Every purchase we make affects human health and the environment in some way. For facility managers, each procurement decision influences more than the efficiency of their buildings and their company’s bottom line. Today, there’s growing recognition that purchasing decisions affect the well-being and productivity of employees and, ultimately, global climate change as well.
Facility managers are in a powerful position to shape our environment through the design and implementation of sustainable purchasing policies. This means considering the environmental performance of products and services alongside standard performance and price considerations. ‘Sustainability’, although a word now laden with environmental and social meaning, should also infer that buildings or belongings can be economically sustainable – not just viable but built to last, built to function and built to be recycled.
So, where do you start?
Green, for want of a better word, is good For facility managers, green procurement means more than just purchasing energy efficient globes and recycling bins. A typical green procurement policy outlines how a company will address environmental goals such as low emissions, forest conservation, recycling, water conservation and energy savings.
What’s more, a good policy details how an organisation intends to address competing considerations of performance, cost, durability and availability, bearing in mind that an effective policy is an opportunity to impact on the triple bottom line – economic, environmental and social performance.
Once you’ve established green procurement guidelines, it’s simply a matter of applying the same principles to each purchase. Whether it is a tin of paint or a tin of biscuits, guidelines need to look at the product’s materials, source, packaging and how it will be treated at the end of its useful life.
The most efficient place to introduce a green procurement strategy is at the beginning of a building contract for a fitout, refurbishment or new building design project. This is when facility managers have the greatest opportunity to influence the building’s lifetime efficiency, but so often are not brought into discussions until further along the project timeline.
If you have the opportunity to get involved with the building contract, negotiate contracts early. Although green procurement and buying policies, green leases, and water and energy efficiency measures may take some work to establish, they’ll make a major environmental difference and you’ll reap the rewards in the long run.
Apply the ‘Three Rs’ equation Although some organisations aren’t ready to look at the more complex environmental issues such as embodied energy, every company can apply the ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ equation to their business decisions. Ask yourself: How can we reduce demand for this product? How can we reuse the product? How can we recycle the product? More importantly, we need to engender a cultural shift that asks: why do we need this product in the first place?
There are simple actions that any company can apply across the breadth of its organisation. Here’s a good example. To most of us, a battery is a battery – and yet they are most common form of hazardous waste disposed of by Australian households, with 97 per cent of those disposing of them via their usual rubbish collection. The majority of batteries contain heavy metals that leak into the ground as the battery erodes. This contributes to soil and water pollution, and endangers wildlife. Some components in batteries can be toxic to fish and make these fish unfit for human consumption.
At the Green Building Council of Australia’s headquarters in Sydney, aptly named the GreenHouse for its 5 Star Green Star – Office Interiors v1.1 rating, we have obtained a battery recycling box to store old batteries. Full boxes are collected by a local recycling company, which ensures that the heavy metals don’t end up in landfill. Such a simple and inexpensive measure - but one which makes an immediate impact, and one which can be implemented in organisations and offices across the country without costing anything extra!
Choosing products with more than one life While owners and operators have begun to consider the long-term sustainability of their buildings and the products within them, the next challenge is choosing products based not only on their first lives, but also with consideration to their second lives. Organisations such as InterfaceFLOR, which is recognised as the world’s most sustainable carpet manufacturer, has implemented a take-back and recycling program to ensure its products have a useful ‘second life’.
InterfaceFLOR Australia’s Senior Vice President, Clinton Squires, argues that facilities managers are in a prime position to activate a take-back clause in their lease agreements.
“For new builds, facilities managers should start by looking for products that can deliver the longest possible first life, and then purchase from companies which have active end-of-life take-back and recycling schemes,” Squires says.
“In the case of refurbishing existing fit outs, facilities managers should ask manufacturers what can be done to take back the existing materials, as this will have an immediate impact on waste-to-landfill reduction.”
Squires clarifies: “It’s important to understand that ‘100% recyclable’ doesn’t necessarily mean the product is part of an active take-back and recycling program. Facilities managers need to look beyond the product marketing and labelling and into the recycling track-record of the manufacturer.”
Facilities managers also have an enormous amount of power to bring about positive cultural shifts in their organisations, Squires argues. “While many companies are refreshing their corporate images every few years, that doesn’t mean the materials in their corporate offices need replacing too.”
