‘Box-ticking’ approach compromises sustainable business

Businesses are operating 'on the border of compliancy' when it comes to sustainable business practice, with more than three quarters primarily concerned about their corporate image when introducing sustainability measures.

That is according to a new survey released today (18 July) by the British Institute of Facilities Management (BIFM), which discovered that 78% of businesses consider improving their corporate image as the main driver for pursuing a sustainability agenda, and 77% do so simply to comply with an increase in regulation.

In the survey of more than 600 facilities managers across the UK, the majority seemingly employ sustainability with a ‘box ticking’ approach rather than incorporating it in their long-term plans, despite 60% of respondents claiming that sustainability policies are effectively integrated into business practice.

BIFM chief executive Gareth Tancred said: “It is encouraging to see that over half of businesses we engaged with are imbedding sustainability into the heart of their business practices.

“However, it is concerning to see that this is being driven primarily by corporate image and legislative requirements versus a desire to want to be a better and more sustainable business.

“As a result, many businesses are missing out on the benefits of long-term sustainability, such as increased competitive advantage, increased productivity, a reduction in costs and ultimately, more efficiency leading to better performance.”

Short-term focus

Despite the ambitious sustainability targets now set by many corporations and the adoptation of policy such as the Carbon Reduction Commitment, the BIFM report states that there still remains a ‘short-term’ approach among many senior executives. Business leaders choose to focus on immediate ROI rather than in a long term strategy.

Focusing on the work of facilities managers, the report stated that senior management had a poor understanding of sustainability from a property perspective and that financial spending in facilities management is driven by short-term focus rather than life cycle. The BIFM also stated that reporting is often not done effectively enough.

Just 36.8% of respondents felt that pressure from investors was helping to increase business focus on sustainability. Furthermore, only 46% reported that pressure from clients led to an improved sustainability ethos.

Behaviour change

Commenting on the report, Marks and Spencer’s head of facilities management Munish Datta said: “Facilities management teams can be pivotal in operating buildings that are as sustainable as possible, resource efficient and resilient. In the M&S UK property estate, our FM teams have played an incredibly important role in meeting our sustainability, Plan A targets.”

Tancred concluded by stressing the importance of the facilities management and property industries in meeting national sustainability targets. “Businesses can’t afford to not be sustainable and in contrast to those who think investment in sustainability requires expensive technologies or significant capital expenditure, there are operational and behaviour changes that would make a considerable difference,” he said.

“Sustainability must be spelt out as a clearly defined requirement within contracts and supply chains, and should be embraced in the ‘culture’ of a business – we would like to see a firm commitment from businesses to ‘go beyond’ the bare minimum and commit to long-term initiatives that will ultimately prove beneficial for their bottom line, and the wider society.”

Download the full 2014 BIFM Sustainability Report for free here.

Matt Field

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