Why sustainability is now a must in facilities management

Allen & York, facilities management
Developing the profile of the facilities manager — Mark Vidler.

Far from being primarily concerned with short-term maintenance issue in the buildings they are responsible for, Mark Vidler believes that facilities managers should be shifting their emphasis towards a more long-term environmental focus.

Sustainability and, more widely, corporate social responsibility (CSR), are now significant factors when determining global business strategy. The Government is driving change. At the same time, consumers and organisations are increasingly including sustainability in their buying decisions. The triple bottom line highlights the social, environmental and economical benefits of adopting a sustainable approach to facilities management (FM). Increasingly recognising this, organisations are changing their values, whether by leading change or by reacting to meet their obligations. One of the areas that this responsibility is being focused within is the FM function.

FM is traditionally tasked with providing an estate and services fit for purpose. This is still generally true, but the role is also evolving to incorporate a new environmental and sustainability focus. To meet this challenge there is a need to understand the technical issues involved, which can mean significant training opportunities and the development of more sustainability focused FM consultancies.

In recognising the growing awareness of sustainability, presented to us by the media, Government policies and events, FM consultancies and FM account managers within corporations are increasingly providing a more sustainable business approach to FM. This article explores the benefits that this approach can make to the triple bottom line, from financial gain to new business opportunities. The very concept of sustainability is changing the values of an organisation.

Coined in 1994 by John Elkington, the triple bottom line takes into account the ecological and social performance achieved by an organisation in addition to financial performance. The corporate world quickly saw that the value of reporting and adopting green performance led to establishing a competitive edge in the market place.

Huge savings exist in owning and operating high-performance green buildings.

A report from MTW Research in January 2010 highlighted that the FM market was becoming increasingly price sensitive and characterised by closer relationships between suppliers and contractors as greater efficiencies and lower procurement costs are sought.

The evidence of growing interest in sustainability is impressive. A survey of a thousand CEOs from 43 countries by PricewaterhouseCoopers indicated that 79% of these CEOs believe that sustainability is vital to the profitability of any company. The reason for increased interest is clear. Sustainable practices are profitable because they can reduce risk, make business and consumers more efficient, and advance them technologically while reducing environmental and social concerns.

Across Europe, governments are focused on carbon reduction. For example France is planning to reduce its CO2 emissions by 75%, as laid out the Energy Act 2005, and Germany has set a reduction target of 40% by 2020 with the Emissions Ordinum (emissions trading scheme) coming into force in 2012.

The latest Cancun Climate Change Summit also resulted in a global agreement that deep cuts in greenhouse-gas emissions are required. In addition, the new ISO 26000 standard comes at a time when businesses are being judged on anything from their e-waste disposal and safety standards to their carbon emissions. Its very development highlights the increasingly important role that sustainability plays within the FM industry.

Dominique Gangneux, a Partner at ERM, a leading global provider of environmental, health and safety, risk, and social consulting services comments on the effects that ISO 26000 could have on businesses: ‘ISO 26000 brings three key benefits to the field of sustainability.

• It confirms the meaning of many concepts and terms.

• It establishes bridges between the multitudes of existing standards.

• It will raise awareness of many more organisations around the world on the meaning and value of good sustainability performance.

It is clear that sustainability and environmental considerations are playing a bigger role in outsourcing decisions says Andy Eastwood, Johnson Controls’ director of facilities management for EMEA.

Looking at the economic reasons for the move to sustainable FM, large cost savings can be made by establishing a robust and effective energy-management policy. For example, The NEC Group’s [National Exhibition Centre] first carbon survey identified potential savings of £600 000 through simple sustainable FM measures. In addition, by taking a comprehensive approach to facilities, LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) addresses C-level concerns and bottom-line results. It requires top-level leadership and an understanding that all facility aspects (from mechanical to maintenance) can be improved through a stronger environmental approach.

In addition, LEED-certified buildings have been shown to provide many economic benefits, including lower construction costs, reduced site preparation and landscaping, lower waste disposal costs, reduced operating costs, reduced maintenance costs, higher building valuation, and lower utility costs. In addition, improved lights, building controls, windows and other technologies make it easier than ever to achieve savings and increase productivity.

When exploring the environmental aspect of the triple bottom line, whether prompted by the marketplace or law, including federal regulations or even global Kyoto mandates or a combination of both, it is clear that companies are paying more attention to the impact of their operations on greenhouse-gas emissions.

LEED-EB (for existing buildings) and LEED-CI (commercial interiors) are the most comprehensive way a facilities manager can have an impact on the environment. He or she learns about the products and procedures that can reduce a company's environmental footprint. In addition, by tracking energy reductions, facilities managers can reduce harmful emissions to meet imposed or voluntary reduction goals.

People are interested in how companies operate and treat their employees.

Socially, organisations can largely benefit from adopting sustainable FM procedures A recent report by the World Economic Forum indicated that more than 70 CEOs surveyed believed that mainstream investors will have an increased interest in corporate citizenship issues when working with sustainability focused organisation.

Facilities managers who operate their buildings sustainably tend to have a healthier, more productive environment, with better tenant and worker attraction/retention and less absenteeism. In addition, whilst working with human-resources professionals, facilities managers can conduct employee education campaigns that teach employees about the impact they can have on the environment at work, in their communities and at home. Ultimately the facilities industry is very much about people, and sustainable changes in behaviour. Results therefore, require continual investment in technical and behavioural training and improved communication. The shift of maintenance focus towards environmental impact has necessitated investment in additional technical staff and training, particularly around energy.

In light of this, businesses and FM consultancies should be on the hunt for FM employees that specialise in energy management, sustainability and the environment. Leading international sustainable recruitment consultancy, Allen & York has worked with 20 top FM suppliers throughout 2010, all of which were seeking to employ energy and sustainability professional, and were successful in gaining new employees through our search and selection activities.

I believe it is increasingly necessary for companies to recognise the importance of sustainability and its application in every aspect of FM, in waste management, water and energy management. This is a highly competitive market and requires FM professional who will actively contribute to that triple bottom line.

For a business to be truly sustainable, management systems and processes must be continually reviewed to ensure their effectiveness. It is important to ensure that activities remain customer focused and that results are reviewed to confirm a complete match with expectations and specifications. A firm that uses this approach therefore has to have a culture that encourages and rewards FM employees for their contribution to the process.

The positive results associated with the triple bottom line of enhanced economical, environmental, and societal benefits make sustainability a sound corporate governance practice within FM that has far reaching consequences. And the companies, organisations, and governments that integrate sustainability into their values and vision will reap the benefits for years to come.

Mark Vidler is the energy group manager with Allen & York.

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