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Sustainable Facility Management: How Commercial Buildings Can Achieve Sustainability

Updated: May 25

Sustainable Facility Management is essential if cities and nations want to keep within their net zero commitments. There are 5.9 million commercial buildings in the U.S. alone. Commercial buildings generate nearly 40% of annual global CO2 emissions where building operations are responsible for 28%. The problem is universal and we now not only have the technology and know-how, but urgency for commercial buildings to be transformed into eco-friendly 'green zones'. Whether it’s a case of ‘greenifying’ existing structures, building brand new smart buildings or incorporating sustainable facility management practices, there are countless opportunities to reduce the environmental footprint across various types of commercial facilities.

Buildings are responsible for up to 40% of global emissions, but it is more than possible to change this. Commercial property owners, from hoteliers and retail leaders to office building facility managers, can learn to embrace what’s called sustainable facility management. Through managing a building’s facilities through environmentally friendly practices, scores of advantages can be achieved such as energy savings, increases in productivity, water conservation and an overall reduction in waste.



We’ll discuss more about how commercial buildings can achieve these milestones through sustainable facility management below.


What is sustainable facility management?

Sustainable facility management refers to a process whereby a facility manager of a building, typically a commercial building, makes fundamental changes to the way the building works in order to reduce its harmful impact on the natural environment. This typically involves incremental, but also widespread, changes to its operations, architecture and structure.



To embrace a green facility management approach, the leaders of a building will typically implement a vast range of eco-friendly best practices in order to achieve sustainability standards. This can include becoming carbon neutral, reducing the usage of electricity and water as much as possible, eliminating harmful and toxic wastes, promoting the use of zero waste bathrooms, using alternatives to single use-plastics and more.


Why is sustainability important in facility management?


Sustainability in our new modern environment is vital in facilities management, largely because it is playing a much more important role in how companies (including those based in commercial buildings) want to do business. According to the 2013 Sustainability in Facilities Management Survey Report, a comprehensive study published by the British Institute of Facilities Management:


“Today, environmental management is a key requirement for professionals involved in the design, construction and management of any property. The role of the Facilities Manager has grown markedly to meet their customer and client expectations.”

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is now a key factor when a company outlines its domestic and global strategies. Consumers and and other organisations are also including environmental sustainability in their decisions to buy. Day by day, organisations are changing their values to become more 'green' - whether that be because of their own leadership or in response to meeting legal and ethical obligations.


As a result, businesses are beginning to realise that sustainability is integral to remaining profitable. According to a 2016 report published by PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Business through a new lens, 50% of CEOs are concerned about climate change, while 43% ranked climate change and the scarcity of resources as in their top three “megatrends" that will change the nature of their business.


The impact of COVID-19 has intensified the importance of environmental facilities management. Even though many businesses have transitioned to a remote, work-from-home environment, thousands of businesses will still embrace hybrid working. Facility managers will need to get creative as they deal not only with the obligation to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission, but also stay ahead of their sustainability goals.


Below, we’ll outline some examples of how leaders can implement sustainability into their facility management processes.


Examples of sustainability in facility management

The most impressive kind of sustainability in facility management we’ve seen in recent years is the development of ‘smart buildings’ to reduce carbon footprint. It was estimated in 2019 by the Coalition for Urban Transitions that it should be realistic to reduce carbon emissions from cities across the world by around 90% by the year 2050 through proven infrastructure practices.


We’ve outlined some sustainable facilities examples, where building teams are taking active steps to make their structures and operations greener.


Sands Expo and Convention Centre (Singapore)

This impressive structure is located in the Marina Bay Sands of Singapore, and was awarded the LEED Platinum in 2019 for its maintenance and operations. It was the first ever MICE venue across the Asia Pacific region to receive an award for its sustainability, including widespread green initiatives across its waste management, plumbing, lighting and air conditioning systems.


U-city project (Australia)

In the city of Adelaide in Australia, a non-profit group called ‘Uniting Communities’ launched the U-City project referred to as 'the vertical city, within a city'. The structure extends 20 stories high, and uses sensor technology to optimise energy efficiency.

It’s able to identify the levels of occupancy on all its floors, and control the extent to which heating, lighting and ventilation is used accordingly. There's also an extensive 55-kilowatt solar photovoltaic array on the roof as well as natural ventilation through all living areas.


