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Appreciating the bigger picture of maintaining facilities

31 July 2019

One of the most popular topics of discussion within meetings of the PFM Editorial Advisory Board is the application of technology within the FM sector and how this has the potential to significantly change the running of facilities in all sectors.

This subject can be seen to be of interest throughout the FM industry and is one of the areas of discussion that featured within a PFM interview with Spie UK director of energy and engineering George Adams as a general thread of conversation.

His long and varied industry experience has seen him develop a particular interest in energy conservation, the reduced use of natural resources and promotion of excellence in engineering, all of which can be improved through the effective use of technology.

In addition to his day-to-day activities, Mr Adams has supported industry organisations and continues to do so, serving as a past president of the Chartered Institution of Building Service Engineers (CIBSE) and chair of its Resilient Cities special interest group and leading the engineering panel formed following the Grenfell Tower tragedy that has seen him play a leading role in providing industry response to the Hackitt Review, designed to outline recommendations for improvements in construction and engineering to avoid future disasters of this type.

“One of the things I’ve learned from everything I’ve been involved with over the years is that the industry needs more examples of collaborative working to run buildings in a better way,” says Mr Adams.

“Another area I’m interested in is how to improve the maintenance of plant and buildings, particularly from an engineering point of view.”

He further explains how the gathering and effective analysis of data relating to building performance is now providing the opportunity for service partners to assist in allowing facilities to be run more efficiently.

Further evidence of how this can be delivered is provided in the Smart Workspace booklet produced by his company, to which Mr Adams made a significant contribution.

“It’s in everyone’s interest to make buildings last longer and we can do this if everyone works together and uses the technology that is readily available and applies it in the best way.

"One of the current frustrations is that all the talk is about new buildings, which account for a very small fraction of the UK building stock, and there’s not enough discussion about how to make existing buildings work better,” he says.

Improving the performance of existing buildings is described as “a massive challenge” by Mr Adams, who believes that the government’s commitment to achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050 has added more emphasis on the need for this.

He believes that the introduction of legislation to obligate building owners and FMs to improve energy efficiency is now required as an important part of meeting the UK commitment to reduce carbon emissions.

“The energy use of buildings currently accounts for around 40% of carbon emissions,” he continues. “We need to urgently commit to an investment of 2% of gross domestic product (GDP) to help to reduce our emissions as a reaction to climate change.”

Changing the focus to the resilience of buildings needs to include more emphasis on the benefits this will bring to the businesses involved, from real estate and FM to all those owning or leasing commercial building stock. This should additionally include making buildings feel better to work in by improving aspects such as air quality, he says.

“We need to work with everyone in the supply chain to deliver these improvements and we need to make ourselves known as the technical experts. There’s been a lot of attention to outdoor air quality, but we also need to realise that indoor air quality needs to be much better, because this is made worse by aspects such as people, furniture and fabric, etc,” says Mr Adams.

He refers to statistics such as the contribution by poor air quality to the deaths of 9,500 people in London alone every year and a global figure of 7m to further emphasise the urgent need to change established practices.

With approximately 1bn people around the World having no access to electricity, he further states that this shows the need for increased focus on renewable energy.

“There should be more use of solar panels, heat pumps and controls to refurbish buildings and make them much more sustainable and energy efficient,” he says. “The use of glass window panels with solar filaments is another example of the options we can consider to become much more environmentally friendly.”

Increased engagement with renewable energy will see growth in local production that will have benefits such as reducing the high level of investment required to maintain the National Grid and moving away from the inefficient and costly central distribution method.

“Use of coal to produce electricity in the UK is nearly gone, but gas will be around for many years ahead, so we need to make some major changes to our electricity generation processes,” says Mr Adams. “There are 32m vehicles on the road and just 0.6% of these are electric, so there’s another massive change in the changing of the culture of the average man on the street.

“We need to show everyone that we all need to take responsibility for this and spread that message to everyone to make changes such as reducing the use of plastic packaging in supermarkets. There are some great examples of effective local government policies in cities such as London, Nottingham, Leeds and Glasgow to improve sustainability.

“And the things that are good for the environment are also good for the people, but we have to educate everyone and raise awareness. How many people know that we need to plant 40 trees just to offset one person’s carbon emissions, for example?” he asks.

“It’s been shown that if you improve local environments, such as planting more trees, this will deliver health benefits and can even reduce crime by making people better. We’re also now seeing the development of technology that removes carbon from the atmosphere and uses it to generate energy, so two benefits for the price of one, you could say.”

He returns to his initial message that investment has to be made as soon as possible, as the cost of this will increase “by 20 or 30 times” what is currently required if no action is taken.

“We’re all victims of commercialism, such as the increased use of plastic packaging and we just need to stop and go back to using the old methods, such as using paper bags and packaging, that were healthier and better for everyone,” he says.

“If we grow more food locally we’ll need less transport, which will reduce pollution, and will also be better for the local economy, and this could see more city farms that can then be used to educate everyone on the best use of sustainable practices,” says Mr Adams.

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