The need for business to embrace sustainability continues to grow. The pandemic has seen a surge of interest from individuals and businesses in sustainability and sustainable development. As a result, there is a greater sense of urgency in organisations to improve and clarify their efforts in both areas. Additionally, the COP26 is further highlighting the areas in businesses which will be affected by climate change and how this will affect the approach to sustainability (regulations, green finance, consumer behaviours etc.). The increased interest reconfirms the relevance of sustainability in business and that its importance will continue to increase. The original definition of sustainability in the UN Brundtland Report (1987) is to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Sustainable development, however, focuses on the processes for improving long term economic wellbeing and quality of life without compromising future generations. Although, the construction and management of a building is often one of the first considerations of a business when considering sustainability, there are challenges to meeting sustainability goals and implementing sustainable facilities management.
How does sustainable facilities management benefit my business?
The word sustainability often creates an association linked to environmental concerns. However, sustainability also encompasses social and economic factors and how these areas work together. Consequently, facility managers are well placed to understand how sustainable development can be implemented in a premises as they have an overview of the functionality of a building and will be knowledgeable about compliance and health and safety. One effect of sustainable facilities management is that it supports the sustainability efforts of the demand organisation. This may include existing efforts such as energy efficiency and recycling, however sustainable development in facilities management also addresses societal aspects such as healthy buildings and diversity which affect employees and external stakeholders (such as contractors.)
The term healthy building refers to how a building affects the health of its occupants or regular users. Consequently, the areas that facilities management concentrate on to ensure a healthy building include ventilation, air quality, water quality, lighting and views, noise, moisture and safety and security. Each of these features affects the occupant’s physical and mental health and productivity. Thus, incorporating the social aspects of sustainability into facilities management.
Sustainable development can be applied to facilities management in areas such as procurement. It is an opportunity to create sustainability policies for an organisation such as not buying from businesses that put the environment at risk or are known for discriminatory practices. Sustainable procurement has many benefits to the demand organisation including risk management, future proofing of a company, reputation protection in addition to being a way of differentiating a company.
Although the value of sustainability is becoming more appreciated by individuals, organisations and governments, challenges, and barriers to implementing sustainable facilities management (SFM) still exist. Some of these challenges result from organisations, technology, end users and policies.
The environmental benefits of sustainability for organisations are widely acknowledged. However, the barriers to implementing sustainable FM include that the financial benefits of are not always immediately clear. Additionally, a lack of commitment from senior management and time constraints also present barriers to implementation. Furthermore, a lack of understanding and knowledge of processes to achieve sustainability contribute to these difficulties.
Technology is often cited as a way for businesses to become more sustainable; For example: renovating existing systems has the potential to reduce energy consumption. The effectiveness of this approach may be influenced by factors that an FM practitioner cannot control (size and age of building, weather conditions etc.) However, the pace at which technology is changing and adapting (Building Information Models and smart building technology) creates a complexity that makes it harder for FM practitioners to choose the best solution for their clients. Consequently, understanding and knowledge of these technologies needs to be continually updated to be applied effectively.
Sustainability measures and sustainable development need the cooperation of the end users of a building. Consequently, FM practitioners are becoming more aware of the need to foster the participation of stakeholders and take a collaborative approach when implementing sustainability measures. The result of the involvement of end users in developing sustainability measures is that it encourages ownership and motivation for behavioural changes. Thus, assisting in the implementation of sustainable FM.
Government policies in promoting the reduction of CO2 are often highly motivating in environmental innovations. However, due to the broad nature of policies, there is on occasion difficulty adapting guidelines, standards, and regulations for use at a local level.
The benefits of sustainability and sustainable development are recognised by businesses. The challenges and barriers above indicate the need for clear communication of the financial benefits, knowledge sharing, training, and cultivating collaborative relationships between FM providers and stakeholders. Facilities management can support the sustainable development and sustainability goals of a demand organisation. However, it is becoming more evident that sustainable FM is more effective when it receives buy in from business leaders and uses a thoughtful and planned approach.
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‘Our Common Future’ Brundtland Report (1987)
‘The 9 Foundations of A Healthy Building’ – Harvard T.H. Chan School of Health (2017)
Store-Valen, M & Buser, M. (2018) ‘Implementing Sustainable Facilities Management: Challenges & Barriers Encountered by Scandinavian FM Practitioners’, Facilities.
Gadiesh, O & Davis-Peccoud, J. (2021) ‘Why sustainability is the new digital’ (https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2021/01/davos-agenda-sustainability-digital-revolution/)
Sarpin, Norliana, Yang, Jay, & Xia, Bo (2016) ‘Developing a people capability framework to promote sustainability in facility management practices’, Facilities, 34 (7-8) pp. 450-467.
Hardie, M., Allen, J., & Newell, G., (2013) ‘Environmentally driven technical innovation by Australian construction SME’s’, Smart & Sustainable Built Environment, 2(2) 179-191.
Varley, S., (2021) ‘Five reasons why business should care about COP26’ (https://www.reutersevents.com/sustainability/five-reasons-why-business-should-care-about-cop26)