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Banning F1 – does it make sense (environmentally and on cost)?

I was in Germany a few months ago and seen a copy of Handelsblatt  (a leading business newspaper) on July 20th last at a hotel bar. As you do, I scanned it while ordering a local beer (Moritz Fiege Pils). I noticed that the German Green Party wanted to ban F1 from the Nurburgring and Hockenheim. I read the article and it made me laugh to be honest. The reasoning was that the F1 circus is bad on CO2 emissions and all that stuff. Now a few facts first – I love motor sport, I am a management accountant, I like the old ways of doing things (now called environmentally friendly/recycling/grow-your-own) and I could not resist the picture of the F1 girls for this post.

But, being serious. Research and development expenditure is one of those things a management accountants might find hard to deal with. It’s normally a substantial cost, but the return is often uncertain. Now back to F1 and the German Greens.  Motor manufacturers like Mercedes, Honda and Renault (among others) have over time spend $billions on F1. And what do they get out of it? Well, every car nowadays has an EMU (Engine Management Unit) or “brain” that controls and monitors every thing a car does – do you know most cars have no accelerator cables at all; it’s a sensor on the pedal which the EMU monitors and the pedal is tensioned to give the feeling of a traditional pedal. Where was this technology perfected? F1 of course. And nowadays, F1 cars are lighter, faster, more fuel-efficient and even capture energy under braking (the KERS system). Surely this will pass on eventually to normal road cars, which will mean lower fuel consumption and lower CO2 emissions and so on. So, to bring it all back to management accounting. If we were to do as the German Green Party suggests, there would be no F1 in Germany (home of Mercedes), which might mean less research and development expenditure in F1, which in turn might halt the development of  more fuel and energy-efficient road cars for you and I.  Okay, it might be hard to put a money value on the benefits of F1 research and development in the long run, but it seems daft to try to ban it. So far, the history of F1 has shown us what the cars of tomorrow will have on board.  If that means efficient, energy harnessing cars for the future, we need to encourage it. The costs (monetary and environmentally) may be easier to ascertain and outweigh the benefits in the short-term. However, I can only see future benefits from F1 for car manufacturers who should be able to produce (in time), better, safer and more environmentally friendly cars for Joe Bloggs.  Kind of goes against what I thought any Green Party stands for to go against such progress. But, hey I am no politician! But it seems a classic case (from the Green’s view) of not looking at all costs and benefits of an activity over the long term.

Saving money by “greening” buildings.

According to an article in Time (April 18, 2011), a lot of money can be saved by retro-fitting old buildings. I have written a few posts already about this, but this article gives some really good examples of the kind of money that can be saved from some relatively simple initiatives. According to the article, older skyscrapers are one of the worst type of buildings in terms of energy efficiency. Some investment in lighting, heating and insulation can make a huge difference to costs and energy efficiency. For example, the Empire State building spent $13m in 2010 on a retrofit. The result is a 38% decrease in utility bills and a payback period of less than three years. Another example is a re-fit of a federal building in Cleveland, which saves $600,000 per annum. The city of Melbourne, Australia is also mentioned. The city’s Lord Mayor sums up well – “this is not some feel-good environmental initiative. It is a hard-headed economic business decision.

Energy efficiency delivers real returns on investment.

When I worked in a paper company, health and safety was always a big concern. The machinery used in paper making could be quite lethal in the case of an accident. Quite an amount of money was spent annually by my employer to ensure the safety of all staff, but in particular those exposed to process equipment and machinery. As an accountant, one comment made by a manager on health and safety always stuck in my mind, namely that “there is not return on investment in health and safety”. I’m not going into detail here, but I’m sure you can appreciate it may be difficult to put a financial return on health and safety expenditure.

Another hot topic in business for the past decade or so is energy efficiency. Investment in energy efficient ways of working and running a business, like health and safety, is a good thing to do and probably adds to the longer term survival of a business (and the planet!). But, unlike health and safety, for accountants the return and investment can be ascertained a lot easier. For example, a recent article in The Guardian reports that many well-known UK companies are achieving definite returns on investment. DIY company B&Q saves 12% on CO2 emissions through education of staff and monitoring energy usage; hospitality group Whitbread can save 3% on energy costs just by changing behaviour. However the article also reports that companies may be seriously underestimating the return investment.  recent research at the Carbon Trust in the UK took a close look at 1,000 energy efficiency projects it has been involved with and found that companies can expect to see an  internal rate of return (IRR) of 48% on average and payback within three years. In the retail sector, the research shows the average IRR from energy efficiency projects leaps to 82%. Most “normal” investment projects would be happy to see a return of about 15%.

The full Carbon Trust report can be read here.

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