How facility managers can lead sustainability efforts

by FM Media
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Sustainable leadership represented by a man in a green tie.

DAVID MCEWEN reveals how facility managers can take charge of sustainability practices in their facilities.

Australia’s 160,000 commercial buildings are predicted to contribute over 40 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions during 2019. In Sydney, commercial and industrial buildings consume 24 percent of the municipal water supply or nearly 150 million litres per day. Between 2016 and 2017, 67 million tonnes of waste (gross) was produced in Australia, of which about a quarter was construction and demolition waste in addition to a good chunk of operational waste from commercial buildings. In short, commercial buildings have a significant environmental footprint, but there are many things facility managers can do to lead sustainability efforts within their facility.

After the ribbon’s been cut and the tenants has moved in, it’s the FMs job to operate and maintain a building that they have invariably not been involved in the design and construction of and may have received little training in. The Green Star tool acknowledges this and provides points of opportunity for tuning the building during its first year of occupancy. As an FM it’s worthwhile ensuring you spend time with the installation trades and engineers to ensure you understand what the building can do, how the engineers envisaged it would operate and how tweaks to settings might affect performance. Sometimes the engineers’ ideas don’t match practical reality, like a premium office building where the design assumed occupants would be happy to enter meeting rooms located against the facade without any pre-cooling during summer.

The old adage “what you don’t measure you can’t manage” has never been more important. Contemporary building management systems can provide a wealth of data, but it is easy for an FM to become lost in the noise. Work with your provider to set up graphical dashboard views that provide useful information to help understand how differing weather, occupancy levels and comfort settings produce different energy and water consumption outcomes. If you can, tag and weigh bins – some sites now have a basement weigh station that allows bin contents to be weighed, categorised by tenant and waste stream, and photographed (to highlight contamination issues) as they exit the goods lift. Engage with tenants and share building performance data with occupants. Display it on digital signage and highlight performance from different floors. Talk to tenants about how their fit out operations are contributing to different outcomes. Work with them to ensure their waste and recycling bins are helpfully labeled and their staff are educated to help reduce contamination rates.

‘Green lease’ provisions are offering new scope for FMs to operate buildings more efficiently and sustainably by imposing conditions on tenants. But even if your leases don’t include such terms, it’s still worthwhile talking with tenants about opportunities to adjust HVAC coverage hours and comfort ranges or implement other initiatives to reduce energy, water or waste. There is also help at hand from organisations such as City Switch (a local government initiative to help tenants and managers improve building outcomes), the Better Buildings Partnership (a collaboration of owners, managers and specialists) and various universities’ built environment and sustainability programs.

With FMs increasingly being representatives of major management, owner or tenant companies, there is great scope for collective action around energy procurement. Power purchase agreements (PPAs) offer structures to achieve either direct (behind the meter) or synthetic (via contracts for difference) purchase of electricity directly from specific renewable generation schemes. This could include externally managed on-premises generation for industrial facilities with big roof spaces and demand profiles well matched to solar generation, or arm’s length schemes for other commercial buildings. It is important to have sufficient scale. Collective agreements benefitting multiple buildings or tenancies are becoming more popular for this reason. PPAs can be complex agreements and it is essential that effective legal, commercial and technical advice be obtained.

PPAs are one way of moving towards fulfilling carbon neutrality mandates that may be imposed by owners or major tenants. Full carbon neutrality (for operational emissions, let alone embodied emissions of the building itself) generally requires the purchase of offset credits to make up for residual fossil fuel uses such as gas, diesel or oil as well as, ideally, fugitive refrigerant emissions from cooling systems or other equipment containing compounds with high global warming potential. This is another minefield requiring in-depth knowledge of concepts such as additionality, permanence, leakage, verification and certification. Accordingly, collective purchase providing the scale to afford the right advice is highly recommended. However, for smaller portfolios or individual facilities, energy retailers can offer simpler schemes involving the purchase of renewable power or renewable energy credits.

Other forms of collective action might include leveraging buying power with waste and recycling contractors. Work with cleaning providers to reduce chemicals and waste (deionised water is an increasingly available and effective option). At an individual facility level, explore opportunities to implement rainwater harvesting or other recovery mechanisms.

Reducing waste associated with tenancy make good and fit out projects is a major area of opportunity. With many tenants paying out their make good obligations, FMs have a great opportunity to ensure demolition waste is recycled to the greatest extent possible. On a recent 11,000 square metre refurbishment project, over 100 tonnes of metal and other eWaste was recovered. Furniture and other building materials can often be recycled.

Working closely with an eWaste recovery firm, the strip out of those materials became cash positive. Ensure the scope of make good contractor engagements is clear on expectations for recycling of de-fit waste and achieving a fair commercial outcome for the parties. Some state governments, such as the NSW Environmental Protection Authority, have resources to support such initiatives.

It should go without saying that any building upgrades and improvements should be designed and sourced with efficiency and sustainability outcomes in mind to drive down metrics such as watts, litres, kilograms of waste and GHG emissions per square metre. To make your project stand out, consider partnering with suppliers with unique sustainability stories, such as indigenous artists and craftspeople, or startups seeking demonstration sites for their products.

Given likely increases in extreme weather and sea level rise as a result of climate change, facilities with high levels of resilience will become increasingly attractive to tenants. We’ve seen situations where generators have failed due to contaminated fuel supplies, or have started fires when used for prolonged periods due to poor ventilation design. Ensuring the resilient features of your building, such as standby generators, redundant systems, physical protections and so on are well maintained and frequently tested is a good start. Train the team in a range of incident and failure scenarios and ensure contingency plans are kept up to date.

Creating great sustainability outcomes requires great partnerships, not only with other facility managers but also with tenants. Ideally, this starts with effective designs and green lease provisions, but regardless, there are many things that FMs can do to lead efficiency and sustainability within their facility.

David McEwen is a 30-year veteran of office and data centre construction and relocation projects, with a unique perspective straddling construction, technology, operations, sustainability and climate change disciplines. He guides organisations through complex programs, delivering constructive, sustainable and effective outcomes.


Image: 123RF’s Sasin Paraksa, ©

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