gas supply difficulties linked to the war in Ukraine and the closure of some thirty nuclear reactors in France, which fear cuts this winter. The government calls companies and administrations to energy sobriety. During Medef’s back-to-school meeting, Elisabeth Borne asked companies to reduce their energy consumption by 10%.

While some are at the forefront, the government’s call to “general mobilization” because the energetic sobriety does not seem to have reached the ears of all the bosses. Laura, an electrical engineer, can attest to this. In the lobby of her company, in the offices, in the corridors, “The 1.20m LCD screens light up continuously to say hello, to show horoscopes or the weather forecast.” A real waste, laments the 30-year-old: “I have a little nausea that comes up in the morning looking at all these screens.” What also bothers the young woman is the gap between her employer’s declared green ambitions and reality. Her company, a subcontractor in the electricity sector, has turned to renewable energies.

“We manufacture charging stations for electric cars, we could install them in our car park, but no! We prefer to renew the fleet with large cars with a thermal engine”.

Laura lives in a rural area and uses her car to go to work. “Most of my colleagues do 30 km a day on mountain roads”, she relates But since the Covid-19 crisis, “We can no longer share the trip so each one comes with their own vehicle”. To limit polluting trips, he would like to telecommute, but says his company does not allow it. The young mother is even reluctant to resign. “I am a link in the chain by continuing to work here. I have two children, I am afraid for them”she sighs.

In the public sector, practices are not always more virtuous. François* wants the hospital where he works in Nouvelle-Aquitaine to lead by example: “We are the largest employer in the department, if we don’t act, who will?” In his service, each practice is equipped with a computer that remains on continuously. According to this doctor, if some devices must remain in standby mode, others can be turned off because they are not used at night.

The “waste hunting” project should have already started in the administrations, since Elisabeth Borne’s request in July to reduce energy consumption. The Prime Minister had urged administrations to propose “ministerial plans for energy sobriety and exemplarity”.

The testimony of Isabelle*, an official in the judicial guardianship of youth, shows that not all public services are exemplary. “The coffee machine and the lights are on all the time, even when no one is around. Colleagues leave the air conditioning on at night and it runs all night”, the social worker despairs. Without clear instructions from management, it is impossible to change behavior, according to the young woman.

“We are a public service, we must lead by example… But we are thirty years behind.”

Anthony* also laments the absence of clear rules enacted by his hierarchy. At his computer services company, the choice of air conditioning temperature is left up to the employees. However, a decree requires that it be set to at least 26 degrees, but does not provide any sanction in case of non-compliance with this instruction. Toulouse even remembers that “Sometimes the window was opened with the air conditioning”. According to him, if no one is in charge of checking that the lights and screens are off, “this does not work”.

However, certain gestures of energy sobriety are easy to implement and do not only refer to offices. Dominique*, in his sixties, is a bus driver for a public transport company. He regrets that his co-workers leave the engine running during waiting periods. According to him, the company should raise awareness and force drivers to turn off their engines as soon as the wait exceeds two or three minutes. “It bothers me, because this is exactly the kind of behavior that can be avoided.”

Turning off engines, lights or computers at night, limiting the temperature of the air conditioning or heating does not require huge investments. These simple and inexpensive actions have not yet been widely adopted. “As in any change project, there is an issue of awareness. Is the company aware of what is at stake with the environment and the cost that this represents?” asks Guillaume Crézé, responsible for the mobilization of companies at the Agency for the Environment and Energy Management (Ademe). “It’s a bit unthinkable, like there are a lot of other problems and that’s really the last one on the list.”Isabella adds.

“It is not a priority at all, the ecological issue is never addressed within the company.”

Several employees tell franceinfo that they have questioned his hierarchy, to no avail. “Some leaders don’t know how to sensitize and mobilize their employees, or don’t have the human resources to dedicate to it,” Guillaume Crézé advances to try to explain this immobility.

If the green argument isn’t enough, some employees hope that rising energy prices will encourage their company to change. “If the air conditioning starts to cost them too much, maybe things will change” Nicholas anticipates. “With lower energy costs, some companies had become accustomed to being less careful with their consumption”Guillaume Crézé contextualizes. “The fear that your gas or electricity will be cut off allows another awareness”says the expert.

If all companies get involved, will these actions be enough? “These actions are important in terms of economic and energy savings, image and consistency, Guillaume Crézé stresses. But they will not be enough if we want to achieve the goal of sobriety, which requires longer-term projects.

* The first names have been changed at the request of the interviewees.

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