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The tide is turning in favour of FM sustainability

24 July 2018

Having heard a number of interpretations regarding sustainability within the FM industry, PFM asked industry contacts for their thoughts on defining this to provide readers with more clarity on its meaning and the potential benefits available.

Starting the ball rolling, DS Smith Recycling account director Dan Prosser says sustainability is defined as benefiting businesses and the planet simultaneously:

“There’s a common misperception that ‘being green’ comes at a cost, but being environmentally sustainable shouldn’t be financially unsustainable.”

Sustainable businesses perform better in the marketplace, because they have robust business processes and a reputational advantage.

“There’s an easy way of unlocking a better bottom line for your business while making it more sustainable: through your recycling and waste management. Quality in recycling is the clearest definition of sustainability for FM,” Mr Prosser continues.

“High quality material is everything for recycling. If your waste management focuses on separating out different waste streams, you’ll improve the quality of the material you collect, which makes it more valuable as a commodity. That makes your business more sustainable in two ways – it’s more economical and more environmentally friendly.”

If collection infrastructures do not prioritise quality, these could incur landfill or energy recovery costs:

“It can’t be recycled if it’s too contaminated. While you pay more to burn or bury waste, recycling it means that you can avoid disposal cost.

“If you have sufficient volumes, you can sell it as a raw material, to the benefit of your business and the environment. So rolling out a recycling and waste management system of separate collections will increase your material quality, your recycling rate, and will bring a revenue stream to your business.

“Your business can sustain itself while also reducing its environmental impact – a win-win situation all round,” says Mr Prosser.

WCRS QHSE manager Lorraine Graham says one of the clearest definitions of sustainability comes from the Brundtland Commission:

“Sustainability is the ability to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

This is highly applicable to the FM industry with the challenge for FMs to manage resources and spaces in a sustainable way encompassing economic, environmental and social factors, she continues.

Those working in the sector tackle sustainability in terms of tangible factors such as carbon, energy use and waste but more recently sustainability in the industry has taken a wider view with increasingly more emphasis on people’s wellbeing and the wider social good.

However, when working in a busy role, often to tight budgets, to have an eye on the good of future generations may seem a little unrealistic. Fortunately there are best practice models and legislation which can also help to prepare everyone for the future.

“This is very much evident in the area of environmental responsibilities and waste management,” Ms Graham continues.

“Although there is still a long way to go, as we have seen with recent media reports around the impact of plastic waste on our environment, The Waste Framework Directive has made compliance with the Waste Hierarchy a mandatory requirement.”

The most important priority in the hierarchy is preventing waste, with reducing waste the next preferable option. Businesses that produce or handle waste must take all reasonable measures to apply the waste hierarchy when the waste is transferred.

“In the future, and as we work to the waste hierarchy model and move towards a more circular economy, the sustainability aspect to FMs’ work will become even more important to future generations, peoples’ wellbeing and the good of wider society. Then, sustainability, as defined by the Brundtland Commission, will ring very true,” says Ms Graham.

Speaking from the client side of the industry, Chiswick Park Enjoy-Work operations director Glen Kitching says:

“We see sustainability as an integral part of the way in which we operate our buildings, the park and our business as a whole.

“We set initiatives and targets for waste management, energy saving and biodiversity. We recently installed a live tracking system for our waste and recycling, which enables us to evaluate the performance of individual guest companies and assist in improving recycling performances across the park.”

Between 2016 and 2017, recycling performance increased from 40% to 54% with the top companies at the park achieving in excess of 65%.

“We also surpassed our 2016/2017 energy saving target by saving over 3m kW hours, through a LED lighting replacement programme and a bespoke building plant operation analysis project, coupled with this is the purchasing of only certified 100% renewable electricity,” he continues.

“By educating our guests about our sustainability focuses, we inspire them to reduce their energy consumption and adopt new recycling routines. This is done through our facilitated forums, one-to-one meetings and training support where needed.”

Mr Kitching says sustainability within FM is about implementing sustainability measures. “For example, we recycle 100% of our green waste, we turn our food waste into compost via our on-site wormery, which contains 1,000,000 worms capable of breaking down 50kg of food waste per day.

“Our approach to caring for the environment goes beyond the park as we thrive to make a positive difference to our local communities. When it comes to responsibility, everyone plays their individual part but it is definitely a team effort.

“Whatever we do today, will have an impact on tomorrow,” Mr Kitching concludes.

Indigo operations director Lee Hales says: “Sustainability within the facilities management industry isn’t about short-term, green-initiatives. Sustainability practices should be an integral part of a business’s long-term operational strategy.”

These enduring practices should curb waste, reduce energy consumption, and advance the economic, social and physical environment of the community via innovation, he continues. And because they influence not only businesses but also local government, facilities managers are in a unique position to lead on sustainability.

Reducing an organisation’s impact on the wider world is a key concern for businesses, and not just within FM.

In 2011, BIFM’s Sustainability in FM survey found 98% saw the issue as important, very significant or extremely significant, compared with 61% in 2010. Additionally, a survey of CEOs from 43 countries by PricewaterhouseCoopers found that 79% of these CEOs believe that sustainability is imperative to profitability. Consumers increasingly want to support businesses that are committed to scaling back predicted climate change.

