FMs: Leaders in Sustainability?

Jan. 9, 2006
Although sustainable facilities can have a significant impact on the bottom line, it often ignores the role of facilities management

Although sustainable facilities can have a significant impact on an organization’s bottom line, the sustainable approach - while a sound and beneficial one - often ignores the role of facilities management, the individual or team responsible for the greatest portion of the life-cycle of facilities.

According to Christopher P. Hodges, principal at Facility Engineering Associates PC (, a Washington, D.C.-headquartered consulting engineering firm that specializes in implementing practical and cost-effective solutions to life-cycle challenges in existing buildings, “It’s becoming a facility manager’s world. If you look at the life-cycle of a building in terms of time, it’s probably in the order of 2 or 3 years to plan, design, and build a structure. However, that same building is going to be in operation for anywhere from 20 to 50 or more years. Who has the most influence on that timeline?

“At the same time, statistics suggest that facility design and construction costs run anywhere from a small 2 percent of an organization’s overall cost upwards to the 10- or 15-percent range. By far, the largest percentage of an organization’s cost is in the salaries of its employees.

“The remainder is in operations. The facility manager can have a significant effect on operational costs and the productivity that comes from the largest portion of an organization’s cost - the employees. When I discuss life-cycle costs with industry professionals, I ask them: ‘What percentage of the cost of ownership do you want to work on? The 2 percent or the 98 percent?’”

Although the initial cost of going green may be greater, Hodges says that basing decisions entirely on that philosophy is short-sighted. “Some say there’s no increase, some say 2 percent, others say it’s more like 10 percent,” he notes. “The bottom line, however, is creating an alignment between those that design and build facilities, those that run them, and those that have the overall strategy of the organization in place. Are you running a real estate company that buys and sells buildings with a short-term view, or are you involved in a college or university where you’re going to own your buildings for the next several hundred years? Once all parties start viewing facilities as assets - as they should be - it can comprise a fair portion of a company’s balance sheet.”

In offering advice about how to wade through the mounds of information about building green and to avoid the pitfalls during implementation, Hodges encourages facilities professionals to start small. “You can start with a recycling program; with things that people can see and buy into.

“The key steps in building this sustainability strategy are not much different than other strategy development. You create your team; you have to get buy-in from various folks so you look at your organization and its stakeholders and determine who would have an interest in the issue of sustainability. One key element is to involve someone from the corporate side who has the organization’s overall strategy in mind. Another is to involve the people who work there.”

Not surprisingly, energy savings can have immediate results. “You can have payback periods for energy initiatives that are 18 months or less,” says Hodges. “Energy and energy savings are some of the first things people will grasp - and a clear way in which an organization can begin to quantify its sustainability efforts.”

At the same time, moving forward is really a matter of education. “We’ve been finding that our clients are asking for help on the strategy development side - on the ‘think-through-the-process’ side and a lot less on the ‘design-it’ side,” says Hodges. “To realize industry-wide sustainability goals, let’s become active in this process. Nobody knows your buildings better than you, the facility manager.”

Linda K. Monroe ([email protected]) is editorial director at Buildings magazine.

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