Facility Management the Unsung Heroes of Sustainability

Not to long ago I was in a meeting to discuss sustainability initiatives. I looked around the table and saw representatives from marketing, environmental, legal, and corporate social responsibility. What I didn’t see was anyone from the Facilities Management group or the Architectural Design and Build group. The meeting began and we talked about all of the buzz topics; green media, social programs for young people, energy usage and of course, carbon footprint. Every time I hear the discussion of carbon footprint and someone gives a statistic about how many cars that equals that we have taken off the road I’m reminded of Joel Makeower’s comment ” I sometimes wonder whether adding up all the cars-taken-off-the road marketing claims would yield a number that exceeds the actual number of cars on the road.” Strategies For The Green Economy

I participated in the meeting and didn’t say anything about the missing potential team members, until the end of the meeting. That’s when they asked me if I had any other thoughts or questions I’d like to add…You know I did.

I asked where the team members from the Facilities Management, New Construction and Architectural groups were.

I got the expected replies, “We are working to select our business and marketing initiatives”, “We’re trying to make sure our customers know what we are doing to help them”, “We’ve got to get our story straight”. Then finally I was asked, “Why do you ask?” I love it when we ask questions!

I said that I agreed that we have been talking about how to tell our story, what stories we wanted to tell and how to use our website and social media to tell the stories, but I haven’t heard us talk about what we could be doing internally to help push sustainability into our core. They said we talked about our reduction in our power bill. I agreed. Saving money and reducing power needs is a good thing. But I wanted to know what we did to reduce our need for raw materials in the construction of our new buildings. How did we take into consideration the affect of building materials on employees when selecting materials for construction? What siting criteria did we use for our new buildings? Did we consider collecting and reusing storm water runoff for parking lot cleaning or landscape watering in areas where water use is limited or perhaps more expensive? What materials did we reuse and how?

This seems to be something that happens around us today. We want our company to be part of the sustainability program, but we don’t really stop to think sometimes that Green House Gases and Power Usage are just two parts of the multifaceted program. Facility Management is an area within just about every business, waiting for us to examine and ask “What can we do here?” Think about it, buildings represent some of the largest investments that companies make and yet we rush to build and occupy them so we can “start” the business.

What if we started the business with the structure? I know, LEED has certifications and guidelines. But, what if we started our sustainability discussions with the building and not just the product. What if we looked at what we had to work with and started to make “it” more sustainable? Would that help us to make products more sustainable? Granted, this would be easier if we were starting a new company. But, what about a company or an institution that has been in business for years?

This is the area where the unsung heroes of sustainability can shine! For years people have thought of the Facility Management department as the folks that keep the heat and air conditioning going. They are located in the basement, and not exactly as glamorous as some of the other “top line” groups within the organization; sort of out-of-site out-of-mind.

Yet Facilities Management is at the heart of cost-effectiveness, productivity, efficiency and the social issues of employee quality of work. These managers are now dealing with air emissions, indoor air quality, water quality, water use restrictions, and multiple waste management issues that were not even thoughts their previous counter-parts dealt with. They have to be prepared to not only order office furniture, they have to be able to know what the furniture is made of, where it was sourced from and how will they dispose of the items when they have served they function within the organization.

These men and women are a lot more than “wrench turners”!

This is a great area that any organization can tap into when looking at the strategic advantages that sustainability has to offer. Facility Managers are involved in multiple aspects of your organization. They work with grounds maintenance, building maintenance and road maintenance. They provide construction project management activities. They establish facility emergency management activities that range from threat assessment and planning to recovery. They may be responsible for fleet management or records management. Your Facility Management group may have even established its own supply chain and can help with your procurement process or perhaps even help other groups with its contacts and vendors.

The image at the top of this posting is from a great website, Today’s Facility Manager. Visit the International Facility Management Association website and check out FacilitiesNet for check out some of the great resources that are available for Facility Management and see what you can learn and share.

We’re often told to look within for answers, well, maybe this time it’s more than just an expression. It might just be the key to helping you develop a more rounded sustainable business.

7 thoughts on “Facility Management the Unsung Heroes of Sustainability

  1. Thanks for this article Jesse, it so rightly draws attention to this often overlooked but vitally important group of individuals. Our facility manager has a passion for sustainability, curiosity and people skills on top of technical know, so he was able to move mountains and make our head office one of the greenest in the Arab world. I would go as far as saying that some of the greatest sustainability champions I know are facility managers, they’re the ones who give us CSR people something big to celebrate and they’re great partners of change to push the green building agenda forward too!

  2. Your observations are “on point”. It’s not just about appearances; rather, it’s about practiced conviction to sustainable design from the ground up. Experts who look at communication in a large business organization have found that the janitor(s) seem to be more aware of what’s going on in the total operation than those at top level management. They deal with everyone and everything in some way. A parallel exists with facility management personnel in their awareness, involvement and potential within the organization. It’s simple – you practice what you preach, because you believe it’s the right thing to do, not because of how it makes you appear. Large corporations can become so focused on image that they lose their sense of self. Hooray for those who get it right from the beginning; applause for those who re-commit their organizations to sustainability.

    • Jesse – I could not agree more! Focusing on operational considerations provide the greatest improvement capabilities for an organizations. Focusing on facilities offers tremendous opportunities: buildings consume 42% of all electricity, by 2025 they will be the largest emitters of greenhouse gasses on the planet. Focusing on facilities can provide substantial benefits, with up to 40% energy savings and reduction of maintenance costs in the 10-30% range. At West Coast Green earlier this month, we (IBM) made a number of announcements including delivering this very message. Thanks for the links and article.

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