Has FM made any progress on sustainability?

This article was originally written for FMJ by Acclaro and was published 6th July 2021. To see the original publication click here

The pandemic, over the past fifteen months, has led to a number of changes that have affected workplaces, and has been a driving force for structural changes within organisational cultures.  A variety of responses from organisations have been seen to manage the return to the workplace, reflecting workplace culture at corporate level. This article discusses these organisational level changes and highlights the implications for FM services and their delivery, as business looks at getting back to normal.

The sudden, catastrophic emergence of Covid-19 generated the most significant disruption to life in the post-war era. The pandemic dealt a harsh blow, forcing organisations across the public and private sector to make drastic changes to their operations, commercial models, workplace strategies, employee engagement efforts, health and safety procedures, and more.

Organisations have leant on the facilities management sector to guide them through the pandemic. Existing contracts were torn up, however, this allowed for FM to demonstrate its responsiveness, flexibility and ability to gain trust. Often, it has been the people in low-paid facilities roles that have borne the brunt, risking their health during the crisis.

Likewise, investors are also looking at how organisations have responded to the pandemic, and in particular their engagement with staff, resilience of the service offerings and adaptability of the management team. The rise of Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) measures are requiring a greater level of public disclosure, based upon the collection and analysis of data and a clear forward strategy. With many of the impacts, including supply chain diversity, carbon emissions, and waste efficiency, affecting the facilities operations, a robustness over data, risks and decision making is a necessary part of the role.


View from the Sustainable FM index 

Looking ahead to the long-term view, the pandemic has accelerated the shift in working habits and forced organisations to undertake home working and enable remote discussions to take place. Whilst organisations will have specific requirements, broadly an increased level of flexibility in working will appear – the role of the office becoming increasingly a place to meet and connect, exemplifying the brand and relationships of the business.

So, what does this mean for FM and its long-term approach to sustainability? Its newfound responsibilities during the pandemic enabled the sector to assume a strategic position that it struggled to attain in the past. Our 2020 SFMI audits found evidence of FM service providers integrating sustainability into their service offering and working in partnership with customers to transform their sustainable outcomes.

However, whilst the leaders are progressing, the audits revealed that a significant number in the FM sector remain desperately unequipped to meet the increasingly critical sustainability challenges. Ultimately, this will pose a problem for organisations who need to meet these public targets, from reducing carbon to building a more equal society, but the facilities teams are unresponsive.

As we progress, FM organisations must maintain the high level of engagement they now enjoy with leadership teams and cement this new business normal. The pandemic, together with climate change, rising economic inequality, and a growing social justice movement, represents the perfect storm for FM to reinforce its status as an agent for change. The alternative is a reversion back to the Cinderella profession that does the dirty work and never goes to the ball.


SFMI 23 Criteria

The role of FM in sustainability is an important one, so a key discussion point should be around how FMs can measure customer benefits and the added value they provide. This includes identifying opportunities raised and achievements delivered from both a qualitative and a quantitative perspective.

The SFMI, running since 2013, is a sustainability roadmap for the FM sector helping to benchmark an organisations performance against peers and providing a tailored programme of measures to improve. The assessment is made against 23 criteria, captured under broad Environmental, Social and Governance heading, which are updated annually. Together with the assessment, a number of forums and knowledge sharing activities between FM providers and end users takes place to better understand how services can be shaped and delivered.

All the SFMI criterion are interlinked and can be grouped in various ways. It is vital to understand the links between criterion as they are not completely independent of each other. Managing criteria in a holistic way is crucial to embedding sustainability throughout an organisation. Some examples of these groupings are Zero Carbon, Social Value, and Supply Chain emissions, all of which are key sustainability topics for FM.


Forward Drivers 

In 2021, there are a few key themes that we are seeing the facilities sector progress on.

Zero Carbon often is seen through the eyes of Energy management; however, involvement should also come through other criterion such as Ecology and Circular Economy. Biodiversity in particular has a significant role to play in meeting Zero Carbon targets, and its management in relation to low and zero carbon buildings and sites. Ecology remains a low priority, but we have seen an increase in the awareness of its importance to Zero Carbon strategies. The Circular Economy can be utilised to reduce carbon emissions through waste reduction, reuse and recycling of products and materials.

Social Value incorporates many criteria including, but not limited to, Contracts, Supply Chain Management, Sustainable Communities and Employment. It saw significant development throughout 2020 and was partly driven by the growing emphasis on Social Value within government frameworks and public sector contracts (PPN06/20). Many companies are able to provide individual examples of social value delivery but integrating and embedding it across standardised contracts and ways of working, as well as capturing data which demonstrates its benefits, is still a considerable challenge across the sector.

Supply Chain GHG emissions (Scope 3) fall under several criteria including Energy, Transport, Supply Chain Management, and Disclosure. Many companies which have embedded Zero Carbon targets only include Scope 1 and 2 emissions and rely heavily on carbon offsetting. It is paramount that companies include Scope 3 emissions in their reporting and targets, as well as reduce reliance on offsetting to achieve their reduction targets.


Where does FM go from here?

In 2020, FM saw its status grow as a critical function and strategic advisor to the board, as the pandemic forced organisations into unchartered territory. Nevertheless if the sector is to capitalise on this opportunity and truly establish itself as a global leader, it will need to adopt a progressive business model with sustainability at the centre.

To achieve this, sustainability must be aligned to the values of the organisation and based upon accurate and robust data. This lack of data is hampering the ability to make decisions.

  1. Understand the ESG / Sustainability drivers affecting the organisations
  2. Define what this means for the services being provided, the risks and the opportunities, and the value that FM can provide
  3. What are the measures and metrics that are necessary to demonstrate value, as both lagging and leading measures
  4. Understand what data exists to help meet these measures and the level of accuracy. To free up resources, understand if some data is no longer necessary for collation.
  5. Provide reporting on the measures, its interpretation and how the FM strategy is delivering on the sustainability values of the organisation
  6. Over time increase the level of data that is measured and improve the accuracy

A sustainable future depends on every stakeholder, including the FM service providers, corporates and the government, working in unison to realise not just the stakes in securing a sustainable future but also the commercial opportunities it holds.