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BIFM Awards: FM- making sustainability our business. By Mike Packam, Lead Judge for BIFM Impact on Sustainability Award

13-03-15, 15:47

Mike Packham, Lead Judge for Impact on Sustainability at the BIFM Awards talks about how FMs need to make sustainability their business.

Who owns sustainability? Yes there have been great strides in this area with some of the larger corporates employing senior Heads. But in general both sustainability and its close associate, corporate social responsibility, still struggle to get much beyond the pages of the annual report with very little operational focus in terms of day-to-day activity. Why is that?

Well partly because we are only just escaping from the days where management of the triple line just wasn't seen as something to concern business and also, well  because it's hard!

According to the Financial Times, firms that are sustainable have been shown to attract and retain employees more easily and tend to experience less financial and reputational risk. It wasn't so long ago that economists were arguing strongly against there being any merits to management of the so-called, triple-line. Former head of the OECD, David Henderson, argued against it in his 2001 book, Misguided Virtue picking up on the famous quote from Milton Friedman that  'the business of business is business'.

But today, sustainability is now the business of business with sustainable organisations creating real economic value, ecosystems and strong communities. McKinsey 2014 research engaged 3444 executives on the topic of how sustainability can benefit the bottom line. It identified a material financial impact for those companies that pursue the approach. Others such as Grant Thornton have highlighted additional business advantages arguing that those organisations with good community relations can be fleet of foot and are more likely to secure investment capital, that positive reputations are in themselves a competitive edge. These companies have opportunities for reducing costs, better employee morale and productivity and ability to attract the best as well as generally make better use of innovative working practices.

Undoubtedly sustainability is a cross-functional activity but it still needs driving with a clear lead. To my mind, that's where FM comes in. Not only does FM permeate most organisational activities, but the discipline has the necessary management and technical understanding of the many issues involved with sustainable working. FMs are systems managers working within the various sub-systems of the organisational ecosystem to make the corporate whole better than its parts.

As the FM profession matures and understanding of our discipline continues to improve, senior estate managers are seen to be what they are rounded business executives with broad experience of budgeting, project management, supply chain and contract negotiation. Not only that but FMs are adept in handling the detail of sustainable approaches like carbon disclosure, energy saving and waste management. The 2014, sustainability report by BIFM highlighted how a box-ticking approach to sustainability is compromising many of the business benefits. It argues for more of a forward-looking, risk-based approach where sustainability policies, perhaps around living wage, energy savings and waste management, are defined as clear requirements in supply chain selection.

It?s time for FM to grasp the nettle, to move sustainability out of the board room and make it the lifeblood of the organisation.

Last year sustainability winner did just that. Cheshire Constabulary's were rewarded for  'Operation Cleanup' a pioneering approach to managing waste including that generated from controlled drug seizures. What stood out for the Judges last year was the way that the operation was integrated into day-to-day policing and involved a multi-discipline approach across FM, IT and serving police officers, supported by the senior ranks. The approach has received a great deal of interest from other Constabularies and the FM team have created a best practice guidance document to share their knowledge with other Forces and some of their public sector partners.

This year it could be you. Enter the  today. Entries close May 22.?Impact on Sustainability?

Mike Packham is also Fairplace Award Assessor.

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