It’s been almost 100 years since the British government adopted British Summer Time (BST), and we’ve been setting our clocks back and forth each year ever since. And just like the clocks, the debate goes back and forth, too: is it useful manipulation of our time-keeping that brings appreciable benefits, or simply a clumsy tool that’s out of date?
Why do we bother?
The UK first got on board with daylight savings time in May 1916. The government had been resisting demands to make the change for years. But in the midst of the First World War, they finally caved in in the hopes of saving money and fuel.
The move – pushing the clocks forward in spring to BST – also allowed communities to be more productive. An extra hour of sunlight in the afternoon meant that people could run more errands after a day’s work. And they could stay out later without the fear of suffering crime under the cover of darkness.
These days, with more energy-efficient lighting and an increase in flexible working, daylight saving advocates quotes the reduced number of traffic accidents and improvements to our carbon footprint as the main advantages.
Despite nearly a century of rigorously following a daylight-saving regime, there’s still debate over whether the switch back and forth is really worth our time.
Lighter evenings certainly mean we need one less hour of lighting in the evenings – which could have a positive effect on both your environmental impact and your business electricity prices – but the required lighting during the darker mornings could completely cancel out the effect. On top of that, the extra hour of light after work means that there are more people getting out of the house; which means more pollution and money spent on petrol.
Permanent daylight saving
As far back as the Second World War, there have been suggestions that Britain could benefit from moving the clocks forward permanently by one hour, in line with Central European Time. It was put to the test between 1940 and 1945, and again between 1968 and 1971. Even as recently as 2011, a bill was put before Parliament stressing the potential benefits of adding an hour to our time zone, based on the 1968–71 experiment:
• about 11% fewer fatalities from road accidents per year in England
• an annual saving of £200 million for the NHS
• a boost to revenue from British tourism of £3.5 billion
At the time of writing, the biggest opposition to the move to Single Double Summer Time (SDST) – GMT +1 and GMT +2 in spring – comes from Scotland. If introduced, SDST would leave some of the most northern areas of Scotland with a sunrise as late as 10am.
While local farmers and businesses claim this will force them to work much later hours, thanks to advances in technology and farming practices, the main concern is now for children walking to school in darkness.
On the other hand, the boost to outdoor tourism that comes with later daylight hours could benefit all of Scotland – by an estimated £300 million. While the aforementioned NHS savings would come partly from reduced energy costs, but mostly from better public health. Later daylight hours give us all – especially children – more time to be active outdoors.
Get some tips
Read our fast winter guides to saving business energy now and in 2015:
Do we really need the switch?
How would a move forward by one hour (and two hours in summer) affect your business? Leave your comments below.