Emerging from the pandemic and meeting sustainability objectives – Facilities Management at a crossroads, chasing shadows or a bright new future?

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Facilities management (FM) is often seen as the poor relation within many organization, a commodity whose costs need to be continuously scrutinized and cut accordingly. As organisations start coming out of the worst pandemic for over a hundred years and seek to secure financial stability through reducing their property needs and portfolio size, does this spell more danger for the FM industry or is it an opportunity to spearhead organisational sustainability objectives?

The questions I will attempt to answer here are:

  1. What is the considered view of FM as organisations recover from the pandemic?
  2. What are the key objectives and goals for organisations in moving forward?
  3. How can FM help drive the sustainability goals & objectives?

Although FM is an absolute necessity in each organisation, it is usually perceived as a commodity where the costs continuously need to be reviewed and cut as it does not appear to contribute towards organisational objectives and goals.

It is often considered as a ‘means to an end, a ‘necessary evil’ where organisations need to ensure that their buildings meet regulatory compliance and are fit for purpose. It also seeks to ensure that organisational employees are optimised to be as productive as possible to contribute towards organisational profitability.

The official definition of Facilities Management, in the International Standards Organisation (ISO) 41001:2017 is ‘an organizational function which integrates people, place and process within the built environment with the purpose of improving the quality of life of people and the productivity of the core business.’

This definition would lead us to believe that, arguably, FM should be considered across all levels of organisational architecture i.e. strategic, tactical and operational, whereas it is mainly considered as an operational function by many organisations.

Indeed, as up to 35% of an organisation’s costs are attributable to the fixed and varying factors that constitute FM, one could argue that it really deserves more prominence within organisational hierarchy and value. Indeed, ever since my FM career started in 1990, FM has always been under pressure to reduce and cut costs. With organisations starting to re-emerge following the worst pandemic for over 100 years, will FM be better off or worse off?

  1. What is the considered view of FM as organisations recover from the pandemic?

Emerging from the impacts and effects of COVID-19 the FM industry and profession finds itself at a crossroads.
Globally, organisations will wish to reduce the size of their property portfolio to remain competitive and even survive. The pandemic showed us that employees can work effectively from home and the latest thinking suggests that we will not need as much property to support our businesses and that a blended hybrid of office-based and home working hybrid will result in less demand for the traditional work from the office or workplace location.

Trust in their workforce was forced upon organisations during the pandemic and it largely worked so why wouldn’t businesses organise their future workplace structures around this premise?

Unfortunately for FM, this will undoubtedly mean further cost reduction targets relating to property and FM scope.

2. What are the key objectives and goals for organisations in moving forward?

In recent times and before the pandemic, sustainability has become a high priority on organisational agendas. As organisations have largely adopted the UN’s ‘Sustainability Development Goals’ and in doing so, created their own ‘Net-zero 2030’ goals and objectives.

To achieve these goals, organisations are signing-up to or adopting various sustainability-based Standards or Good Practice guides in their quest to becoming carbon-neutral.

Sustainability in this context can be defined as the avoidance of the depletion of natural resources to maintain an ecological balance.

Whilst organisations do not generally include much on FM in their corporate agendas and published goals and targets, meeting sustainability targets and the annual reporting of progress against these targets certainly features on most companies’ websites.

Three broad principles of sustainability can be considered as being made up of 3 pillars – the economy, society and the environment. These principles are sometimes referred to as profit, people and planet.

Within the context of FM, there is a strong correlation with two of the three pillars, people and plant and of course there is an indirect link with profit.

How are organisations interpreting sustainability and how can they develop strategies that align with and deliver the UN’s Sustainability Development Goals in meeting their ‘Net-zero 2030’ objectives?

I order to answer this question effectively, we can consider sustainability and its relationship with FM from the following perspectives:

  • Sustainable Buildings – Energy and Environmental considerations
  • Sustainable Buildings – People Performance and Wellbeing considerations
  • Sustainable Society – Supply Chain; Organisational Responsibility & Accountability considerations
Sustainable Buildings – Energy & EnvironmentalConsiders impacts of the built environment. Advocates sustainable energy sources. Steps are taken to incorporate energy efficient practices, including the use of renewable energy in the design and use of buildings.  
Sustainable Buildings – People Performance & WellbeingIn this context, employees are considered in terms of their performance and outputs against the buildings they occupy. People are our most important assets and it is therefore imperative that their wellbeing is prioritised accordingly.  
Sustainable Society – Supply Chain; Organisational Responsibility & Accountability considerationsSocial responsibility is also a means of achieving sustainability goals. When an organisation adopts key responsible principles such as accountability and transparency, it can demonstrate that it ensures the long-term sustainability and success of an organisation or system.

