Goats as a lawnmower? Innovative, low-cost, green FM at its best

by FM Media
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Facility Management interviews Dan Hoffman, a 30-year industry veteran who has designed, built and led facilities for Google, Apple and NetApp in the US, and was an opening keynote speaker at Total Facilities 2013.

During your time at Google, you implemented a number of low-cost, green practices into the campus’ daily operations. Can you give us a few examples and share how you integrated these into daily operations?
There are a couple of examples that are either shifts in services or a combination of shared services. For instance, we had to mow a large vacant land parcel for weed and fire control. Instead of renting a large, noisy, fossil fuel polluting mower for a day, we rented a herd of goats for a week. They were quiet, non-polluting and became an interesting attraction instead of an irritation.
Another example was taking part of our landscape courtyard and planting a herb garden for our kitchen. We planted it in such a way that it became a useful Zen garden for people to use when they wanted to find some quiet outdoor space. This was just reusing our existing landscape and budget in a different way that benefited the food program and employee amenities.
Another example is the free bicycles we made available to employees to get from building to building. We added some six-person ‘conference bikes’ that became not only transportation options, but an outdoor ‘conference room’ that could be reserved, part of our fitness program and part of our events team building program. This is an example of a shared service that benefited several different functions with minimal budget impact.

What was the return on investment on these minimal cost sustainable practices?
There wasn’t a hard cost analysis on these, since they were no or minimal cost and the value was apparent.

What other lost-cost green initiatives have you come across or read about that have impressed you?
An interesting one to tackle is just guiding behavioural changes to reduce energy. For instance, turning lights off when not needed (when natural light is available or when the space is unoccupied) and using fresh air when available instead of mechanical cooling and ventilation. These aren’t new ideas. There is a lot of money invested in trying to automate these functions, when behavioural modifications can be much cheaper.

In your opinion, tying green initiatives such as these into the brand of the company residing in the facility is an important step. What difference does this make and how can this be achieved?
This becomes a win-win for all. Choosing sustainability options benefits the environment and the bottom line. By integrating green initiatives with the brand of the company, you have just changed an expense into an asset. When PR, HR and other groups can take your facility practices and showcase them as a benefit to the public, there is value in that practice. It becomes an advantage in recruiting and retaining employees and reinforces the depth of the company values in the brand.

Gaining boardroom buy-in can be an issue. What is your advice for those struggling to get the OK for green proposals?
Start with some small easy wins to gain the confidence of the C-suite (chief executive, chief financial officer etc). Demonstrate that you can execute a plan and achieve measurable results. From there you can build and tackle larger and more complex initiatives.

Gaining employee buy-in can also be an issue. Is employee buy-in important and how can it be secured?
Employee buy-in is critical for success. There is usually a core group of employees who care and are committed to green initiatives and are outspoken. Collaborate with these evangelists. Work with them to create common feasible goals. They are part of the groundswell of support from the bottom up that will help achieve success.

If you could pass on one piece of advice to the facilities management community, what would it be?
The most important thing is to create a culture of sustainability and innovation. There are always many reasons not to try something new. Remove the roadblocks, take the risks, reward the behaviour and be prepared to adapt. Do your research, take the leap and be prepared to respond. By creating a culture of innovation, success breeds success.

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