Ifma Hero

Putting the S in ESG: How Facilities Departments Can Do Social Good (IFMA 2022)

Sept. 30, 2022
Facilities departments have an opportunity to positively impact local communities simply by changing the way RFPs are structured. Learn more.

What impact does your facilities department have on your local community?

Many organizations tout their progress toward Environmental, Social and Governmental (ESG) principles. They spend most of their time talking about the E in ESG, but some tend to leave out the S. That’s unfortunate, said Scott Koloms, president and owner of Kentucky’s Facilities Management Services—because facilities management is, at heart, a people business. Facilities departments have a major impact on the people who live, work and play in our buildings—and the people who clean them, too.

Koloms spoke at IFMA’s World Workplace 2022 about how the FM industry is perfectly suited to improve the lives of janitorial service providers, a group of people that includes some of our most vulnerable fellow citizens.

'Take Care of People and It Will Be OK'

Facilities Management Services is the first public benefit corporation in Kentucky and the first certified B Corp janitorial service in the world. B Corp certification means that a company has met high standards of performance, accountability and transparency when it comes to social and environmental factors, from employee benefits to supply chain practices.

The company’s first business plan, developed in 2001, was a simple 11-word motto: “Take care of people and it will be OK.” The next 21 years saw the company grow more and more sophisticated around that central idea, growing from 30 employees to the current roster of roughly 775. In an industry that has roughly 200 to 250% turnover every year, FMS keeps its turnover around 75%.

Why? Putting people first. The company discovered that their employees wanted to improve their physical and financial health, so they developed partnerships with local nonprofits and other service providers to deliver focused programming to FMS employees, from financial literacy classes to a rideshare program that helps people overcome transportation barriers and get to work. In return, FMS enjoys significantly lower turnover than their competitors, as well as better service delivery for clients and loyalty to the company. Roughly 55% of current employees were referred to FMS by someone who worked there.

“The secret sauce is identifying a social or environmental good you want to do that helps solve a problem within your organization, so there’s a circular pattern of doing your good that also allows you to be a viable business and succeed financially,” Koloms said.

How FMs Can Drive Better Partnerships

Facilities departments can do their part by making different decisions about which service providers to award contracts to, both in and out of the janitorial space. No matter what kind of service you’re outsourcing, you can make a significant and quantifiable contribution to your community by asking about things like:

  • Financial transparency. Koloms has had experiences where the actual square footage of a facility was 30% higher than the number in the RFP—and when he asked to measure it, the potential client removed FMS from consideration for the contract. Start by being honest about what the job will entail and expect that same level of honesty from your service provider, Koloms advised. “I want to show you how much I’m going to pay my people, how many hours they’re going to work, what my supplies and equipment will cost and how much money I’m going to make,” Koloms said. “What a great place to operate from. Why can’t we do that?”
  • Work expectations. Set reasonable expectations for the people who will be providing services to you. “What can a person really clean in an hour? If we’re going in at a per-square-foot rate, let’s all do the math together,” Koloms explained. “You’re going to have this many people and clean this many square feet. Is that possible? Let’s go out there together and see.”
  • Fair pay. How much is your provider paying their people for the work they do? It’s tempting to just go with the lowest-cost RFP, but you can make an important difference by rewarding companies who pay people fairly. “The truth of the matter is that we have to pay the folks cleaning our buildings like somebody who has the keys to our building at night,” Koloms said. “We hold the expectation for them to perform highly every night. They have to be paid accordingly.”
  • Socially conscious RFPs. Not every service provider will be B Corp certified, but you can still ask questions to verify which companies treat their people better. “How much are you going to pay people? How well are they treated? That’s not the norm in the industry,” Koloms explained. “How do you treat your people? How do you treat your vendors?”

Knowing what questions to ask potential partners starts with understanding your own department’s values, Koloms said. This could be influenced by your company’s social goals, or you can develop your own to use when you evaluate RFPs.

“Go through that exercise of asking yourselves as a facilities department, what are our values? What do we think is the right way to operate as an organization?” said Koloms. “Try to find vendors that match those values and find that values alignment. When you get into that relationship, versus just a monetary relationship, it’s good for both sides.”

About the Author

Janelle Penny | Editor-in-Chief at BUILDINGS

Janelle Penny has more than a decade of experience in journalism, with a special emphasis on covering facilities management. She aims to deliver practical, actionable content for facilities professionals.

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