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Sustainable Facility Management is the Next Wave

Green buildings have taken off in a major way, but the drive to renovate and improve the millions of existing commercial buildings has lagged behind. Not for long: here is what facility managers should expect in the coming months.

Even for those remaining skeptics, there is little argument that we can produce buildings and design workplaces that are energy efficient while minimizing their impact on the environment. What was once considered innovative, progressive design has become mainstream. The design community deserves credit for changing the landscape of building construction and introducing us to environmentally friendly facilities.

Now that the design process is recognized as a major tool of sustainable practices in facilities, we should turn our attention to existing facilities. With over five million commercial buildings in the United States, the potential for greening our building stock is tremendous. The requirement to do so is becoming critical. The energy savings, productivity increases, reduction in waste stream, and water conservation and other sustainable facility benefits in existing buildings far outweigh the potential benefits from sustainable new construction.

So what's taking so long? The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Green Building Rating System for Existing Buildings (LEED EB) has been around for several years in the U.S. but has yet to make a major impact in the certification of existing buildings. There are fewer than 100 LEED EB certified facilities in the U.S. Hence, there must be obstacles to achieving widespread market transformation. The design community clearly has embraced sustainable design in new construction while overcoming the perception of higher cost. Through diligent education and a hard look at life cycle costs, most owners are convinced of the benefits of sustainable design practices in new facilities.

It's Different for FMs

However, facility managers face a different set of problems. Shrinking operations and capital budgets make it difficult to implement sustainable practices that cost even minimally more than current practices. Capital replacement cycles are often out of sync with the aggregation of greening projects required to meet certification standards. The current EB certification process requires an owner to achieve a number of sustainable facility targets in sites, energy, water, indoor air quality, and material and resource practices. For older facilities, replacement of some major building systems, including the roof, chiller, and windows may all be required to meet certification. However, it is not likely that each of those system service lives are in sync, or that the owner is willing to replace them all at the same time. This can lead to a long drawn-out certification process.

Although there is gathering evidence of the financial benefits of sustainable practices in existing facilities, there is still a perception of high cost to achieve a green or high performance facility, especially in existing buildings. That concern is justifiable, given the large gap that still exists between "doing what you can" and achieving LEED certification.

Further, a gap remains between the design and operation of sustainable facilities. We still tend to design facilities for form, and often leave function to the facility manager and building engineering staff. They inherit some building systems that are expensive and difficult to maintain. The concept of "designing for operations and maintenance" is still not mainstream, even though sustainable facilities have worked their way into the hearts, minds, and pocketbooks of facility owners.

Become a Greener FM

How do we overcome these gaps in existing buildings? First, look at who holds the keys to the kingdom. Most would argue that the facility designer has the greatest amount of influence over the operational efficiency and long-term environmental impacts of buildings. If a building is designed and built properly in the first place, it should provide many years of a clean, efficient, and healthy work environment. This bodes well for all high-performance buildings that are coming on-line.

Now, all we have to do is keep them running efficiently. And that’s where the facility manager comes in. Facilities managers control the operating costs of the facility, and they have the greatest amount of influence on the productivity of the workforce. Workforce costs are by far the greatest expense to an organization: about 10 to 15 times that of the facility cost. Small improvements in workforce productivity can easily overcome the cost of facility improvements. Facility professionals manage about 25 to 60 percent of an organization’s hard assets and have a huge amount of influence over the productivity of the workforce by influencing the comfort, health, and safety of the workplace.

What does a facility manager do with a 30-year-old facility that wasn’t designed with sustainability in mind, and is energy and environmentally inefficient? Owners are not usually willing or able to scrap their existing buildings or take on a major capital expense for the sake of the environment. With tight operating and capital improvement budgets, large-scale gutting and renovation of multiple building systems becomes harder to justify. The answer to the problem is to take existing building improvements one step at a time and work on the education of the facility manager in the ways of sustainability.

In order to achieve “market transformation” in existing buildings, we need to provide facilities managers with the tools to create a sustainable facility management program that has all of the right elements custom-fit to their organization. Every owner does not have the same commitment to the environment, does not have the same level of financial resources, and does not have the same level of commitment to Corporate Social Responsibility. If we create a toolkit of sustainable practices in existing buildings, we will allow the facility manager to choose those techniques and practices that have the most impact on their organization, given their own political, economic, and environmental climate.

Craft a Sustainability Policy

A carefully crafted sustainability policy can align itself with the mission, vision, and strategy of an organization and provide the greatest amount of impact. That impact can have significant influence on the pace of change in existing buildings toward more energy efficient facilities and high-performance operations in water, waste, and environmental quality. The facility manager has the knowledge to be the driver in aligning facility operations with corporate strategy.

Implementing the tools to improve day-to-day operations in energy consumption, water use, indoor environment, and waste management are crucial. Small steps can lead to big gains in operational improvements -- and more importantly -- in productivity. This type of education should be focused on the day-to-day operations of facilities and creating alignment of those practice improvements with the mission of the organization. For some, that might mean building certification under the LEED program. For others, it might mean making small, incremental improvements in energy efficiency with the bottom line in mind. No matter what the political climate or economic constraints, there are hundreds of process improvements a facility manager can make to improve the sustainability of their facilities.

What’s needed next? Further sustainability education for the facility manager. The emphasis needs to shift from design practices to operational practices. Maybe facility manager certification in sustainability is on the horizon. Organizations such as the International Facility Management Association (IFMA) are slated to take the lead in sustainability facility management education by providing practical tools, best practices, and sustainability forums. The FM audience is ready.

Chris Hodges is a founding principal of Facility Engineering Associates in Fairfax, Virginia, with over 25 years of experience in engineering and facility management. His operational areas of expertise are in commissioning, energy management, Operations and Maintenance (O&M), sustainability, Sustainable Facility Management, LEED for Existing Buildings (LEED-EB), facility strategy development and implementation, and application of the Balanced Scorecard in sustainability and facility management. Hodges is an IFMA course developer and instructor and serves as an instructor in the George Mason University Certificate Program in facility management. He is a LEED™ Accredited Professional (U.S. Green Building Council), and currently serves on the IFMA Board of Directors.

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