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17 January 2019
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Sustainable delivery

7 May 2013

(First published 11 April 2013)

If one topic stands out as offering the sternest test of true collaboration between a client FM and its service provider, it’s surely that of sustainability.

Since they often involve an ellusive, ever-moving target, sustainability initiatives test both parties’ ability to measure performance and respond to changing circumstance. What are the reference points? How is the relationship managed? What steps follow the reporting of a successful initiative?

It’s easy to conjure up sustainability rhetoric, as both client and contractor need to be seen by the outside world as being fully invested in sustaining the environment through their working practices. The difficulty comes when the success of an initiative’s success rests on the quality of the reporting.

Which is why it was interesting to speak to Tim Haywood, group finance director and head of sustainability at Interserve, about that company’s newly announced ‘SustainAbilities’ initiative. Interserve has taken the widest possible view of what constitutes sustainability and aims to develop a framework through which it can deliver its services “in a way that has a beneficial impact on society and the environment, in-turn delivering sustainable growth and profit to shareholders”.

High ideals indeed, but how is any of this to be truly measured? Haywood concedes that there is a lot to do in this area, through through the definition of new metrics and accounting policies, work which will require “drilling right down to project level”. He also concedes that this reporting needs to be enforceable and consistent, auditable, traceable and externally validated. Indeed, Haywood says that he wants to give his sustainability measures “the same rigour, discipline, plausibility and visibility as our financial measures”.

What’s surprising, perhaps, is that such measures aren’t in place already; if you’re a major construction to FM company and you’re becoming increasingly aware of your responsibilities to society and the environment, the ‘SustainAbilities’ programme is a logical focus; but without these reporting templates – something that Haywood is developing over the next year – it’s not easy to drill down into the specifics.

As a statement of intent, ‘SustainAbilities’ has interesting things to say, not just on the environmental side of sustainability, but on the social side too. The company intends to report the impact of its operations on local communities, as well as carbon emissions.

The company has issued itself a challenge: by 2015, it wants 15 per cent of its employees to be donating time to benefit local communities, and by 2020 it hopes to be investing 3 per cent of its pre-tax profits into those same local communities.

There’s more on this initiative here, but the really interesting piece will be on the way contractors like Interserve work with clients on their own sustainability reporting. The extent of interaction between both parties, and the reporting they will demand, will get more detailed as individual projects are factored in to overall sustainability reporting; undoubtedly, facilities managers will be working on increasingly complex contracts. A new era is on its way.

Martin Read is managing editor for FM World