Facilities, Start Your Sustainability
The race to “net-zero” started years ago. Is your facility keeping pace?
By Shaila Wunderlich
Some are coming to the table in response to tightening federal regulations around Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) practices. Some are coming for ROI reasons, to retain customers and stakeholders who base their patronage and investment strategies around ESG. Others are coming because it’s simply the right thing to do.
Companies are coming, but they’re not always prepared. In its 2021 global survey of 400 businesses, “Net Zero Corporate Readiness Report,” ESG consulting company Engie Impact concluded companies are optimistic about their ability to decarbonize — but haven’t put in place the managerial and operational fundamentals necessary to do it. “Companies come to us at different phases of readiness,” said Bryan Hopper, Sales Director, Commercial Growth at Engie Impact, which has seen its client roster increase from 1,000 to 1,500 since 2019. “They may come in with no experience at all, and we help to educate them. Sometimes they have initial data but need help leveraging it toward a target goal.”
With their boots on the ground and antenna always up, Multi-Site facilities managers are often the most prepared members of any ESG team. They can kickstart the effort by identifying simple, immediate opportunities for saving energy, and they can carry out its execution with their intimate knowledge of facilities and operations.
“It all starts with the data,” said Gary Gao, Engie Impact’s Energy and Sustainability Strategic Advisor. “If you don’t have proper data, you have nothing to base action on.”
“Proper” data ranges from fuel and electricity use to water and waste practices. And apparently, many businesses don’t have it. Eighty-two percent of those surveyed in the Net Zero report said they were unsure whether they had a reliable source of decarbonization data. Consulting companies like Engie have entire divisions dedicated to data management and can assist in filling in gaps. Other companies take on the task themselves. In 2017, Rocky LaCross, Senior Director of Facilities Services at KinderCare LLC, began the process of auditing facilities around the country for their lighting and systems equipment and practices. “Lighting fixtures and heating and cooling systems were priority,” LaCross said. “When I travel, I rent a car anyway, so I’d take the opportunity to drive by [our facilities] at night to see if they were dark or lit up.”
To bolster his effort, LaCross also surveyed his facilities team during biweekly conference calls, and enlisted a third-party supplier to audit 100 additional facilities regarding their lighting fixtures and energy management systems (EMS). It took approximately four months to study around 150 of KinderCare’s approximately 1,400 facilities. “It gave me a snapshot look at the company’s practices, and I extrapolated from there,” he said.
And they’re off . . .
A solid data set practically writes its own ESG action plan, which typically covers everything from equipment swap-outs to systems installations to best-practices overhauls. First on the agenda? Items that reap instant return. “These are what I consider to be the low-hanging fruit, because they have a pretty quick payback,” LaCross said.
For KinderCare, that entailed first installing modernized EMS for automated, timed systems control. “That was a no-brainer,” LaCross said. “We were able to show an almost immediate savings by simply shutting things down on time.”
Replacing outdated fluorescent lighting with energy-efficient LED lighting was equally obvious. “Depending on what kind of T8 light fixtures are installed, replacing with LED can produce savings of between 30% and 60%,” he said.
Next up is a nationwide replacement of KinderCare’s air conditioning systems, which will significantly reduce both the company’s expenses and carbon footprint. “It’s a huge part of this, because AC accounts for close to 40% of our energy spent,” LaCross said. “The energy savings have a five-to-six-year payback, but most HVAC systems have a 15-year-lifespan, so it’s like paying it forward five years then putting ten years of money back in our pocket.”
Sometimes, ESG agenda items are long term and reap more of an indirect benefit. “It’s a holistic approach; there is no finish line,” Gao said. “Initial phases can be immediate or over several years, depending on a company’s budget and the complexity. Subsequent phases, meanwhile, may start now but go well into the future.”
Staples Canada has been providing planet passionate solutions through their in-store recycling programs for over 20 years, which was as much about establishing itself as an ESG-conscious brand as it was about recycling and saving money. "It's about demonstrating to the community our commitment to the environment," said Leigh Pearson, Director, Facility, Environmental and Procurement.
And it works. Since 2020, the company has recycled more than 28,605,132 pounds of batteries, ink, utensils, electronics and paper.
For these long-haul, indirect-ROI items, it can be harder to get company buy-in. “It’s an educational process — you really have to walk your leadership through what ESG is, how it can save them money and how it can position their company as green,” LaCross said. “It’s not as hard of a sell as it was five or six years ago when people weren’t familiar with it. Now, people know it makes sense from an ROI standpoint.”
Hopper agrees. “Companies should be doing this because it’s the right thing to do. But from a performance perspective, there’s the fact that your customers are demanding it, and your competitors are likely already beating you to it,” he said. “Stakeholders are investing in companies who are taking action.”
When that doesn’t work, show them the money. “From the C-suite to district and regional leaders to the operations staff — they all have a fiscal responsibility to make our facilities profitable,” LaCross said. “These energy efficiencies take some of that burden off their shoulders.”
“All I really had to do was show them pictures of centers burning lights all night, and say, ‘Here’s how many kilowatts we are burning every night, and at 9 cents per kilowatt, here’s how much money we can save annually by simply switching to LEDs and automating the EMS,” he said. “It’s all mathematics at that point.”