Planning and education key to more sustainable FM

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It may not be the easiest route, but when considering a path to sustainability, the road less travelled may well be the best. FM talks to Haris Moraitis about the gaps in sustainability and FM’s next steps.

Haris Moraitis

Sustainability is one of the big buzzwords bouncing around the global collective consciousness these days — and for good reason. The health of the natural and built environments affects us all – every generation, every social class and every cultural group.

The facility management industry is no exception as it both affects and is affected by the sustainable movement. Haris Moraitis is a not only a prominent figure in the facility management community, he’s also a champion of sustainable FM. His expertise lies in the built environment and his passion rests in sustainability.

Moraitis is an associate director of Social Infrastructure at HKA Global, a company that provides expert and advisory services for the development of major projects, programs and assets around the world.

“I’m an engineer by trade, but my passion is in sustainability,” Moraitis says. “I’ve been active in sustainability in the built environment for the last 20 years and worked across four continents – the US, Europe, Asia and Australia. So I have a good grasp of what sustainability means in different environments and in different contexts, in a global situation, and the synergies and lessons learned.”

As well as participating in organisations like the Green Building Council of Australia and the Living Future Institute of Australia, Moraitis was also the vice chair of the Facilities Management Association of Australia (FMA) Sydney division.

“My professional focus in the built environment has always been in the sustainable design and construction function of different building assets,” he says. “I have always been puzzled with the disconnection between building operation and the design process. I believe this is more evident in the sustainability context.

“My focus has been to bridge the gap by integrating sustainability into operations and in the FM industry.”

An industry gap

It’s this gap between design and operation that, according to Moraitis, is the most pressing concern facing sustainability in FM.

It’s a divide between how we design buildings and their operation, he says. He puts this down to the absence of a building operators’ presence in the design process and a lack of upskilling in the ever-changing FM industry itself.

“It’s about developing a common understanding of the importance and the benefits an FM operator can have in the design process. The consultancy industry can design the most sustainable buildings, but they may not be operationally viable or it may be difficult to maintain them. The FMs are involved in the day-to-day operations, interact with the users and the occupants and they have a good understanding of the issues and challenges. As such, they can play a very important role during the design process.”

Educate to resuscitate

Another glaring hole in the FM sustainability movement is education and upskilling, Moraitis says. And education really is key to the success of the sustainability initiative, because without it any new technologies or improvements become underutilised and discarded.

“The industry moves very fast; technology and innovation make buildings smarter and smarter – and that means that building operations are becoming more complex.”

The tools and technology are only beneficial when the users know how to operate them correctly, Moraitis states.

“The industry is inundated with BIM (building information modelling) platforms, energy and water management systems, all for understanding building operation and interrogating the functionality of a building. But the systems are only as good as the people who use them. You could have the most efficient energy and water integrated management system that provides all the right information, but you need to have an operator skilled enough to be able to interrogate the system and source the relevant information and improve the performance of the building.”

Challenges versus advantages

Bridging these gaps between design, education and operation is key to the success of the FM sustainability movement. Moraitis recommends reaching out to “the those on the ground, the people who are actually operating the buildings, and educating them about what the buildings have to offer – in particular when it comes to sustainability”. Success will depend not only on educating the new generation of FMs correctly and thoroughly, but also on upskilling existing FM operators through training and knowledge sharing, particularly when systems are already integrated into their buildings, thus allowing them to understand sustainability and their facility’s sustainable advantages better.

As with any initiative, FMs face both challenges and advantages in moving towards more sustainable practices within their facilities. Expense is often cited as a challenge, but when it comes to sustainability, it’s more often than not a greater expense not to change.

“I don’t think sustainability should cost any more,” Moraitis says. “Sustainability will cost more when it’s an afterthought, but if sustainability is integrated early in the design process it’s actually going to reduce costs.”

And the advantages of being sustainable are numerous, he points out. Not only from the monetary savings and environmental benefits, but also from the advantages to the building occupants, too.

“Sustainability initiatives provide comfort in buildings. Operating buildings the right way and at their optimal potential is beneficial not only to the building itself but also its users – it sustains their health and well-being, and consequently, their happiness.”

Sustainable FM

While the current news and reports on carbon emissions and the environment may be worrying, Moraitis believes that, with all the initiatives emerging, we’re on the right track.

“I’m confident that we will get there, and I think the FM industry has a big role to play because we can design the most innovative and efficient buildings.

“But if we don’t know how to operate them, then we’re not going to get the benefits of them. So education really is a necessity.”

He cites an interesting study undertaken by The Warren Centre in Sydney, which found that simply educating FMs in an existing building about the operation of that building could bestow an extra star in the NABERS energy rating.

“It means that the capital expense the building owner has to incur to upskill an FM operator is negligible compared to what would have to be invested to upgrade the building. One star! That’s a mind-blowing outcome and it shows why education, awareness and knowledge are so important to the FM industry.”

Bridge to sustainability

Typically, sustainability is an intricate subject and means something different to everyone. Moraitis says, “For me, sustainability is about more than having a smarter building system; it’s about adopting a different thought process. It’s about the synergies and trade-offs between the different design elements. It’s understanding how the fabric, the external environment, the micro-climate and the building systems interact with each other and how we can take advantage of design elements and circumstances. For me, that’s the kind of thinking that sustainability is about.

“And it’s about designing for the human element – we design buildings and cities for people, that should be the purpose.”

We’ve made great leaps and bounds in the field of sustainability over the last few decades, but we’ve a way to go yet, Moraitis believes.

“In the Australian FM industry, we’ve always had the range and scope to implement sustainability, and that’s something we should be proud of, but I believe there’s so much more to do. The opportunities are there and I’m optimistic about the future. But we shouldn’t be complacent – we do have our sustainability heroes, but it’s still an ongoing battle.”

Bio: Haris Moraitis is an associate director with HKA Global and is an executive director on the board of the Living Future Institute of Australia. He has served as a vice-chair on the Sydney division on the Facilities Management Association of Australia, he is a fellow of Engineers Australia and the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers, and he is chair of the Technical Expert Panel on the Green Building Council of Australia. He is an esteemed advocate of sustainability in real estate development and facilities management and he has been involved in major sustainable projects across Australia, Europe and the Middle East.

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