Creating More Sustainable Facilities
How facilities managers can implement green practices and products.
By Megan Kramer
Environmental, social and governance (ESG) strategies are good for the planet, people — and profits. In particular, as more and more people turn their attention toward the climate crisis, good environmental practices are what makes a company more attractive to job candidates and employees, consumers, shareholders and everyone in between. And a study from Infosys shows that 90% of responding executives said their ESG spending led to moderate or significant financial returns, and that 66% experienced ESG returns within three years.
So, how can facilities managers (FMs) best implement sustainable practices within their departments and their companies? And where might you meet some challenges?
Business-wise, now is a great time to adjust your sustainable practices, said Jason Narod, Chief Sales Officer at GridPoint. “Regulatory mandates are coming, and no one wants to be asleep at the wheel,” he said. “Moving forward on ESG initiatives will take a while to implement, so now is the right time.”
These new ESG regulations proposed by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) will require transparency from public companies about climate-related risks and management, carbon emissions and more.
But on a more personal note, now is the right time to move toward environmentally friendly practices simply because it’s the right thing to do, said Craig Nichols, VP of Design, Construction and Maintenance at Signet Jewelers.
“It’s never the wrong time to do the right thing,” he says. “And while the government will regulate what we need to report on, being a sustainable facilities professional isn’t about reporting or brownie points, to me. It’s about finding a passion for and being a steward for environmental change.”
While getting started may feel overwhelming, there are some simple things FMs can do to help set their organizations on the right path.
Creating a Green Company Culture
When it comes to sustainable practices, Narod suggested looking at these areas first:
Equipment: Installing LED lighting, motion sensors, energy-efficient HVAC systems, kitchen appliances where applicable, etc.
Building controls and automation: Installing systems that monitor and control electricity, heating and air conditioning, water and sewer, and security
Building structure: Installing energy-efficient windows, doors and vestibules, insulation, roofing, etc.
Narod also suggested working directly with store managers to establish energy-saving procedures, as the culture at your facility can play a big role in energy efficiency. These procedures can reduce or eliminate the use of electricity after hours, as well as energy waste from costly equipment.
“Facilities managers typically cover a large group of sites, and they rely on store managers to be their eyes and ears on the ground most of the time,” Narod said. “Saying, ‘Hey, let’s make sure we turn the air conditioner off at night and turn it back on in the morning’ — that’s a quick win in terms of environmental benefit.”
Nichols agreed that a simple approach can make a big difference: “One thing I talked to our office facilities team about is to stop using K-cups. That’s a lot of plastic that doesn’t need to be in our buildings.”
However, it can be difficult to make sure store managers are following these procedures, so FMs can also engage stakeholders and other employees to spread out responsibility.
“Form or join a group to discuss what you can do to advance the ball,” Narod said. “Publicly traded companies have sustainability teams and will pull a group together to make this a reality. But if your company doesn’t have sustainability job functions, you can still create a team with your chief operating officer, chief financial officer and the facilities team.”
“Find the people on your team that are passionate about it,” Nichols added. “They’re the ones who are going to drive this forward and push through change, even in the tough times.”
Of course, all these efforts will cost time and money, which is why getting leadership and stakeholders on board is important.
“With the tightening of the economy, a lot of businesses are most focused on how they run day-to-day as opposed to potentially future-proofing and planning for how they can drive some of these efficiencies,” Narod said. “I think it’s important to quantify what can be delivered, and as these efficiencies are installed, build a business case for why it’s working.”
On the other hand, Nichols also highlights data and decision fatigue as a major roadblock. “It can stop us from taking action,” he said. “We’re in search for the perfect business case, the perfect solution. But in the search for perfect, we lose sight of what is good. I’ll certainly take good every day of the week now, and at least be in action toward perfect.”
If you start to feel decision fatigued, Nichols suggested working toward those small changes first, which aren’t inherently costly and don’t necessarily require C-suite approval. Then, you can move toward the larger asks.
Proving what’s working can be easier said than done, but there are tools emerging on the market to help with tracking and reporting. For example, energy management tools offer the ability to track energy consumption and costs across an entire business, from buildings down to individual assets.
“Energy management tools can tell you where the electricity you’re using is coming from,” Narod said. “For example, did it come from a renewable source or a coal-fired power plant? They can also pull together your site’s efficiency measures into a dashboard, so you can see achievements through energy and carbon management.”
Narod added that these tools will become more important as regulatory policies are put in place to standardize sustainability tracking and reporting.
How ConnexFM Can Help
“ConnexFM has been integral for helping members connect with sustainability resources,” Narod said, who sits on the ConnexFM Technology Council.
“What [the Council] is trying to do is organize and quantify all of the resources available to facilities managers, so they can more easily access this information and share them across their networks.”
ConnexFM also has an ESG Committee, which was created to educate ConnexFM members about ESG matters.
“ConnexFM is shouldering a huge responsibility in terms of ESG,” Nichols said. “If you go search the internet right now, you can find a billion articles on ESG and an enormous amount of data. ConnexFM is helping to fight decision fatigue by breaking down that data.”
Nichols suggested going to ConnexFM events and conferences, where ESG topics are discussed and where you can talk to other facilities professionals just starting on their ESG journey.
“I thought the biggest part of this year’s ConnexFM National Conference was being there in person, talking to FMs who were admitting, ‘I don’t know where to start,’” he said. “It’s breaking down barriers to taking that first step.”