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  • Writer's pictureConnexFM

ESG in Action

Updated: Jan 5, 2023

With guidance from ConnexFM’s ESG Committee, FMs will have the resources and education to understand how ESG initiatives can work within their own organizations.

By Regina Ludes

Multi-site facilities managers have plenty of tasks on their to-do lists — from maintaining their facilities and working with suppliers to keeping systems updated. These days it isn’t enough to keep buildings operating smoothly. More than ever, companies are expected to be more responsible in the way they help the environment, respond to social issues and lead their organizations with integrity.

There is still so much to know and understand about environmental, social and governance (ESG) initiatives, and so much that FMs can do to get involved. To aid in this cause, ConnexFM has formed an ESG Committee to help members navigate the widening world of ESG. The committee created several task forces comprised of multi-site facilities professionals and suppliers to specifically address the E (environmental), S (social), and G (governance) aspects. In addition, the committee enlisted subject matter experts from the U.S. Department of Energy, Internal Revenue Service, Small Business Administration and consulting firms, such as Deloitte, EY and McKinsey and Company.

Tom Kay, SMG Facilities

“The goal of the ConnexFM ESG Committee and its task forces is to provide members with a greater awareness of ESG and to educate facility professionals and suppliers on where and how ESG plays in their world,” said Tom Kay, Chief Revenue Officer at SMG Facilities and Co-Chair of the ESG Committee. “There isn’t one set playbook for companies to follow, and regardless where you stand on the subject, companies need to decide which priorities are critical to their business, what resonates with their team members and guests, and how to establish and track those priorities effectively.”

Impact on FMs and Suppliers

From an environmental standpoint, facility professionals can contribute to ESG initiatives — directly or indirectly — in a number of ways. For example, they could use energy management systems to achieve energy efficiency through process optimization while reducing energy consumption and carbon emissions, oversee renewable energy programs and utility contracts, implement recycling and sustainability programs, reduce single-use plastics, or convert a fleet of delivery vehicles to electric, among other activities. They can also get involved in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Better Building Challenge or Better Climate Challenge.

Kay said the supplier community can be an important ally and asset to facility professionals who are tasked with ESG initiatives. “Specific to adhering to established environmental targets, suppliers will do much of the heavy lifting as it relates to tracking and reporting, such as documenting Scope 2 and 3 emissions and evaluating proper usage and disposal of materials,” Kay explained.

“On the social side, facility professionals are being tasked with building a more diverse supplier network, improving employee engagement and analyzing a company’s impact on the communities in which it operates. Suppliers, likewise, must ask how they can become a diverse-certified employer as well as evaluate their current hiring practices through the DEI lens and hire a more diverse workforce,” Kay said.

The governance side is tougher to tackle since it refers to how an organization is led and managed. It comes down to the ethics and decisions of corporate executives, which are usually out of FMs’ hands. “It’s more of a C-suite effort, but FMs should be aware of their company’s governance policies even though they won’t be directly involved in developing them,” Kay said.

ESG policies globally remain a work in progress, and there are no consistent standards or legal requirements for FMs to follow. However, for ConnexFM members who are part of a publicly-traded company, ESG initiatives are likely already in place. In those situations, facility professionals have established targets and will need to report on those metrics, Kay said.

Private organizations aren’t held to the same standard, but they must examine their own business practices related to ESG. The ESG Committee has decided to follow the B Corporation’s framework for members to consider. B Corp is a private certification program of for-profit companies of their social and environmental performance. “Regardless where you stand on ESG, the committee feels the information will be valuable to members,” Kay said.

Implementing ESG strategies often begins with baby steps. Facilities managers can learn from colleagues who have had some success with ESG practices.

Environmental Focus

Leigh Pearson, Staples Canada

Office supply retailer, Staples Canada, which is known as the working and learning company, has been involved in environmental and sustainability practices for more than 20 years. “It’s who we are as a company. It’s a part of our culture and our values,” said Leigh Pearson, Senior Director of Facilities, Sustainability, Sourcing and Procurement at Staples Canada.

Pearson oversees all Canadian locations (300+), including retail, warehouses and corporate sites. She also oversees the company’s energy initiatives, including its internal and customer-facing recycling programs at its retail centers where everything from ink and toner cartridges to batteries and computer equipment are accepted. Pearson said their U.S. locations may offer different programs, but all retail locations in its international network share the same commitment to the environment.

“Recycling can be difficult and overwhelming for some people. We leverage our network of locations and delivery fleet to make it easier for customers to participate in recycling efforts,” Pearson said. “Small changes can make a difference if we all do it.”

As part of Staples’ renewable energy strategy, the company has a longstanding partnership with Bullfrog, a Canadian leader in renewable power generation. Currently Bullfrog powers its print centers nationally as well as all closed-door print production facilities, Staples Studio co-working locations and its retail store in downtown Toronto in the Corktown district.

Pearson advised managers to research options before making any decisions about eco solutions. “Take time to build the tools, partnerships and systems you might need and get the baseline data to help you understand what’s at stake,” Pearson said.

Social Initiatives

At Heartland Dental Center, headquartered in Effingham, Illinois, ESG has been a company-wide endeavor for several years. It has been especially proactive in social practices through its DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) initiatives, including the recent launch of four employee resource groups — Black community, Latine, Veteran and Women in Dentistry — with more coming next year.

Teresa Rund, Heartland Dental

As a privately-owned company, Heartland Dental Center doesn’t have strict requirements about ESG practices as most public companies do, said Teresa Rund, Facilities Systems Support Supervisor. “We aren’t required to participate in ESG endeavors nor do we have to monitor and report to anyone about our practices,” Rund said.

She recently started up a supplier diversity project in her department to help grow the number of diverse suppliers in their company’s network. She and her team are gathering data from their network locations to determine which ones are already certified as diverse suppliers. She’ll use that data to set goals and a strategy for expanding their diverse suppliers.

“The challenge for me is to set aggressive enough goals to make an impact, and provide data that is compelling enough to prove our return on investment and continue our project,” Rund said.

Though the project is still in its early stages, she hopes by sharing her project’s progress that other facilities managers will be encouraged to start ESG practices within their own organizations.

“Start with curiosity, and don’t be afraid to start the conversation,” Rund advised. “By talking about ESG and sharing our initiative at Heartland, hopefully I can help others shift their thinking.”

Resources for FMs

The ESG Committee and its task forces are building numerous resources for members, including several education tracks that will be offered at ConnexFM’s National Conference in Dallas in April. These resources include:

  • DEI workshop: Implementing a DEI Program Within Your Organization

  • Incorporating ESG into Facilities Management

  • ESG 101 and 102: A foundational overview of ESG

  • Stakeholder mapping: Who is involved in the ESG discussion?

  • Mini-bite session: Emerging trends in ESG

  • Sustainability’s Multi-faceted Challenges

In addition to ConnexFM’s resources, FMs can find several free resources. U.S. Department of Energy’s Better Building Initiative provides webinars, e-learning tools, reports and public summits to help companies share best practices, innovations and solutions to reduce energy consumption.

The B Corp Impact Assessment is an online platform and questionnaire that can be used to measure a company’s social and environmental impact. Several tools are built into the assessment to guide users through the application and suggest ways to implement improvements.

Most important of all is the knowledge and experience of ConnexFM members who have traveled this road and are willing to share their insights. With a wealth of resources at their disposal, FMs can have the confidence to launch their own ESG initiatives.

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