“Whether it be investing in a fleet of electric vehicles like at our Slough Borough Council site or a parking facility with photovoltaic solar panels for renewable energy at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, innovative, sustainable FM strategies contribute to organisational and community success.

"Innovation, however, should always still focus on the customer journey and ensure that sustainability is seamlessly woven into the consumer experience. Service doesn’t need to be sacrificed. With these advancements and commitments, companies can enjoy stronger supplier relationships, efficient infrastructure, motivated employees – and most importantly – a satisfied customer,” says Mr Hales.

According to Carbon Credentials chief executive officer Paul Lewis, sustainability represents considering operations in the longer term and assessing future risks.

However, how that translates into the activities carried out by different roles can differ dramatically.

“For FMs, sustainability represents a set of tools to minimise wastage in building operations and consider wider and more holistic operational impacts. Waste appears everywhere in various guises and always comes at a cost, usually either against the environment, sometimes society and often including compliance or financial risk,” he says.

The sustainability toolkit helps to identify this waste and suggest alternative approaches which are less wasteful and better manage risks to operations in buildings.

The practices which sustainability represents for FMs make for better buildings and workplaces for occupiers, Mr Lewis continues.

“A sustainable building, or a green building, should be operated so the environmental and social risks are identified and effectively managed and opportunities taken. This means that the plant is working as efficiently as possible.

"Spaces used by occupants are comfortable and promote productivity. Materials within the building are high quality and support wellbeing.

“The building should be operated so that it is a net benefit to the community that surrounds it. The results will be a more efficient building with happier, healthier and more productive occupants, which is a social benefit to the local community. In the end, at its heart, sustainability represents good building management,” Mr Lewis concludes.

Additional thoughts are provided by Biffa head of FM accounts Martin Rose, who says the clearest definition of FM sustainability is the focus on long-term environmental goals during decision-making and, where possible, a notion of total waste segregation, closed loop recycling and working towards the circular economy.

“Currently for England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, there is no legislation requiring businesses to fully segregate and recycle waste – despite Scotland enforcing the Zero Waste Scotland laws in 2014, which require all waste-producing businesses to segregate certain materials,” he says.

But despite the lack of legislation, waste is moving higher up the agenda in FM tenders. While it remains a small expense, the CSR and green credentials associated with effective waste management are strong.

Many clients are increasingly driven by sustainability targets and are asking more of their FM professionals when it comes to providing the most carbon-efficient and environmentally positive solutions.

The best strategy to adopt is educating not only the cleaning staff, but the clients and employees working on sites.

“Clients must always be fully informed of the recycling solutions available to them for all possible types of waste, and a clear, easy bagging system set up for transferring segregated waste from the building,” he continues.

“A knowledge of what can and cannot be recycled and how to maximise capacity in external bins is also key to driving efficiency, such as breaking down cardboard boxes to leave more space and avoid unnecessary collections.”

With the growing EU drive to become more environmentally friendly, FM professionals must be aware of the changing legislative landscape and how this could affect clients.

Although businesses outside of Scotland are currently not legally required to segregate their waste and only waste collectors are subject to the legislation, it is likely that more onus will be pushed onto businesses producing waste in the near future. If and when this occurs, all FM professionals must be prepared to adapt and comply.

“It is also vital that the FM industry recognizes the importance of the circular economy to its clients and the critical part that the waste industry will play in this. The circular economy will undoubtedly become the driving force behind most recycling strategies and a knowledge of this is fundamentally important to designing a new innovative future,” says Mr Rose.

BRITA UK managing director Sarah Taylor states that sustainability has been high on the agenda in the FM sector for some time. The definition of sustainability is the “avoidance of the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance”.

“Now this definition is quite general, but for the FM sector, creating a sense of ‘ecological balance’ is a useful barometer to base businesses’ CSR plans around,” Ms Taylor continues.

“FM doesn’t entail just looking at one specific provision; it’s the management of many provisions including catering, maintenance, waste disposal and so on. This is where this sense of balance comes into play – where sustainability isn’t just a tick box exercise, but weaved across the fabric of the whole business.

“For example, in catering departments the use of single-use plastics is coming under increased scrutiny with the announcement of the proposed ‘plastic tax’.

"This will have a big impact on items such as bottled water and coffee cups. However, addressing this issue doesn’t have to mean a complete business overhaul.

“We’re seeing many FMs providing a more sustainable water offering, simply and easily, by installing a water filter or water dispenser system. In doing this, they can not only ensure the water quality is of the highest standard, but are eliminating the need for serving water in single-use plastic bottles by offering refills.

"There is also an added revenue stream for the catering departments by selling on-the-go sustainable drinks containers.

“With a recent survey finding that two-thirds (67%) of UK consumers would boycott brands that lack an ethical conscience, FMs need to ensure they’re operating as sustainably as possible to remain current, forward thinking and future-ready,” says Ms Taylor.

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