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Facility Managers: The New Sustainability Champions

Sustainability professionals are thrilled with the growth of C-suite executive and investor attention — but what about engineering, facilities and operations departments? For many in these fields, a focus on operational efficiency is simply standard practice. In the past 30+ years, Facility Managers (FMs) have gone from the smooth operators behind the scenes to the center of organizational strategy. The added “weight” of these new responsibilities is being carried by the broad shoulders of facility managers.

The executive attention on building performance and the associated operation costs have put FMs in an unprecedented situation. For FMs, the attention spells an increase in value for hard work while at the same time scrutiny placed on their performance. Focusing on operations has provided a chance to focus on once neglected areas to discover cost saving gold mines that in turn enable FMs with more flexible budgets.

What It Means to Sustainability Professionals

1. Mingle with FMs – Build relationships with the FMs you work with, they hold the key to a fundamental part of your success. Sustainability can be successful in almost every organization but it can also fail if you lack support from critical team members, especially when coming in with lofty goals and big ideas. Although you may be able to rattle off the best and worse capabilities of a solar PV system or provide a recommendation for the next efficiency upgrade, how many of you will take the time to change out the light bulb? Learn the business from the inside by joining national or local professional facility and building management organizations.

2. Don’t expect responses yesterday – Building operations are not the only responsibilities of FMs! They handle issues ranging from Human Resources to Finance and are increasingly pulled in other directions. Your role should be as a partner with FMs. Develop a relationship of mutual respect and you’ll get the answers you need faster and ultimately make their jobs easier.

3. Know your numbers – It’s a tough economy; whether you are consulting or selling, make sustainability and the costs associated easy to understand. Clear data makes it easier to sell a project at all levels.

4. Don’t give up –I have found two kinds of FMs when it comes to sustainability programs. Some drag their feet to the next green team meeting and resist change while others will give full support, embrace change and sometimes even lead the effort! When it comes to the FMs that present as a challenge, return to step #1 above, and rethink your approach.  They are an integral part of your mission.

What It All Means (to Facility Managers)

1. Increase and leverage your visibility – Your agenda and responsibilities have become very popular. Lots of people want to participate or collaborate on the projects you are doing. Start or join a green team where you work. Build relationships across departments, especially with those you may not have had the reason to form in the past. Address the enormity of the issues and opportunities presented to gain support for your projects. As you lead the sustainability efforts, you will be afforded great opportunity to grow within your organization and elevate your expertise across multiple buildings or the whole portfolio.

2. Baseline, track, share and implement – To support suggestion #1, transparency is important in the companies we work in. Operating budgets and expense reductions are becoming common place in C-suite meetings. Keep everyone current and aware of progress, success, and shortfalls to prevent further budget cuts. What are the quality indicators and monetary factors and how do they feed back to people in the organization?

3. Join a Professional Organization – There are others in your shoes. All of the large FM trade associations have embraced sustainability as a strategic priority including Building Owners and Managers Association’s (BOMA) and The International Facility Managers Association’s (IFMA). In fact, IFMA has now launched the Sustainable Facility Professional TM (SFP) credential. The credential takes the operations components of the internationally recognized Certified Facility Manager TM credential (CFM) and puts a ‘green’ spin on it, addressing many of the issues, opportunities and topics in sustainability.

4. Partner with a campaign A quick way to jump-start or heighten the visibility of your reduction and sustainability effort is to join a national campaign, call to action, competition, or awards program. Great resources, press and media opportunities, and outlets for recognition are almost always offered. Some examples are the ENERGY STAR Pledge, BOMA 7 Point Challenge, IFMA Energy Challenge, ASHE Energy Efficiency Commitment.

Jeff Benavides is a LEED Accredited Professional with a specialty in Operations & Maintenance (LEED AP O+M). He is senior project manager at ecoPreserve: Building Sustainability, which provides strategic planning, program management and building certification consulting services to incorporate sustainability into organizations and existing buildings of all sizes. One of its keystone project includes managing the LEED EBOM process for the 2nd largest convention center in North America, the Orlando/Orange County Convention Center.

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3 thoughts on “Facility Managers: The New Sustainability Champions

  1. This was a fantastic article. My company is always telling environmental specialists that the best way to sell your ideas is with hard data and numbers (especially financial data), so it was refreshing to hear it coming from a different perspective. Definitely sharing this one with my coworkers.

  2. Interesting perspective on facilities managers as the new champions of sustainability. In addition, I think an important audience to consider is the owners. For commercial building owners, tenants who employ wasteful behaviors such as consuming massive amounts of energy not only negatively impact the environment, but also bottom lines. The importance of offering environmentally friendly amenities has never been greater!

    Michael Berretta
    Vice President Development, Americas at Regus

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