Instead, facilities managers need to write their design briefs with the mantra ‘maximise the first life’ in mind.
“Imagination and ingenuity need to be applied to the design brief so that the architect or interior designer may respond with a sustainable solution,” Squires says. “This may mean requesting modular products to allow for selective, rather than complete replacement, and providing greater flexibility to adapt to changing spatial needs.
“These kinds of mind-shifts start to reduce the demand for new products as well as the waste-to-landfill impact,” Squires says.
More than a piece of green paper Now that you’ve started to look at your procurement, Green Leases can help to ensure you get the best value from your tenancy agreements. Essentially, a green lease outlines the obligations on both the landlord and tenant to achieve targets for energy and water consumption, as well as other environmentally sustainable practices. This may mean the tenant requires the landlord to provide certification that the building achieves a specified Green Star or NABERS rating, and it may specify the requirements for ongoing upkeep of the building. A green lease should also address how the costs and benefits associated with a green building will be allocated to both the tenant and the building owner.
Another way facilities managers can make a significant environmental impact is by negotiating a sensible and sustainable ‘make good’ clause. This contract clause refers to the process at the end of a commercial property lease where the tenant is required to hand back the premises they are vacating in a particular condition that is established by the terms of the lease.
“In many instances an incoming tenant wanting to improve the environmental performance of their premises may be keen to install energy-efficient fixtures and systems,” says John Goddard, Chairman of RICS Oceania Sustainable Steering Group, who oversaw the development of Greening Make Good, a guide which outlines how landlords and tenants can work together to eliminate the double layer of inefficiency often inherent in make good clauses.
“Make good clauses are often a disincentive to tenants wanting to ‘do the right thing’ by the environment, as the landlord may require these energy-efficient fixtures and systems to be removed and the old system reinstated to match the remainder of the building which has old and inefficient fittings and equipment,” he explains.
In these cases, the tenant must factor in the costs of the new equipment installed, the removal costs and the reinstatement of the old equipment at the end of the lease. “This can make the business case for installing environmentally-efficient equipment unworkable, particularly with a trend to short term and flexible leases where the tenant has a limited time to recover expenditure,” Goddard says.
Monitoring performance Above all, facilities managers need to be able to monitor and manage their buildings efficiently. This means asking: does the building management system track energy outputs and water consumption? Do you have efficient waste management monitoring that enables you to check how much glass, metal, plastic and paper going to landfill each month? Waste contractors, utility companies and a good building information management (BIM) system will help you to put together a useful picture of your building’s monthly performance. The 2006 Department of Environment & Heritage ‘Water Efficiency Guide for Office and Public Buildings’ showed that over a quarter of water use in office buildings was simply leakage – leaking cisterns, taps and pipes. A proper BIM system can help to monitor and manage such situations, and pinpoint areas of leakage, waste or inefficiency.
The new generation of systems will also examine the carbon implications of transport – such as your fleet and air transport. Together with an assessment of your energy and water usage, materials management, facility managers can begin to build up an accurate picture of a building’s footprint.
Using such building systems will allow us to examine our picture of the building’s performance in detail and with greater accuracy, and coupled with better procurement guides and cradle-to-cradle thinking, we can look at the lifetime of the products and materials we buy in order to understand the environmental, social and economic impact of each decision.
So, what’s the next step we can ALL take towards leaner, greener buildings?
Well, the first step must be towards greater understanding of our options and greater responsibility for our decision-making. Those of us who will be managing our facilities should become more involved in their fit-outs.
I predict a paradigm shift in the way we look at the lifecycle of our building materials. In the future, we’ll see facility managers involved in negotiating lease agreements with suppliers for not only furniture, but fittings as well. This will involve leasing carpet, blinds or light fittings from a supplier for just a set time period, before they are removed at the end of their working life to be turned back into new resources once more.
In such an environment, we’ll see manufacturers and suppliers maintain responsibility for their products throughout their lifecycle, and purchasers make buying decisions based on what’s right not just today and tomorrow, but well into the future. Now THAT’S true sustainability.
Robin Mellon is one of Australia’s experts on sustainability in the built environment and is determined to leave the planet in a better shape than it was when he found it. Robin believes in a Better Sydney – better buildings, better communities and a better quality of life.