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Specialists in PR and marketing support for building services, building management and sustainability


Green FM = holistic FM
(written for Premises & Facilities Management)

Achieving truly ‘green’ FM is as much about how you think as what you do, suggests COFELY

When it comes to achieving a more sustainable existence there’s no doubt that many organisations have made significant progress in reducing their environmental impact. However, as more issues are addressed it becomes increasingly difficult to maintain continuous improvement. Essentially, once the low hanging fruit has been harvested it’s time to wheel out the metaphorical cherry picker and raise the game.

At the same time, as the whole concept of sustainability becomes better understood it also becomes more complex to measure and administer. For example, when considering paper consumption it’s no longer just a matter of how many tonnes you use a year. You are also expected to know whether the wood was from sustainable sources, how much energy was used in processing and transporting the paper (embedded carbon), what the emissions of the paper mill and the stationery supplier are (even more embedded carbon) and how they manage their sustainability issues.

Having worked with a number of organisations to help them reduce their environmental impact, I am convinced that the only way to deliver truly green FM is to take a holistic approach and embed a ‘green’ culture throughout all FM-related operations.

Furthermore, because FM impacts on so many aspects of an organisation’s activities this will have a positive effect on the attitude towards sustainability throughout the enterprise and enhance the effectiveness of any initiatives.

Bits and pieces

At this point it’s useful to look at how the holistic approach compares to the more commonly encountered approach, which is very often quite piecemeal in its implementation. And to a great extent this piecemeal approach has been encouraged by the legislation that has fuelled many ‘green’ initiatives. Undoubtedly legislation has a vital role to play in reducing environmental impact but it can also encourage a policy of compliance that ticks certain boxes as each regulation comes into force. Thus, the sustainability policy becomes a reactive schedule of hitting deadlines, rather than a pro-active, structured approach.

In parallel, there are often unanticipated consequences for one ‘box’ as a direct result of ticking another. For instance, a strategy of encouraging more staff to cycle to work by providing appropriate facilities (and scoring BREEAM points in a new build or major refurbishment project) has proved very successful in reducing the carbon footprint of many organisations. However, the associated increase in the number of people using shower facilities also increases water consumption and the energy required to heat and distribute that hot water.

In fact, this is a very good example of how one initiative can impact on other areas of an organisation’s activities, and why it’s important to see the full picture. This is not to suggest that reducing carbon emissions associated with transportation is anything other than positive, but in this instance it should be accompanied by efforts to ensure that hot water systems are as efficient as possible so that emissions from building services are also minimised.

The key point here is that the people responsible for optimising the efficiency of the hot water systems will not usually be involved in transportation initiatives.

Another obvious area to consider is the traditional division between soft and hard services, where workplace support services such as catering and cleaning are often treated as separate from the more technical services such as plant operation and maintenance and energy management.

For example, in a kitchen operated by a catering service provider there will often be a need to continually extract warm air from the space, consuming a considerable amount of energy in running the fans. This will certainly satisfy the caterer’s key requirement of maintaining reasonable working conditions for staff, but could potentially be wasting energy.

Applying technical knowledge to this situation, however, may identify both cost and environmental benefits in recovering the heat from the air and using it elsewhere in the building – such as pre-heating water for space heating and hot water, or tempering ventilation air in the winter. Similarly, dishwashing machines used on the catering side of the organisation may be wasting a lot of water that could be re-used for other things, such as toilet and urinal flushing following suitable treatment.

However, if the systems in the kitchen are treated as a separate entity from the building’s other services, those associations may never be made.

The devil’s in the detail

Of course, a major problem for a busy facilities or estates manager is finding the time to get to grips with all of the detail in every FM activity. And this could be one reason why so much ‘green FM’ is compliance-driven – compliance with legislation can’t be put off and the responsible persons have to find the time to take appropriate action irrespective of their workload.

However, help is potentially at hand in the shape of every member of FM staff and every service provider – if managed properly. Which returns us to the concept of a ‘green’ culture that doesn’t just pay lip service to sustainability but makes it an inherent part of everyday FM activities.

