Sunday, October 3, 2010

What Does Sustainability Really Mean?

Sustainability is moving along the maturity curve, becoming a mainstream and sometimes core issue for FM’s The problem with “sustainability,” however, is understanding what it really means and where it applies. Too many times the definition provided is limited, possibly in unintentional ways. For example, those who think in terms of development understand sustainability as an element of design and construction processes but seldom envision it past initial occupancy when the project team is largely gone. Operators think in terms of maintaining and optimizing the physical attributes and systems of a facility over its entire life cycle. Service providers and vendors consider the quality of products and services and their carbon footprint, as an example.

All these sustainability perspectives can be confusing and one needs to find a unifying element. And there is one, Facility Management.

FM has always been about people, place and process. These are our core concerns, virtually everything FM is about is encompassed in them. One can effectively argue that sustainability also falls neatly into these classic elements of FM.

People: Providing the people of the organization with good Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ) is just the beginning. Amenities that support staff and the community also fall into this category.

Place: The site and building development process are obvious, as is the outfitting and maintaining of the facility over its life cycle. Workplace strategies, standards and policies can also enhance sustainability by lessening the amount of space needed and therefore minimizing the built environment’s impact.

Process: Every FM process from procurement of property and space, mail and food services, maintenance, work order management, conference support, office supplies, transportation and the host of others that FM’s lead have a direct bearing on not only the organization but also the environment. “Quality service” is no longer just about the business of the business, the business of sustainability is also a part of the quality dimension.

FM is where the intersection of the outside world and the inside world occurs. When we deliver quality processes that support the business of the organization we have an impact. When those same processes are optimized in how they affect the world around us then we have much greater impact.

Requiring Landlords to implement good sustainable practices in property management and renovations, requiring suppliers to be ISO 14001 certified, optimizing building operations to minimize energy consumption, implementing workplace strategies that allow work at a distance and reduce car trips are all sound practices. They support the business and lower the business’ impact on natural resources while enhancing the quality of life of employees and the community.

Sustainability. What does it mean? To a large degree it means “FM.”

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