Prefectural International Hall (Japan)

The Prefectural International Hall located in Fukuoka, Japan, is, quite literally, a ‘green building’. It’s one of the earliest examples of sustainable architecture, designed in the mid 1970s by legendary architect Emilio Amabasz and opened in 1995. Known as the ‘Asian Cross Road over the Sea (ACROS), the structure extends 14 floors and is essentially a park across a building.


But it’s not just aesthetically pleasing. The greenery acts as a natural shield from the city’s high temperatures. It also acts as a great natural way to capture rainwater.


How to make commercial buildings more sustainable?

Aside from constructing a new green building from scratch, there are plenty of green facility management strategies you can execute to improve your building’s facility management to make it more sustainable.


Perform a sustainability audit

The first step to improving your facility management’s sustainability is to assess where your facilities are currently wasting energy.


It could literally be anywhere - your bathrooms, garage, the building gym, or offices that are vacant due to staff working remotely. Consider also the times of year - Are there seasons generally where your energy usage is too much?


A proper sustainability analysis is that critical first step.


Update assets in your building

If your building was built some time ago, it probably wasn't installed with the natural environment in mind. It's only relatively recently that people have actually started to care about their own carbon footprint. This could include some of the methods we outlined below, such a sallowing for more natural light, introducing motion sensor lights and replacing your air conditioning units.


Recycle

This is a no-brainer. Integrating recycling practices into your facilities management boosts its sustainability by conserving resources, reducing waste and cutting down emissions. There are countless ways to recycle in commercial buildings, such as recycling fluorescent lighting, batteries, and even materials like plastics, metals, waste, wood and plasterboard.


Partner with eco-friendly suppliers and vendors

Engage contractors who are focused on green practices themselves. This includes contractors like cleaning companies and maintenance providers who use green products and energy efficient equipment as part of their day to day operations. By doing this, you can also encourage other suppliers and vendors to be more sustainable in order to get business.


Use eco-friendly cleaning products

Environmentally friendly cleaning supplies reduce the number of harmful and toxic materials and chemicals into the environment. It also reduces its exposure for people who visit your building. Hunt the market for cleaning materials that don't contain harmful chemicals like nitrogen, phosphorus and alkylphenol ethoxylates.


Save water

There are many innovative ways to save water in large-scale commercial buildings other than encouraging its users to turn the tap off or use half-flush. This includes installing smart equipment to detect leaks (noting that unchecked water leaks can cost dozens of litres a day), regularly conducting water audits and installing drip irrigation systems rather than your conventional sprinkler systems.


Use the right air conditioner

Traditional air conditioning units are well-known to be harmful for the environment. Indeed, around 80% of the greenhouse gases they emit comes from the energy they consume, while the rest comes from their refrigerants - containing gases like hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) which in reality are much worse than carbon dioxide.


There are useful practical alternatives to traditional AC units. This can include evaporative cooling systems (where outdoor air is cooled by moving it through pads saturated in water, and can cool the air by up to 4.5 degrees celsius. You can also choose regular fans, ceiling fans and radiant cooling systems.


Switch to reusable products

Another useful strategy is to replace single-use objects throughout your commercial infrastructure with sustainable, reusable alternatives. For example, you could switch coffee machines running on plastic capsules to ones that use genuine coffee beans. You could also completely replace single-use water bottles with filtered water. You may also like to stock the offices in your buildings with reusable produce bags, cups, straws, food wraps instead of the conventional single-use plastic items.

Another novel approach you could also try is utilising reusable garbage bags across each and every office space across your building. Reusable bin liners are an excellent way to reduce the amount of plastic your buildings generate, and to help you make that far-reaching shift to reach your sustainability goals.


If you’re a facility manager and your building is still using single-use plastic trash bags to line the bins across your building, consider if it’s time for a shift to a more susttainable alternative. Here at TOMbag, We work with businesses to make their transition to reusable trash bags as smooth as possible. We offer standard, as well as industrial sized bin liners, that can fit different types of waste bins. Our reusable bin liners can be used for all use cases including general waste, recycling, paper waste and even food waste making it a perfect all-purpose solution for your business. Get in touch with our team today to learn more about how they can work for your property.

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