High Street Retailers Squander Air Con Energy

Recent high temperatures this summer have meant an increase in use of air conditioning in the High Street according to Make It Cheaper, the business price comparison service.

The recommended operating temperature for turning on the air con is 24°C — as advised on the Carbon Trust’s website — and a third of retailers have been switching on their equipment below this figure, wasting energy to cool down shoppers. Furthermore, off all the stores monitored during the experiment, which took place on a sweltering July shopping day, only one store store kept its doors closed to prevent the cool air escaping!

Using thermal imaging equipment to record the temperatures at shop entrances in Oxford Street, London, the Make It Cheaper team braved 28.4°C temperatures to record the habits of the high street retailers. The research shows that the high street is effectively wasting millions of pounds by squandering energy. Turning on the air con to make shoppers "more comfortable" and then leaving the doors open is akin to leaving the fridge door open (and we all know the fridge works ever harder to stay cold as the cool air escapes)

Jonathan Elliott, the Managing Director of Make It Cheaper, said:
“Shopkeepers in New York get fined $400 by the City Council if they have their doors open with the air con on because it burns so much more energy to cool a shop than it does to keep it warm. This can only be a taste of things to come when the government’s CRC Energy Efficiency Scheme kicks in over here and forces retailers to re-think how they use energy in their stores. There are simple things that staff can do now, however, such as to challenge head office policy, set the thermostat higher, turn off some of the lights and tweak the automatic doors to close more frequently. It is common sense, saves money as well as energy and is everybody’s responsibility.”
The Carbon Trust says that the retail sector emits over 5 million tonnes of CO2 a year and that energy savings of 20% are possible - that's a saving of more than £300 million!

Key findings include:

  • A third of stores operated below 24°C, against advice on the  which recommends their air conditioning doesn't operate below this temperature
  • Whilst there was a difference of as much as eight degrees between outside and inside temperatures, just one store - Debenhams - kept its doors closed to prevent the cool air escaping and the warm air entering
  • At 20.1 degrees Celsius and a huge 8.3 degrees cooler at the door than the outside temperature, Next was the worst offender
  • Boots, River Island and Ann Harvey did not fare much better, at 21.1, 21.6 and 22.4 degrees respectively. Boots at least had automatic doors, though these were recorded as open almost all the time due to the high volume of traffic into and out of the store

According to figures from The Carbon Trust, the retail sector is responsible for over five million tonnes of CO2 emissions per year. It is estimated that energy savings of up to 20% – equivalent to more than £300m – are possible across the sector. Make It Cheaper say that by switching energy suppliers alone can reduce costs to businesses by as much as 50% and energy efficient measures, such as being frugal with the air conditioning can reduce bills by a further 10-30%.

High Street Coldest Shops League Table:

Store temperature (degrees Celsius)



River Island

Ann Harvey



Russell & Bromley





John Lewis



House of Fraser




*Automatic door open due to footfall

**Doors kept closed

The experiment took in to consideration a number of factors in measuring the efficiency of the air conditioning in the high street retailers' premises and took into account factors such as outside air temperature, the shop entrance temperature and whether the doors were efficiently kept closed, left wide open or if they were automatic doors (The sort that slide open as you walk past ;) )