EXCLUSIVE: Facilities managers seek greater ‘meaning’ from sustainability

Corporate sustainability must be "deconstructed" and turned into useful business language if facilities managers are to effectively drive this agenda forward, leading outsourcing firm MITIE has said.

Speaking to edie, MITIE’s managing director for waste operations Mike Taylor said many FM companies and their clients were feeling overwhelmed with the broad remit of sustainability, and to some extent were disconnecting key resource issues such as water, energy and waste.

“At the moment you’ve probably got a sustainability manager and an energy manager arguing with each other over what the right way to go forward is,” he said.

He added: “Probably 70% of people just associate [sustainability] with energy reduction and spending lots of money to put kit in to do that.”

Taylor said firms needed to drive more holistic, interconnected thinking around the key issues, but first needed to deepen their understanding of what these issues were.

He referred to a recent study by BIFM, the professional body for the facilities management sector, which has examined what progress facilities managers have made in integrating sustainability into their day-to-day practices, both internally and for the services provided to customers.

“It fascinates me that the report never mentions water once. This just highlights the fact that sustainability is so big, it’s difficult to write a report about it,” he observed.

The study found since 2007 there has been significant progress among the facilities management sector in implementing sustainability policies, however a lack of knowledge and tools is preventing better understanding around performance.

Taylor said this could be remedied by simply reconsidering how operations are run. “Looking at how you use your energy, how you procure things, these can produce a profit to the bottom line rather than a capital investment,” he pointed out.

Aside from legislation, Taylor said the biggest driver for facilities managers to incorporate more sustainable thinking into their roles was tangible cost benefits.

“For both the facilities management company and the client, the question is: ‘does this give me an instant benefit, how much effort do I have to put in to achieve that?’ I don’t think anyone is interested if the payback period is longer than 18 months to two years,” he maintained.

Looking ahead, Taylor said that among property managers in particular, the trend towards flexible working was having a huge influence on long-term investment decisions around sustainability within the built environment.

“Every property manager I speak to is looking at leases now of two years rather than five or ten years. As digital communications and mobile working takes off, the whole structure of how companies operate could be a real game-changer.”

Maxine Perella

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