Joining the Sustainable Facilities Management Index (SFMI) a year ago has given me some unique insight which I hadn’t appreciated before. The Facilities Management (FM) holds great potential to influence the sustainability agenda. There are shining examples of sustainable FM and the SFMI celebrates these in our awards. However, there is a lot of work to be done for many others. Investors, clients, and internal business leaders can all drive the sustainability agenda in FM outsourcing, and now is the time to start.
Corporate Sustainability reporting in outsourced services
In my previous life in sustainability reporting, I admit, I had over-looked the FM sector (as many do). I found that the classic outsourcing corporation did not account for impact within the contracts they deliver. The focus would be on the scope 1 and 2 measurement approach. This boundary-wall approach meant that the measured impacts are minimal and based mainly on office locations. Alongside this, when a major business with outsourcing services responds to a corporate reporting initiative, they would neglect the FM side of this integrated business. Because it would be compared to the heavy industry component (for example) the construction arm. Therefore, the FM business will often fall through the cracks of corporate non-financial reporting, and non-financial risk identification. This historic approach means that many FM businesses have fallen behind other industries in their ability manage sustainability. Times are now changing, and demand for corporate responsibility is rising, so areas for influence are increasing.
So there’s a gap?
There is indeed a gap! An FM manages facilities on behalf of their clients. but are not taking responsibility for reporting on non-financial risk. On the flip-side the client may not be incorporating the FM provider into their sustainability strategy and processes. Meaning a gap in the ability to achieve sustainability targets and running buildings / operations in line with those targets. The gap impacts energy targets at a country and global level, and does not address climate change and energy security. Many do not incorporate the social challenges in the corporation either. For example, employee health and well-being may not be linked through the Facilities management team. Also, there are unrealised savings to be made in energy efficiency and other resource efficiency. The Facilities manager is a problem solver and a pragmatic one at that. They are perfectly positioned to fill these gaps, if they are unleashed and have the resource!
What’s been causing the gap? – A concern for investors and clients
I came into this sector during what can only seem like a dark age in FM. On a media headline level, it seems that in the last few years all hell is breaking loose in the outsourcing sector. Major outsourcing business have seen share drops (Interserve among a few) and profit warnings, and we have witnessed the collapse of Carillon which brought major clean-up costs to the public purse – one third of its revenue (£1.7bn) came from public FM contracts. Also to private suppliers who will never get paid (there were thousands of them). On top of this, there have also been scandals from the running of the UK’s HM prison’s through G4S, and another major security-based outsourcer has seen regular negative coverage. “So there is a lot of bad press in FM. – What’s your link”, I hear you ask?
I am not naive to think that poor environmental / social management is the cause of these issues. Ultimately, it boils down to the economics of outsourcing. The public and private sector clients decide to outsource services because they want to save money and concentrate on their own business. By outsourcing to a specialist provider, they aim to make efficiency savings under those who do this for a living, and who can incorporate economies of scale.
However, the overwhelming drive to make short-term savings causes a multitude of risk:
- excessive transfer of risk,
- low unsustainable profit margins, and
- a cost focused model that includes many contractual performance stipulations that are weighted in the clients favour which aim to refund money.
It’s a multi-pronged attack on the concept of a sustainable business model. Multiple players are driving this scenario:
1. the customer who wants the cheapest outsourcer at whatever cost. (The UK Government found itself guilty of this after the Carillon inquiry; and
2. The outsourcer whose business model is to undercut the opposition with the aim of rapid market expansion. (We’ve seen how the Carillon model ends up for stakeholders).
So what’s the correlation between profit warnings, the SFMI and E,S,G management?
The “race to the bottom line” is a cause of major systemic issues. Economic sustainability is realistically the bedrock that can drive environmental and social sustainability. What we are seeing at the SFMI is; once those companies fall into this “race to the bottom line” culture, they will start to peel back on their ability to manage sustainability:
- Reduced corporate Governance,
- Lack of internal environmental and social impact management, and
- lack of implementing social value and environmental services into client contracts.
What is left is a stripped back and potentially loss making service with higher risk. By not integrating sustainability into an FM model, it removes them from being part of the solution towards major issues such as climate change. This means a higher risk for investors and all other stakeholders being part of the unsustainable business model. I wouldn’t want to be the supplier of unsustainable business, would you?
Therefore, at the SFMI, we believe that ESG performance of the outsourcer can act as a proxy warning for poor business management.
This year we have seen a number of FM’s fall back in their sustainable FM performance. This simple chart shows 7 large FM providers have dropped from a silver performance level to a bronze (according to the SFMI annual assessment. We are seeing the beginning of a two tiered FM system. Sustainable value added companies (Platinum, gold and silver), and bare basics (Bronze and assessed).
How can the SFMI be used to flag this?
For 6 years the SFMI has been auditing and guiding FM providers so they improve their in-house corporate responsibility agendas, AND (very importantly) to implement sustainability management into their clients contracts. We score companies across a range of 23 topics of sustainability stretching from environmental, social and governance issues against a range of evidence presented. No evidence = no score. Our approach separates the marketing talk from the action.
Therefore, if we start to see FM providers drop in their sustainability performance from year to year, this should raise red flags for those clients and investors who are stakeholders of the company. A provider’s ESG performance can correlate towards the business model taken by an FM provider. By using an audit based approach rather than a self-reporting approach, we can separate the marketeers from the doers.
Who can get involved, and how?
The SFMI is an assessment for FM providers, however, there are plenty of stakeholders that gain from selecting a sustainable FM business as part of the SFMI.
Clients – Clients who haven’t made the link between their FM and their sustainability goals are missing a trick. Also, if you are selecting your FM contract on cost alone, then you are part of the problem. Using the SFMI is your way of integrating your sustainability goals with your facilities operations, and gaining more value in the long term. Get in touch to speak with us further.
Investors – Seeking to understand the risk in your portfolio is fundamental. The SFMI has been developing a historic database of scoring information that can aid investors in risk management. We do not count carbon, or quantities of water used – We score processes, initiatives and outcomes and how they are implemented in a company and its contracts. This is a unique approach.
FM business leaders – Differentiate your business from the race to the bottom culture. Show your stakeholders you offer value added sustainable FM, with an SFMI audit. By opening your company to a transparent audit against our tried and tested criteria of sustainability, you will gain the path forward. Be a pack leader, not a pack chaser.
A responsible business approach will give long term value to all stakeholders involved.