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Sustainable Information

12 May 2010

FMs and others who are charged with measuring and managing sustainability issues often find themselves faced with quite daunting practical challenges. Steve Dingley charts a path through the complexities and explains how to take control

OVER THE LAST COUPLE OF YEARS it has become very apparent that many organisations have two layers of sustainability activity. At board level there are very clear aspirations to become more sustainable while also driving down costs through, for example, improved energy efficiency. Also, those captured by the Carbon Reduction
Commitment Energy Efficiency Scheme (CRC) will have a strong incentive to reduce energy consumption to qualify for rebates and lower their future spend on carbon allowances.
Then there is the second level, where the people at the sharp end are expected to deliver on those aspirations. And much of this delivery may fall into the laps of FMs and estates managers, in terms of gathering and analysing sustainability information and reporting on it.
Having worked on sustainability strategy with a number of public and private sector organisations, I have found there is one simple aphorism that helps to define everything else – namely, if you can’t measure it you can’t manage it. First, you need to establish what needs to be measured to meet the organisation’s objective, and then what data you need to make those measurements meaningful. Unfortunately, this isn’t usually as straightforward as it seems.
Assessing carbon footprint is a case in point. Measuring overall 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, most AMR only measures bulk consumption of gas, electricity etc across the building not how much is used for catering and how much for heating and hot water. More detailed information is required to identify areas of waste and excessive consumption – which in turn means much higher volumes of information have to be gathered if the data is going to be genuinely useful.
Furthermore, a true carbon footprint assessment should also gather data more broadly including road and air transport and embedded carbon in procured goods. As a result not only are the volumes of data potentially enormous, but they are also stored in many different places. Typically waste management 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.
Such information may be scattered across various buildings and the systems of several 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. Also, inevitably, the quality of that information will vary from one supplier to another and even between different departments of the same organisation – and very few organisations have a data auditing process in place. This is particularly important for those organisations in the CRC as incorrect data, or late submission, can incur fines.
Once the measurement parameters have been identified it is necessary to find a way to bring this disparate information together. Some of it will be in spreadsheets, some on paper, some in specialist management programs.
The next practical consideration is to get all of the relevant information into a common format, verifying it for accuracy and completeness as it enters the system. Verification, ideally to a recognised standard, is vital because the alternative is working with inaccurate and meaningless information that will make the whole exercise pointless.
Once this has been achieved the data can be used to generate reports but doing this manually can take an unacceptably long time. Integrated FM has been working with a global organisation that found it was taking months to produce reports from across its estate, so that by the time the information had been analysed it was out of date. This can be a major task in a single building and turns into mammoth proportions for a large estate - and very often this work will be over and above the ‘day job’.
At this global organisation, new software technologies have now been integrated with the various information sources, so that data enters the system in real time. As this happens it is automatically validated against pre-defined criteria, and reports on just about any aspect of sustainability can be generated in a few minutes.
Effective and meaningful management of sustainability requires specialist tools that have been designed for the job. Indeed, Integrated FM’s 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. However, if such a system is to provide an acceptable return on investment it needs to satisfy certain criteria.
Firstly, it will need to allow data to be input in different ways from different sources. Obvious examples include importing from spreadsheets, direct manual input and direct data feed from inhouse or supply chain databases. As much of this sustainability data also resides in FM systems, it can 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 by the system and referred back to a person for double checking.
Similarly, steps should be taken to minimise the risk of human error. 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. 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.
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.
Ease of use is another important factor because if it takes a long time to find the required information this is a task that will continually be put off. The ideal situation, already well established in CAFM systems, is to have a hierarchical 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.
Targeting features can also prove useful for entering and maintaining targets for each service, such as fuel consumption, waste recycling, utilities, travel costs, paper consumption, etc. For example, following major improvements to the insulation of one building a company anticipated significant reductions in gas consumption for heating. The sustainability management system flagged up that consumption was exceeding this target, triggering a detailed examination of the heating system. They found that not only had the building management system not been reconfigured but there was also an increase in boiler dry cycling because heating loads had fallen. An investment of £6,000 in boiler load optimisation gave a payback of just two months.
In another situation, one of our clients used the drill down capability to assess air travel costs and associated carbon emissions. They found that one particular office was incurring much higher air travel costs than others and subsequent investigation identified that there were no video conferencing facilities at that office. Having introduced these facilities at a cost of around £30,000, the carbon emissions associated with air travel were reduced by 58 percent, while the costs savings gave a return on investment of just eight months.
Undoubtedly, sustainability management is rapidly becoming more important for just about every organisation and the successful implementation of such a strategy means getting to grips with a mass of information in very fine detail. Not making use of specialist software tools that meet the criteria described above makes about as much sense as using a typewriter when a word processor is available.
● Steve Dingley is managing director of Integrated FM

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