Sustainable facility management benefits both the brain and heart

Sustainable Facility Management
Susanne Balslev Nielsen

Susanne Balslev Nielsen

FM Expertise Director

Sustainability plays a large role for Facilities Management organisations. Read here how you can get from ad-hoc assignments to a plan that accelerates your initiatives and simplifies the everyday work.

February 2, 2021

Once you get started, the possibilities are endless. Many companies and their Facility Management (FM)-organisations are ambitious and want to contribute to the sustainable development. Most organisations start with simple initiatives that can yield some obvious results. However, when the low-hanging fruit has been harvested, the next step is often unclear. How do the FM-organisations cross the finish line with their own ambitions?

The answer is that all functions that are connected to properties and property services (investments, administration, space management, operation, and service) use their insight and ability to solve problems in their aim for green progress. There is a need for a holistic effort with explicit goals for a sustainable change of the organisation in order to promote coherence so all functions work in the same direction and pace.

Start from where you are today

Even though companies and FM-organisations are alike with regards to FM being a support function for the core company, there are still significant differences regarding the framework under which a sustainability plan is built. Some companies own their properties, while others rent, and others make a living out of renting properties to other companies.

Everyone must consider who they are today, and who they want to become in the future. What are the core company’s needs today, and how do we expect that they will evolve in the future? Which success parameters are we working with? Which risks are there if we do nothing? Strategic conditions such as these must be considered in order for the company to be able to set the right goals and demands for the FM-solutions. After this, there is the whole sourcing discussion. Which internal competencies does the company have, and which competencies must be bought?

You must look at the plan as a new step in the development journey. Start with mapping where you are today and engage in your visions and goals for how you would like your future clients, collaborators, and colleagues to see you.

All competencies must be used

A holistic sustainability plan ensures a common direction on a strategic, tactical, and operational level. It will ensure coordination across functions (investment, administration, space management, operation, and service) so the functions do not sabotage the effort of one another or merely move a problem from one function over to another. To minimise the waste, there is a need for e.g. smart placements of waste sorting bins, adjustment of the cleaning services, room for dumpsters, and last but not least communication with the users.

Environment- and climate accounts help map the company’s influence on the local and global environment and they are important tools to devise an effective plan. Additionally, you will work with sustainable business cases, life cycle analysis, etc. to assess which initiatives are the most sustainable in the long run. This is new knowledge that must be incorporated into the company’s decision-making. Companies typically require competence development from the project manager or from external assistance.

But sustainability must be developed with both brain and heart in order to get the employees and other users on board. Motivation, communication, and common culture are important to consider and work on. In the future, we will see FM-organisations that are working more systematically with clarifying needs and gathering feedback from their users.

Prioritising efforts

A good process is letting ideas and creativity run free in the company and subsequently assess and prioritise the initiatives. In regards to the current situation and possible alternatives in the future, all facts must be put on the table. Studying visits and pilot projects is a good idea in order to clarify and test alternative FM-solutions before you scale up comprehensive initiatives.

Due to resource limitations, there is typically a need to prioritise between the different efforts in the annual action plans. FM-organisations must be ready to argue the benefits of the recommended initiatives and the consequences of not going through with them. It could be helpful to work with FM’s 12 value parameters that e.g. focus on productivity, health and safety, property value, and image (cf. Jensen and Van der Voordt 2017).

A meaningful effort with profits on multiple levels

Devising a plan takes time and resources, but the benefits of a good plan can be seen on multiple levels:

  • The managers are involved in outlining the general direction, which gives a larger autonomy for the middle managers and project managers.
  • Sustainability coordinators get an overall plan as a base for projects and follow up.
  • Employees and users are informed and hopefully more secure, knowing that there are sustainability efforts in the works.
  • The company can communicate its efforts to its collaborators, authorities, clients, the press, and potential new employees.

Working for sustainable development is for many people both a meaningful and devotional effort when you organise work in a good process with active participation across the organisation. But only with a dedicated management team will FM-organisations get from ad-hoc tasks to a coordinated and holistic plan for sustainable development. Good luck on your development adventure!

To-do list before you get started

Sustainable FM is an umbrella for many specialised FM-challenges on a strategic, tactical, and operational level. A plan accelerates efforts and simplifies the everyday work. Below you will get a master plan for a transition towards sustainable FM:

  1. Define success criteria based on the company’s FM-requirements in e.g. 2-5 years and translate it to FM success parameters. What is your most important goal?
  2. Is there a need for redesigning the FM-organisation? Base it on the management’s thoughts about FM-organisation.
  3. If you don’t already have it, get an overview of your property holdings and services by looking at analysis' of FM-key figures, building technical descriptions, service evaluations, etc. Talk to HR. Where is it important to focus? Do you have the necessary insight and is it in a form that can be shared with others?
  4. Identify the most important efforts in order for you to reach your target. There is typically a need for long-lasting initiatives that are divided into short-term and long-term efforts.
  5. Get inspiration from others – nationally and internationally and top with own experiences.
  6. Invest in preparation and planning. Make demands about a qualified base for decisions and use a digitalisation strategy to ease the access to relevant data.
  7. Ensure competence development for the employees and users that will become ambassadors for the plan and minimise the risk of cases about greenwashing.
  8. Make sure you make demands to your suppliers about the sustainability considerations and documentation of it. Check that you receive what you are asking.
  9. Follow the realisation of the plan and share it with your management, employees, and users. Make sure that you celebrate progress and learn from potential setbacks.
  10. After a few years, the sustainability plan should be revised with new goals and initiatives for the next chapter in the company’s sustainability journey. What were the strengths and weaknesses of this plan and how can you make the process and plan better the next time?

Get in touch

Susanne Balslev Nielsen

Susanne Balslev Nielsen

FM Expertise Director

Allerød, Denmark

+45 6034 0925

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