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Getting smart with sustainability management

(written for Facilities Management Journal)

While sustainability maintains a dominant position on many corporate agendas, it falls to the people at the sharp end to deliver the necessary information. Steve Dingley, managing director of Integrated fm, considers the practical issues

Now that the corporate eyes of almost every organisation are firmly focused on sustainability it’s a sure bet that FMs will be required to deliver much of the required information Indeed, the FM Index KPI Survey, published monthly in FMJ, has shown that FMs are already getting heavily involved in this field.

Sustainability issues often form the dominant element of a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programme – often with a strong focus on energy and related carbon emissions. Furthermore, initiatives such as the Carbon Reduction Commitment (or CRC Energy Efficiency Scheme as it’s now called) will reinforce this focus even further.

Given its high profile, then, it’s hardly surprising that there is now a mass of information available about sustainability. Unfortunately, there is nowhere near as much guidance on the practical aspects of managing sustainability. Our experience of working with some major global organisations shows that there are some fundamental considerations to address before getting down to the nitty gritty of managing sustainability. There are also some daunting practical considerations which can only be addressed effectively using specialist tools, as explained below.

We have found it very useful to start with that basic truth that: “you can’t manage what you can’t measure”. So the first thing to be clear about is what needs to be measured in order to address key sustainability areas (see separate box).

The next stage is to identify what data needs to be captured in order to arrive at the measurements. For example, measuring waste may require regular auditing of each recycling stream (bottles, cans, paper etc) as well as knowing how much waste is going to landfill. The same principle applies to measuring consumables such as paper, toner, cleaning chemicals etc.

To add to the complexity, this type of information rarely resides in one place – that would make life far too easy! For instance, waste information may be scattered across various buildings and waste contractors; stationery usage may be with a supplier, the procurement department or both and cleaning contractors may or may not keep records of chemical consumption.

Assessing carbon footprint poses similar challenges. Measuring carbon emissions from buildings may be relatively straightforward if automatic meter reading (AMR) has been installed - and this will be required for the CRC, Energy Performance Certificates and Display Energy Certificates. However, carbon footprint assessment should also gather data from many other areas, including road and air transport and embedded carbon in procured goods. Again, this information will be stored in many different places.

In parallel, the quality of the information held by different organisations, or even different departments within the organisation, will almost certainly vary and there are very few organisations that have a data auditing process in place.

Pulling it all together

Assuming the measurement parameters have been identified, along with the required data that must be collected, all of this information has to be brought together from different departments and different suppliers. If it were all in the same format that would be ideal so, of course, it won’t be. Some of it will be in spreadsheets, some on paper, some in specialist management programs – a real hotch potch of data.

The next practical consideration, then, is to get all of the relevant information into a common format and while this is happening it needs to be verified for accuracy and completeness. Failing to verify at this stage may lead to working with inaccurate and meaningless information that will make the whole exercise pointless. Ideally, this verification will be to a recognised data assurance standard such as AA 1000AS.

Once the data has been assimilated and converted to a common format, it can then be used to produce the necessary reports. However, doing this manually is very time-consuming and often leads to working with out-of-date information. And, of course, various stakeholders will require their reports on different issues in different formats.

In addition, sustainability management – or contributing to it - in most organisations is an add-on to the ‘day job’ so there’s relatively little time to devote to it. The result, therefore, is that much sustainability reporting is carried out in a rush as deadlines for the reports approach.

Clearly, effective and meaningful management of sustainability requires specialist tools that have been designed for the job. Indeed, our work with many organisations, ranging from global consultancies to local authorities, has shown that attempting to modify general Management Information Systems or generic products such as spreadsheets, simply won’t deliver the required functionality.

Such a system needs to satisfy certain criteria if it is to be a worthwhile investment, so it’s worth bearing these in mind when sourcing a solution for managing sustainability data.

Firstly, bearing in mind the diversity of data sources discussed above, it will need to allow data to be input in different ways. Obvious examples include importing from spreadsheets, direct manual input and direct data feed from in-house or supply chain databases. As much of this sustainability data also resides in FM systems, it can also be useful to import from the help desk, asset management and resource management software.

Because of the time factor, human intervention should be minimised with as many automated functions as possible. Allocating pre-defined tolerances to the data will ensure that discrepancies are identified and referred back to a person for double checking.

Wherever possible, the data should be fed into the system as part of other everyday activities, such as ordering stationery or measuring waste levels, so the system is always up to date. Using an online system makes it much quicker and easier to enter data from many different locations.

In parallel, the data needs to have its quality maintained throughout its life cycle, so that any changes or updating comply with the established quality assurance procedures and any changes are recorded to provide a step-by-step audit trail. Control is also important and configurable user permissions enable each person to be assigned a defined role with pre-defined permissions in line with their function within the process. Proscribed, step-by-step routines will ensure that nobody strays from the approved processes.

Once the validated data is in the system it needs to be easy to use for a variety of purposes. As such, it should have a hierarchical structure providing an overview of key areas with the ability to drill down for more detailed reports. The ability to ‘slice and dice’ data in this way can enable reports to be based on time periods, service types or by department, building, country etc. Clearly, it is also useful to be able to export reports in different formats (e.g. spreadsheet, PDF) to meet stakeholder requirements.

Targeting features can also prove useful for entering and maintaining targets for each service, such as waste recycling, utilities, travel costs, paper consumption, etc. These will need to be configured to take account of factors such as seasonal variances.

There can be no doubt that sustainability in all its forms is going to become more important for organisations as time goes on. Even if you’re managing now with manual methods things are likely to change, so now is the time to look at alternatives and ‘get smart’ with sustainability management.

Measuring up

Some of the key measurements required for managing sustainability:

- Energy consumption, system by system and plant item by plant item, ideally on a floor by floor or zone by zone basis
- Water consumption
- Car/van/lorry journeys
- Efficiency of fleet vehicles
- Air travel
- Commuting patterns of staff
- Consumption of everyday consumables (e.g. paper, toner, cleaning chemicals)
- Recycling levels, broken down by separate waste streams
- Percentage of waste consigned to landfill
- Carbon footprint/environmental performance of suppliers and their products


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