How to Build an Effective Green Team

Sept. 23, 2013

Turn grassroots enthusiasm into sustainable progress.

How much time does your FM team have to spare for sustainability initiatives?

If the answer is less than you would like, a green team can be a valuable ally in your quest for better facilities management.

Often referred to as sustainability advisory groups, green teams are more than ad hoc committees filled with enthusiastic volunteers. To arm your green ambassadors with true staying power, make sure this group has formal oversight, tools for measurement and verification, and a clear mission.

Spell Out Objectives

Green teams can be tasked with a variety of goals – it all depends on what kind of sustainable goals you want them to fulfill for your business.

“The goal of any green team is to share ideas, knowledge, and best practices that focus on the triple bottom line of environmental sustainability,” says Roger McFadden, vice president and senior scientist for Staples.

[Related: Tips to Move Your Building Toward Net Zero]

Most advisory groups will focus on four key objectives:

  • Outreach – serve as an educational body for occupants and customers to build awareness and buy-in.
  • Resources – research tools and resources that will support sustainability objectives, such as certifications, assessments, metrics, and cost factors.
  • Proposals – identify initiatives that will bolster green building operations.
  • Refinement – promote continuous improvement and expansion of the program.

The sustainability advisory group should act as a clearing house by evaluating the feasibility of green practices and creating action plans for implementation.

Select Key Players

The sustainability group is typically a mixture of volunteers who have a grassroots passion and key players from various departments, recommends Brian Snow, CEO of Pristine Environments, an FM service provider.

In additional to facilities management, the team’s leadership can be culled from numerous places, such as corporate social responsibility, marketing, human resources, or legal.

“You may also need to have your green team led by a third-party consultant, particularly if your organization isn’t large enough to have a dedicated director of sustainability,” adds Snow.

Other players to include are your service providers – think recycling, waste management, janitorial, landscaping, and pest control. Many green initiatives fall under these areas, so make sure contracted companies have a seat at the green table, Snow stresses.

No matter who serves on the advisory group, make sure the team has the backing of corporate leadership.

“If these teams don’t get endorsement from senior management, they can often be a superficial entity because they lack the necessary resources to be effective,” McFadden cautions.

Target Meaningful Projects

Your green team’s agenda is often dictated by corporate sustainability goals, tenant demands, and operational expenses.

“Many companies will start with initiatives that impact the bricks and mortar of a building – energy management, water conservation, landscaping practices, and waste diversion,” Snow explains. “These are functional areas that are attractive to improve.”

They also tend to be economically feasible, have quick paybacks, engage employees, provide high visibility, and are easy to roll out.

“Green cleaning, carbon footprint, and water conservation are popular areas to focus on,” notes McFadden. “Waste reduction also yields many opportunities with recycling, reuse, cradle-to-cradle procurement, and composting programs.”

The team might develop policies for telecommuting, car sharing, bike racks, and sustainable catering.

As an auxiliary to your FM department, the group may also be assigned to research the viability of specific projects, such as certifications, a vegetated roof, or occupancy controls. They could even oversee data population for programs such as ENERGY STAR’s Portfolio Manager.

An often overlooked area of sustainability is occupant health, says Snow. Indoor air quality, daylighting, and green cleaning have all been shown to have a strong bearing on employee satisfaction, productivity, and absenteeism.

Plan for Long-Term Success

As with any group, green teams can peter out if they aren’t structured to keep the wheels perpetually in motion.

Make sure your green team hasn’t been formed with an expiration date, says Snow. If members were tapped to usher a building through the LEED process, for example, what happens after the certification has been achieved? The group no longer has a purpose and often disbands.

The group also needs to establish benchmarks, collect data, and measure results for all projects in order to prove return on investment.

“Sometimes green teams have to overcome the myth that sustainability is incompatible with economic prosperity,” adds McFadden.

It’s also important to note the limitations of a green team. These groups provide an invaluable service, but they can only be tasked to do so much.

“Some companies mistakenly think that by forming a committee, they’re going to change their facility operations. A committee should be a recommending body, not an execution group,” Snow stresses. “They’re not designed to implement projects – that’s where the FM department steps in.”

Jennie Morton was an associate editor of BUILDINGS.

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About the Author

Jennie Morton

A former BUILDINGS editor, Jennie Morton is a freelance writer specializing in commercial architecture, IoT and proptech.

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