Comment: How FM can help achieve sustainability?
Facilities Management should shift its focus towards a long-term sustainable plan as part of the overall business strategy. Matthew Smith, associate head of the School of Energy, Geoscience, Infrastructure and Society (EGIS) at Heriot-Watt University Dubai, writes.
The role of facilities management (FM) is usually regarded as a post-construction service whose main responsibility is to merely operate, maintain and ensure upkeep of the facility within predetermined budgets. However, the real role of FM is seen to extend to a greater degree. For instance, FM is seen to assume and fulfill a fundamental role in enabling organisations achieve sustainability objectives that form part of the overall business strategy. A study by Report Linker suggests that, the green technology and sustainability market is expected to expand from $8.7bn in 2019 to $28.9bn by 2024, at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 27.1% during the aforesaid period. Having said this, it is hardly surprising that the role of FM is evolving to incorporate new environmental and sustainability aspects.
Matthew Smith, associate head of the School of Energy, Geoscience, Infrastructure and Society (EGIS) at Heriot-Watt University Dubai shares his views on some of the ways by FM can help towards sustainable built environment and businesses.
• Ensure Usage of Efficient Systems and Equipment
According to the UNEP report on ‘Energy Efficiency for Buildings’, residential and commercial buildings consume approximately 60% of the world’s electricity. The use of energy efficiency strategies such as Energy Star equipment, intelligent heating and cooling systems and energy-efficient fluorescent or LED lighting can substantially reduce the overall negative impacts of built assets. The implementation of such strategies can yield significant financial returns mainly in the form of reduced energy consumption without compromising on end-user needs and demands. Referring to several case studies and white papers published by trustworthy sources, the usage of highly efficient LED lighting can potentially decrease energy consumption by as much as 80 to 90%.
• Optimise Space for Sustainability
Given increasing market competition that enforces business strategies to incorporate a great deal of flexibility and an adequate budget in terms of procuring real estate, decision makers are usually faced with a challenge to either opt between the construction of a new centralised facility that is tailored to changing needs of the business or lease multiple facilities of smaller sizes. Where on one hand, new developments can be created with a wisdom of sustainability, then the negative environmental consequences brought about by existing buildings cannot be overlooked. One of the key roles played by Facilities Management professionals in mitigating such a situation is seen through their ability to thoroughly understand the short and long-term goals of the business and thereby devise strategic and operational strategies for procuring and planning of a given space that is adequately flexible in catering to changes in existing work practices, workgroups or functions. This includes providing information that can prove crucial in deciding whether to procure an existing facility or opt for constructing a new development.
• Take Advantage of Natural Light
The consumption of electricity and water by a facility in its operation stage not only impacts the global availability of natural resources but is also seen to have an impact on the overall revenue generated by any given business and its employees. Facilities Management professionals can decrease environmental impacts brought about by existing buildings and also have a positive impact on the well-being of employees – all achieved in a manner that provides financial incentives to the investor. For instance, harvesting the power of natural daylight can be regarded as one of many ‘no-cost’ initiatives that forms part of good sustainable FM practices. Achieving a right balance between natural daylight and artificial lighting systems can potentially have a direct impact upon the overall satisfaction and health of employees which in turn is one of the crucial elements that governs success of an organisation. A simple sustainable initiative that can be implemented by Facilities Management professionals is seen through integration of the existing lighting with newly installed photo-sensors to therefore decrease the usage of artificial lighting and harness the potential of natural light as and when available. Such a methodology is seen to provide savings on energy between 20% to 60% with return on investments of two years and less. However, the concept of good FM practices and knowledge of operation and maintenance can be best realised when FM professionals are involved in the design stage of buildings.
• Adopt Green Policies
Apart from improving the efficiency of systems, there are many other ways by which FM can drive sustainability. The implementation of building specific green policies and frameworks for both hard and soft services can enforce site team to ensure delivery of services with a high degree of sustainability. The positive outcome of green policies could be seen in the form of decreased environmental impacts, use of biodegradable utensils, elimination of plastic, recycling of waste etc. Organisations and individuals more sensitive to environmental issues ensure their facilities will be viable for the future.
• A Technology-driven Approach
Today technology has impacted every industry, and FM is no different. The use of technology in FM can go a long way in driving sustainability initiatives that extend beyond the usual implemented measures. Legacy solutions are often faced with time and cost challenges as well as labor-intensive models. With this said, technology can make a significant difference. For example, smart technologies available today can optimise existing energy consumption patterns to decrease carbon emissions and provide significant savings to the end-user. For example, Internet of Things or IoT technologies can track real-time performance data, the results of which can be used to optimise operational parameters of the given asset. Smart platforms powered by artificial intelligence or AI can greatly enhance legacy FM business models. Preventive maintenance technologies allow FM professionals to detect faults and potential breakdowns at an early stage thus enabling the implementation of corrective measures and ensuring continuity in site operations and overall service delivery. In a nutshell, technology advancements can greatly transform FM from a passive operation to a model of interactivity that can boost sustainability.