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Proper Training: A Trademark of Sustainable Facilities

June 24, 2009

Today’s building owners and managers operate in a tremendously fast-changing environment. Emerging requirements, escalating utility prices, and shifting tenant preferences have inspired building owners to adopt sustainable operations and maintenance practices. For facility managers, that means a shift in operations and maintenance processes, new systems and technology, and getting employees quickly up to speed. Training becomes a critical – but often overlooked – component to ensure that a facility achieves its sustainable goals.

Balancing day-to-day operations with unexpected maintenance issues and customer complaints means that, when training does happen, it’s generally sporadic. New employees are commonly briefed by internal staff members who may not have received formal training themselves. While this piecemeal approach may have worked in the past, green facilities demand that training be properly planned and implemented in a more holistic manner.

Develop Context within the Overall Framework
Training must be contextualized within the organization’s goals and policies to be meaningful and effective. In other words, how will the policy be manifest “on the ground”? Begin by benchmarking the performance of your building to determine how it currently performs. Once you’ve identified your benchmarks, vet them against your goals and policies to create criteria by which to assess and prioritize potential improvements. With your list of improvements in place, develop a plan of action and create policies that support a green facility over time. The integration of sustainable practices will require changes and refinements in your quality management processes that dictate your operations and maintenance, and how services are delivered. As a result, it’s imperative that training occur at each point in the process. Establish a budget that integrates training into your plan for sustainable improvements.

Cast a Wide Net
Training should be implemented across an organization. A training program aligned with your operations and maintenance plan must bridge people on the ground with those setting policy. The dilemma of time and resources is a challenge for all who operate buildings: from the asset manager, facilities manager, and property manager to the vendors who service the building. A robust training program for everyone involved will establish a level playing field with regard to green operations and maintenance practices. Often, building vendors don’t receive training at all unless their own company provides it. The vendor that services your green building should adopt and practice the specific polices you set forth. When training is distributed across the organization, you build capacity and increase value. Your vendors also have great influence in keeping your operations and maintenance practices green. In addition to writing new contracts that specify what products may be used on-site and in your facility, include them in your training program so they learn how to use products properly. Having a collective understanding across your organization on the goals and processes will facilitate communication and allow personnel to rely on each other as resources.

Pathways to Implementation
You can organize training by segment or topic areas. Segment-specific training targets the varying segments within your organization: management, middle management, project managers, facility managers, maintenance staff, and vendors. The benefit of this approach is that the training programs translate a company-wide sustainability initiative into a set of responsibilities and language unique to each segment. You can also arrange training by specific topic areas aligned with your policies, such as integrated pest management, green cleaning practices, indoor air quality, energy-efficient operations, etc. This alternative offers a more vertical approach that gives participants a comprehensive picture of how each topic area will be carried out from concept through completion.

Once you have your improvement plan and new policies in place, you can search the Internet for classes that fulfill the capacities of need. Seek out resources that align with your specific topic areas. Your efforts to find the right programs that can provide training across varying levels of the organization will result in immediate and long-term benefits.

Another alternative is to hire a professional firm that can customize a training program for your organization. Be sure to retain a firm that brings demonstrated knowledge of training programs in multiple topic areas and knows how to engage adult learners. Working with a professional firm has its own advantages. Not only will it take the process off your plate, it also allows you to develop a relationship and create synergies that lead to a targeted and effective training program for your specific personnel and needs.

Reach Your Audience
Although adult learners are distinctly different from traditional students, many training programs fail to address this issue. Participants are rarely receptive to lecture formats. Training must address applied learning and field experience. As you seek training programs, look for those that combine instruction, relevant application, experiential teaching, and group interaction.

Make Sure It’s Working
While training is an integral step on the pathway to a more sustainable facility, it’s essential to track your results. Create (or have your training provider create) tools that track performance. You need to know if the training is effective and, if not, where improvements must be made.

Planning, implementing, and tracking the success of training within the context of your organization’s goals and policies will enhance staff communication on green practices and help protect your sustainable goals.

Elaine Aye is a principal at Green Building Services Inc. and leads the firm’s Building Management Solutions team. Terry Miller is the firm’s senior consultant and manager of GBS Building Insights Training and Facilitation. Elaine and Terry provide customized training for organizations throughout the country to help them apply green building, operations, and LEED® best practices. They can be reached at (866)743-4277, [email protected], or [email protected].

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