Lights are on, but nobody's home: Lord Smith calls for City switch-off

The head of the Environment Agency has a go at City firms for leaving their lights on. Surely they can afford some motion sensors?

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 28 Sep 2010
They may make a nice show for nocturnal passengers on the DLR, but Lord Smith, the chairman of the Environment Agency, has launched a scathing attack on the lights left on overnight by City firms. Hundreds of businesses with offices in the buildings around Canary Wharf and the Gherkin leave their lights on overnight and, says Smith, it’s not good enough. Apparently, even City Hall is guilty of it – which is rather undoing all the good work Boris has done with those bikes of his...

His Lordship is calling on City businesses to make sure their lights are turned off at night. According to him, using motion sensors or, um, just making sure the lights are switched off at the end of the day, will ‘mean smaller energy bills, bigger profits and a better reputation’. And what better way to get City businesses to fall into line than by mentioning the bottom line? He’s certainly persuaded Boris, who’s now investigating City Hall’s antics and threatening to name and shame the worst offenders.

Still, it’s not a completely straightforward issue. High-powered businesses with offices in the City tend to employ the kind of staff who make a habit of working into the wee hours. And for some of the companies in Canary Wharf, it’s necessary to be open all hours to keep up with what’s going on in foreign markets. Other companies keep their lights on as a security measure: after all, what’s the point of having CCTV if you can’t see what’s going on if someone does break in? And if you rely on motion sensors, you may end up having to stand up and wave your arms about like a lunatic every ten minutes, which is not ideal when you’re working late. Perhaps a few energy-saving light-bulbs would be a better option?
But if the prospect of being forced to turn your lights off sounds bad, it’s nothing compared to losing your internet connection. According to a survey, a third of firms wouldn’t know where to turn to if they experienced an unexpected disruption, largely because they’re not even sure who their internet service provider is. Apparently 80% of the firms surveyed by said internet access is either ‘important or critical’ to their business, while 26% said they could stand to lose £250,000 a year if they lost an internet connection. Worrying stuff – though, short of an apocalyptic event, we can’t really envisage many situations in which a business would lose its internet connection for an entire year…

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