Maintaining asset values through green procurement

by FM Media
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Why green procurement is becoming increasingly important and how to overcome the obstacles to green procurement are shared by DAVID BAGGS, CEO and program director of Global GreenTag.

 

The move towards sustainability and the realisation that green interiors have a significant role to play in creating and maintaining productivity of workspaces is driving the construction of green developments with materials and products that have a variety of sustainability impacts and outcomes.

These occur in all sectors of the building industry and at all stages of development, from design to construction, fitout, furnishing and building operation, but especially during building operation. Productivity of workspaces is the underpinning value driver of green building assets, tenant retention and lease premiums.

In this regard, facilities managers have a major role to play in both creating and maintaining the factors that underpin the success of a green building, not only from a productivity point of view, but also in attracting and maintaining tenants. In recent times, numerous studies are showing much of the asset value premium attached to green buildings is attributed to productivity increases and, indeed, even to the perception of the healthiness of spaces.

If issues such as product selection, cleaning, maintenance, refurbishment and replacement are not handled in a knowledgeable and smart way by responsible facilities managers, there is significant potential to erode the ‘green premium’ and indeed the asset value over time.

This is now particularly the case given that the Green Building Council of Australia’s (GBCA) Green Star Design Rating for buildings needs to be replaced by an ‘As Built’ or ‘Operations’ rating after two years to maintain certification. Maintaining the building or fitout rating is likely to be an increasingly significant issue in maintaining the currency of the green rating of buildings and spaces, and consequently, the asset value.

ISSUES AFFECTING THE GREEN PREMIUM

The biggest issue in terms of healthiness is indoor environment quality (IEQ) and, more particularly, indoor air quality (IAQ). Most unpleasant (or even those received as ‘pleasant’ or especially ‘sweet’ smelling) smells are decidedly unhealthy and can dramatically affect occupants’ ability to concentrate and can even make them sleepy in the short term.

In the long term, many volatile organic compounds (VOCs) emitted from carpets, paints, glues and sealants – as well as other emissions like formaldehyde from wood-based panels, decorative surfaces and composite wood – can cause cancer as well as other long-term health issues. This is because many also affect the immune system and can, therefore, increase occupants’ propensity to more easily catch common illnesses like colds and flu.

Other relevant issues to consider include maintaining the use of third-party ecolabel certified products in specific categories (flooring, walls and partitions, ceilings, chairs, tables, workstations, storage and loose furniture) and – depending on whether the credits were claimed originally – the use of products made with sustainably sourced timber certification (Forest Stewardship Council, Australian Forestry Standard or Program for the Endorsement of Forest Certification), PVC replacement products, best practice PVC products and products with post-consumer recycled content. These may all have an impact on the next rating process.

FINDING APPROPRIATE GREEN PRODUCTS

It can be difficult to obtain objective and detailed information when searching for sustainable materials, given the lack of transparency and the amount of ‘greenwashing’ prevalent within product marketing. Greenwashing refers to the vague, misleading or unsubstantiated environmental claims that are often provided by manufacturers, suppliers and other invested parties.

Its endemic use, whether innocently or deliberately, has led to a great distrust developing between green building professionals, who need accurate information to be able to select appropriate products for their green building needs, and the manufacturers/products they seek.

Those who choose to take on the role of product assessment themselves face a difficult task of getting the manufacturer to a) declare the contents of their products and b) understand and trust the information they obtain. To get detailed information is generally extremely difficult.

Safety data sheets (SDSs), previously known as material safety data sheets (MSDSs), are often woefully inadequate and, even if they manage to achieve a good understanding of what is in a product or what VOCs are emitted from a product, they have to be able to identify or deduce all the chemical and Green Star ramifications for each product category – a tall order indeed.

Even if you decide to include specific green criteria in a tender and seek specific submissions on each issue, processing the resultant information and relating it all back to impacts on the building or tenancy rating/s can be a daunting task. Choosing between competing products all making the same claims can be nigh on impossible without considerable expertise and effort.

SIMPLIFYING GREEN PROCUREMENT

One way to simplify the task is to use products already certified by recognised, third-party ecolabels to meet Green Star criteria. However, knowing how each certified product relates to what aspect of Green Star means further knowledge and commitment to staying abreast of all Green Star changes and, while many facilities managers do this, having the relevant credits declared on the product certificates makes the job much easier.

Writing and letting tenders for products to meet required specifications is a central role for many facilities managers. Most ecolabel schemes provide a logo or mark for use by certified products. The currency of the certification can always be checked via the certificate or on the scheme’s website.

However, once you have the majority of products in a sector ecolabelled in this pass/fail way (typically the top 25 percent of the market), you are able to tell only which products have passed and not which products are good, better or best. Interestingly, the perception that green always costs more is a myth, with many leading edge products being cost competitive with their commercial counterparts.

In this instance, information (metrics) is king; i.e. with numeric scoring of how sustainable a product is, direct relationships between the degree of green, the cost and benefits can easily be calculated and used to develop tender criteria and in tender reviews.

The impacts of a product need to be communicated in a way that allows the users to determine the relative importance of the issues, and information needs to be reported in a way that transparently communicates holistic impacts or benefits of a product. This enables those looking to minimise impacts on IEQ, for example, to just look for the product with the lowest health and ecotoxicity score.

ROLE OF CLEANING AND MAINTENANCE IN IEQ

Cleaning and maintenance procedures such as stripping and resealing surface coatings or treatments, especially for floors, or the relaying of carpets, replacement of partitions or furniture, or even undertaking some vermin control methods are the most typical ways that indoor air quality can be compromised.

Each product or process used needs to be checked thoroughly beforehand because it is usually difficult to recover air quality after the event, as VOCs evaporate and then condense on nearby porous materials to be re-emitted over time. Lack of maintenance procedures such as filter and duct cleaning, uncontrolled condensation or leaks can also lead to potentially toxic moulds and mildews.

The release of the Green Star Performance tool will have a major and increasing impact on facilities managers over time, especially those not used to working with Green Star. For the first time Green Star Performance is designed to assess and promote the entire range of performance from one to six stars. In doing this, the GBCA is targeting all building types, all interiors and all grades of building, not just the typical A grade structures or projects.

As part of the assessment and recognising the importance of IEQ and its relationship to health and productivity, the GBCA has announced that cleaning performance and products (as well as many other areas) will come under assessment. Watch this space for new ways Green Star will affect facilities management in the near future.

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