What is sustainability?

Sustainability has had an increasingly significant impact in the minds of both consumers and businesses in the past few decades. Consumers now more than ever expect the businesses they buy from to acknowledge their corporate social responsibility and maintain overt sustainability practices. In 2019 the GlobalWebIndex found that “42% of U.S. and UK consumers say products that use sustainable materials are important in their day-to-day purchasing”. This is important as data from the WorldBank in 2018 shows that these countries are respectively the fifth and first largest consumer markets globally. Even more crucial is the 2020 reporting from GlobalWebIndex which found that “84% [of consumers] say a poor environmental track record would or might cause them to stop buying from a brand”.

Over the past 20 years, facilities management businesses have been stepping up to meet sustainability demands from their clients and the environment. They work with other businesses such as retailers and construction companies to better ensure end to end sustainability by being involved from product or design conception to purchase by end user.

Smart Sustainability

Sustainability is directly interconnected with every facet of the Facilities Management sector. In a report released by Active Workplace Solutions, it was noted that the “FM function has responsibility for the systems and processes that determine areas such as energy and utilities performance as well as waste management and recycling practices”. In short, the FM counterparts of any business must lead in the creation and maintenance of any sustainability policy or practice.

In particular, the FM sector leads in the practice of utilising Smart Technology for sustainable building management. Data is a huge driver in the global economic market, and FM businesses are harnessing data to train AI in the control and monitoring of buildings. AI can be used by facilities managers and operations staff to maximise the efficiency of the building, which can thereby cut operational costs, whilst still providing a high level of service to the client by ensuring that staff comfort levels are not compromised.

AI utilisation in sustainable building and inventory management becomes more relevant than ever in the light of the Covid-19 pandemic as businesses return to the workplace. High traffic touch points and communal areas could be more easily managed with digital systems, such as automatic entry points activated by individual key cards and fobs, and better air flow and ventilation control. Cleaning supplies, office equipment and hot-desking could all be managed through cloud-based checking-out systems, ensuring efficiency of cleaning time and reduction of viral spread.

The Whole Business

In many ways, Covid-19 has shone a light on the facilities management sector and the nation’s hidden heroes. Being a vital part of the end-to-end consumer supply chain but rarely the customer focus, has meant that facilities management has been largely unrecognised in its movements towards sustainability. Companies rely on facilities management to provide them with sustainable solutions in order to be able to say that they are ethical and sustainable from end-to-end. As KPMG put it in a recent report, “the supply chain is the platform to evidence the ethical and sustainable vision of your business”. 

As KPMG suggests, a sustainable business vision must include the whole of the business, including the external contracts. Sustainable business and practices in FM and other sectors comes from the top-down. When executives create policies and initiatives in order to tackle the company’s effect on climate change, this has a ‘trickle-down’ benefit. Top level employees have the ability to put sustainability at the centre of all business practices, and this can be greatly assisted by having facilities management teams in place who have expertise in sustainability. This is part of the ‘holistic’ or ‘whole company’ approach to sustainability in business.

Engie, for example, have been awarded first place in the Sustainable FM Index for the second year in a row, an award which sets the standard for sustainable facilities management in practice. This recognition has come due to the fact that they approach their sustainability from the top down. At Engie, there is accountability at every level of the business, and sustainability is tackled by every employee, from the recycling their employees do in the office, to the thousands of gigawatts of sustainable energy they produce to supply communities every year. The whole business model targets sustainability through responsible and achievable business KPIs and the implementation of a consistently revised sustainability framework. Holistic inclusion of sustainability at the heart of a business has been found by Engie, and by many independent researchers, to be the best way of guaranteeing a green company.

Energy Sector

Sustainable FM companies therefore assist other companies in their goals to reduce emissions though partnerships; such as the one between Engie and John Lewis, signed earlier this year. By integrating energy efficient systems and green energy from Engie into their physical estate, John Lewis expect to reduce their energy output by up to 25% by 2028. They have put sustainability at the centre of their business in a way that will affect the whole business’ sustainability, and have done so by engaging with a sustainable FM business.

One of the ways that the government intends to reach their own 2050 sustainability target is to incentivise businesses to invest in greener energy alternatives, as Engie already does. The FM industry stands to benefit greatly from policies coming into force such as the UK government’s new Green Gas Support Scheme. The scheme is currently in the consultation phase, and aims to replace natural gas usage in the heating of our homes with the use of ‘biomethane’. This is likely to benefit waste removal systems in the UK, as waste feedstocks will be used to create the new ‘biomethane’ energy source. Charlotte Morton, Chief Executive of the Anaerobic Digestion and Bioresources Association (ADBA) asserted that this small step towards the 2050 net-zero goal “could deliver a 6% reduction in the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and provide heating for 6.4 million homes” should the biomethane industry be fully deployed. The scheme could result in the creation of hundreds of sustainability focussed jobs for the waste management and energy sectors.

The Built Environment

The need for sustainability is most apparent in the built environment, which accounts for around 42% of the UK’s total carbon footprint, UKGBC finds, so it is vitally important that when buildings are built or torn down, waste is managed in the most effective and environmentally friendly way possible to ensure that it is embracing ‘sustainable development’. Sustainable development is “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”, according to the 1987 Brundtland Report. Therefore the construction and maintenance of buildings must ensure the reduction of waste, whilst also using recycled materials in the production of the building, and recycling waste products where possible in order to achieve true sustainability. This requires FM input at every stage of the building process, and indeed researchers have “emphasized the need for incorporating FM knowledge in design processes to attain the most sustainable overall performance of a building and its facilities”.

By using FM knowledge at the planning stage, you can reduce the amount of carbon going into the built environment at the point of building, thus creating more energy efficient buildings. You can also use FM specialists to work to decarbonise the energy used in all buildings (a major priority in the mitigation of climate change according to UKGBC). Together, these initiatives create sustainable development that is almost impossible without the input of experienced facilities managers. The UK government has recognised the need for more engaging with the FM sector and creating more energy efficient buildings out of the existing stock, and thus has created the Green Homes Grant 2020 scheme, in an effort to combat draughty homes. This will work to combat overuse of energy to heat poorly insulated houses and public buildings, of which there are many in the UK – over 6 million domestic properties have an EPC rating of D.

Sustainability in FM recruitment

The diversity of roles in the FM sector allows it to be one of the most pivotal parts of business when it comes to affecting climate change and improving sustainability practices. FM jobs are so ingrained in the fundamental workings of a business that companies are working to employ facilities managers with a focus on sustainability. At 300 North we’ve seen a marked rise in discussions on both sides with clients and candidates mentioning sustainability, addressing topics such as estate decarbonisation, renewables, smart buildings, and many more. Our candidates are not just referencing sustainability in discussions, but using it as a selling point on their CVs. And it’s not just us. A quick LinkedIn search will show you nearly 5000 UK based jobs in the last month have been tagged with ‘Sustainability’. This states the importance that companies now put on sustainability, and an increased understanding of the power FM roles have to drive and maintain sustainable business practice.

300 North are proud to be facilities management recruitment specialists - a people business that actually cares about people and operational practices of the FM Sector. To get in touch, give us a call today on 0113 336 5161.