Many certifiable Standards and Good Practice Guides now exist to guide organisations towards their sustainability goals and the take up of such standards has risen significantly in recent times. Listed below are some of the main Standards available today:

Sustainability Standards

Sustainable Buildings – Energy & EnvironmentalBREEAM is the world’s leading sustainability assessment method for master planning projects, infrastructure and buildings.
LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is the most widely used green building rating system in the world ISO 50001:2018 is the newly revised international standard for Energy Management providing the most robust framework for optimising energy efficiency in public and private sector organisations
Sustainable Buildings – People Performance & WellbeingThe WELL Building Standard is a vehicle for buildings and organisations to deliver more thoughtful and intentional spaces that enhance human health and well-being.
Sustainable Society – Supply Chain; Organisational Responsibility & AccountabilitySA8000 is an auditable certification standard that encourages organisations to develop, maintain, and apply socially acceptable practices in the workplace. ISO 26000 is intended to assist organisations in contributing to sustainable development.

As organisations strive to become certified and adopt the above standards to meet their sustainability goals, they will embark on a fragmented, stop-start journey.

Why is the sustainability journey fragmented?

Certification to the relevant Standards will inevitably be a resource and probable business process re-engineering obligation by an organisation which will be backed by senior management commitment. Establishing eventual certification to the required standard will certainly not be a ‘walk in the park’ or a ‘one-off ‘event. Organisations will need to demonstrate ongoing and continued adherence to the requirements of the Standard as this will need to be demonstrated periodically through periodic maintenance or surveillance audits.

It is commendable that so many organisations now demonstrate such commitment to sustainability through their corporate values and goals but it will take on-going effort and input to maintain accreditation along the journey towards ‘Net-zero 2030’. This is often underestimated where a level of resource commitment is not usually there to meet such requirements on a day-to-day basis within an organisation’s normal operations.

  1. How can FM help drive the sustainability objective and agenda?

The FM function within an organisation is usually consistent and always there to ensure that new practices and tasks can be developed, applied, monitored, measured and improved.

As a rule, we do not employ operatives to specifically to deliver sustainability agendas. How else can this therefore be achieved in an effective and cost-efficient way. Step in FM!

The range of sustainability-based procedures and tasks required to maintain the relevant certifications and sustainability based working practices to achieve the organisations goals can and should be delivered by FM resources. Traditionally, this is often not the case but this is a monumental opportunity for FM to step out of the low-cost commodity shadows and show that it can deliver real additional value through ensuring that sustainability goals will be met.

FM services typically cover the vast majority of needs to maintain accreditation to the relevant Standards and in doing so, support organisational objectives in this regard.

The FM teams deliver:

  • Facilities Management Services
  • Hard Services
  • Cleaning & Janitorial
  • Security
  • Front of House
  • Waste Management
  • Catering
  • Landscaping

There is no doubt that FM needs to change, top become more of an ‘on-demand’ type service so as part of this change, we should also look at ways of integrating the sustainability requirements.

All these services play a key role in informing the sustainability agenda and in ensuring that the sustainability journey is a smooth one
Through revised FM models and structures and the re-designing FM specifications, contracts, measurement frameworks etc. FM can rise from the shadows to finally project itself as a critical resource and service that demonstrates value against 30% upwards of an organisations costs but also providing additional value in assisting organisations to meet their ‘Net-zero 2030’ targets.

If the FM profession and industry can create the clear links and association between sustainability and FM then it promises to be an exciting time for the FM sector. Yes, it will need to re-invent itself again as a combined ‘Sustainability & FM’ function with potentially far more credibility and relevance than it has ever had before.

Much in the same way that FM was historically expected to pick-up compliance, health and safety and environmental responsibilities, a greater opportunity now exists for the industry – to lead the sustainability charge!

As the world eventually emerges from lockdown, FM will inevitably need to change to a more ‘on demand’ based service to suit new business needs. This presents an ideal opportunity for organisations to re-consider their wider property needs and requirements, holistically across the entity and in doing so, embrace sustainability in the race towards ‘Net-zero 2030’

It is considered that as much as 80% of an organisation’s sustainability needs for certification and meeting organisational targets can be delivered through FM resources.

Such a move will inevitably ease the financial burden on FM as an entity in its own right, as funding and budgets will be made available for meeting sustainability targets. The future for FM should be bright, let’s embrace the opportunity.

Author: Richard Davies

April 2021

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