The way this can work is clearly exemplified in the introduction of recycling and other waste management schemes in the workplace, which many PFM readers will have experience of. Essentially, once the appropriate bins are in place and collection schedules are established the whole process is driven by the people in the building. A very large percentage will opt-in immediately because they see the benefits and peer group pressure does the rest – even to the point of ensuring that visitors comply with ‘local customs’.

Of course, understanding that you put your cans in bin A and your paper in box B requires less specialist knowledge than identifying whether supplier A’s toilet paper is more environmentally-friendly than supplier B’s. But the principle of getting people to notice things and ask questions rather than just accepting things at face value can unleash a powerful force for good.

Thus, the overall objective is to create an FM-wide culture that, like an environmentally-friendly stick of rock, has ‘green’ written all the way through.

In this respect there is a key difference between the recycling example and the vast array of support services most buildings require; namely that in many cases some or all of those services will be delivered by third parties. So it is vital that the stick of rock extends through the FM supply chain as well as within the organisation itself.

However, rather than making it more difficult to achieve green FM, this can in fact be very beneficial. Not only will these service providers have specialist expertise, they can also bring their experience from other customers to bear so that lessons are learned and best practice is shared more widely.

The challenge, then, is how to turn this concept into reality and this will be considerably easier when staff from service providers ‘feel like part of the family’. Here, the much over-used term ‘partnering’ is wholly apposite. Suppliers who understand the organisation’s aspirations and share the same ambitions – and ideally feel like they’re ‘part of the family’ - can make a very positive contribution.

A few examples will serve to illustrate this. For instance, a building services maintenance contractor will be expected to maintain comfort conditions in the workplace – and may also be required to control energy consumption through plant optimisation. A partner that shares the vision, though, may also pro-actively advise on zoning and control of services, sub-metering for more accurate measurement, replacement of plant to improve efficiency and reduce life cycle costs and the potential for introducing renewable energy sources.

Returning to the earlier example, a catering provider that has access to technical expertise will also think about the energy performance as a matter of course. And cleaning staff with some awareness of what sustainability is about are in an ideal position to identify where energy is being wasted out of normal working hours and report back.

In a refurbishment situation the contractor managing a fit-out can do the minimum and simply deposit any uncontrolled waste into a skip. Or they may make waste management a key part of the project and do their utmost to ‘reduce, re-use and recycle’ as much waste as possible. Of course, all contractors will have to comply with waste covered by legislation such as the WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment) Directive, but it is possible to go further. For instance, they may arrange for old ceiling tiles and carpets to be shredded and recycled, or old furniture to be re-used through the various schemes that are available. This is what makes the distinction between ‘doing the job’ and ‘sharing the culture’.

So these are things to bear in mind when appointing service providers and contractors and I would strongly recommend talking to their other customers to determine how well they fit in with and adapt to the culture of other organisations.

Leading from the top

So there are clearly many benefits to heightening awareness through a green culture but this will only be sustained if the commitment comes from the top. As well as putting mechanisms in place to educate staff and suppliers, senior FM staff need to lead by example and drive the whole process until green awareness becomes an integral and accepted part of everyday working life.

The ‘check list’ in the separate box provides a list of things that FMs can do to start to build their green FM culture and spread the word to all stakeholders. But at the end of the day, ticking boxes comes way behind a real commitment to reducing environmental impact and a resolve to make it happen.

Green FM checklist

• Are ‘green’ objectives clearly defined?
• Are they being communicated to both staff and suppliers?
• Is there ongoing education in place to inform and motivate?
• Are there good feedback channels for staff and suppliers?
• Are people at all levels encouraged to share ideas?
• Do suppliers’ SLAs include KPIs relating to pro-active advice?
• Would it be beneficial to offer ‘rewards’ for good ideas
• Do you explain reasoning for rejection of non-viable ideas to avoid de-motivation





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