It seems the recession has had a damaging effect on sustainable FM and there is no sign of recovery

Shaun McCarthy

Seeing the blanket coverage of the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow gave me a sharp reminder that the London 2012 Olympics are becoming history.

However, the lessons of history can provide us with clues to the future. There is no doubt that the Olympic Delivery Authority, under the combined leadership of Sir David Higgins and Sir John Armitt, set unprecedented levels of sustainability for the Olympic park and other permanent venues.

Through rigorous management of the supply chain these were achieved, leaving a legacy of great sustainable buildings and infrastructure. However, during the games, energy consumption was not well managed, the energy plan for the games was implemented far too late, the games energy team was recruited too late, and venue managers were inadequately trained.

This behaviour is replicated across much of the built environment sector. The construction industry is making progress in delivering more sustainable buildings, but do those buildings actually perform as they were designed?

How many clients ask or contract for hard sustainability performance. Not many I suspect

According to the British Institute of Facilties Managers (BIFM) 2014 sustainability report “over 30% of respondents stated they do not compare the building’s energy performance over time externally with other buildings and nearly half do not know how the actual performance compares with a designer’s claims for its performance”.

The reasons for this disappointing statistic are many and varied. Communication and awareness seem to be a significant barrier. Lack of awareness, tools and training are identified at the highest level since 2007, lack of knowledge is at its highest level since 2009.

It seems the recession has had a damaging effect on sustainable FM and there is no sign of recovery. Lack of data and poor quality data is also cited as a problem.

According to the report “FMs find themselves unable to hold a conversation with senior management and come to informed decisions because they are unable to collect the right level of data, interpret it correctly and communicate its implications to the business”.

In my view clients have a big responsibility here, what you contract for is what you get. I recently helped a major FM client evaluate tenders for their FM contracts, and I asked one of their potential suppliers about their carbon strategy in an interview. Their response was “we are thinking about getting an electric van”. They didn’t get the job, but how many clients ask or contract for hard sustainability performance. Not many I suspect.

I often compare the built environment sector unfavourably with the auto sector in terms of sustainability, some say unfairly. However, a car is only as sustainable as its owner. A car manufacturer can make a super-efficient car but if the owner does not maintain it properly and drives it like an idiot it won’t perform in the way it was designed.

The same is true for buildings. To quote Gareth Tancred, the CEO of BIFM: “It is up to facilities managers to make better use of the measurement tools that exist, and deliver hard, granular data that makes a compelling case for the even greater levels of sustainability that all of us wish for”.

I couldn’t agree more.

For more on sustainability in the supply chain see here.

Shaun McCarthy is an independent adviser, author and speaker in the field of sustainable business policy and practice