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emergency response

2019 was a big year for environmental activism and 2020 is set to see more as politicians and experts declare and respond to the ‘climate emergency’. Bradford Keen talks to the sector’s climate change warriors about the sector’s response.

© iStock
© iStock

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Read: Rebel acts here

03 February 2020 | Bradford Keen

2019 saw environmental concerns become manifest in both individual (Greta Thunberg) and organisational (Extinction Rebellion) forms. For the UK in particular, 2020 is unlikely to see any abatement as post-Brexit legislation comes under the microscope and the United Nations COP 26 summit in Glasgow this November ensures that climate change remains prominent in the public consciousness.

Against this backdrop, workplace and facilities management professionals continue to go about their work under the radar. And although FMs are often seen as having a pivotal role in corporate sustainability, being seen as ‘environmental activists’ isn’t something most would be comfortable with; the more go-ahead are happier with such terms as ‘change agent’ or ‘sustainability architect’.

Whatever the term, FMs’ ability to influence the bigger environmental picture comes from their innately creative approach when seeking to challenge existing practices or pose new alternatives.

Yes, FMs need “a genuine interest” in sustainability projects and resilience in the face of uninterested parties, contends Carl Davenport, FM at the Blessed John Henry Newman RC College secondary school in Oldham. But it’s also important that they recognise how FM is particularly well placed to drive change, however small. 

“I’m not making out I’m doing anything groundbreaking,” says Davenport, “but if we all did the little bits we can do, we’d make a difference.”

Indeed, the budget constraints most client-side FMs operate under mean that it’s typically ‘little bits’ that are most realistic. Non-profit organisations perhaps even more so. Martin King, property and facilities manager at children’s charity Plan International UK, says that “action against climate change is high on our agenda as it disproportionately affects children in developing nations”.

“Conflicting with this, however, is our need for every penny to go our primary charitable purpose. Therefore my primary focus is on culture change; small incremental improvements and advances through a planned programme of improvement across the life cycle of the assets.”

“We look at practical ways that we can make positive changes,” says King. “Educating staff on correct waste streams; setting goals for our waste/recycling ratio, including an ‘eco tip’ in our weekly newsletter; calculating cost savings when our AC unit failed for the day and implementing these figures into a proposal for our board, WC posters and display boards with progress and information.”

“Programmes focus mainly on travel and at the carbon footprint of our overseas and events work. The personal component tries to shift staff habits by using reusable coffee cups, negotiating discounts at local food outlets that promote environmentally friendly practices, shaking hands before using hand towels and reusing stationery through our amnesty boxes.”

But King also focuses on operational wins such as using low-energy hand dryers or ensuring double-sided black-and-white printing by default. He’s also working on longer-term projects such as implementing a dead-band (to prevent unnecessary activity) into the air conditioning system and upgrading WC units to include dual flush.

FM’s lead role

Charlotte Österman, partner and sustainable development director at Pax Tecum Global Consultancy, believes the FM sector needs to embrace its influential role in the business opportunities that come with a corporate sustainability mindset; the benefits to competitive standing of an ability to manage risk and adapt quickly to fresh green thinking. 

FMs can be positive “change makers”, says Österman, using their qualities as “experienced collaborators… working in a quick pace environment, juggling client, legal and end-user requirements on a daily basis, as well as designing long-term plans for the building or asset”.

Davenport says FMs may be better placed to lead on the issue than others in the organisation with a designated sustainability role. “An FM is in a great position to lead and, as an FM, you sometimes have to be the one driving the change and get people on board as you go, rather than waiting for them to get on board at the beginning.” 

Will Easton, head of workplace at the consultancy One Eighty Group, is bullish about the extent to which FM can take advantage of its unique position “as long as it can rid itself of the shackles”.

As soon as FM can go beyond traditional working models and “allow itself to be more of a strategic partner and thought leader within an organisation, then there are no limits to what it can achieve in relation to an organisation’s environmental impact”.

For Munish Datta, senior consultant at UK Green Building Council (UKGBC), the trick is to highlight the triple bottom-line benefits of reducing carbon emissions; saving money and creating productive and enjoyable working environments. These are all valuable means of mobilising action on environmental programmes, Datta explains.

Datta’s own commitment is to convince business leaders to “align financial objectives with environmental stewardship and social value to create more purposeful and responsible outcomes”.

This alignment of sustainability projects with overall strategic organisational goals is key, says Fiona Bailey, workplace services team leader at Scottish Water. It requires excellent communication and networking with appropriate stakeholders. They need to know what’s happening and why.

And as not everyone in an organisation is as excited as the FMs involved in these initiatives, patience is a necessary virtue. “There will be setbacks, sometimes resistance to change and, to keep the momentum, you need to be able to smile and keep on moving forward,” says Bailey. 

Changing behaviours

Behavioural change is critical to so many sustainability initiatives and is often difficult to make stick. Yet it can be a simple enough goal to realise, believes Sally Grimes, quality standards manager at contract caterer Bartlett Mitchell.

Grimes gives the example of kitchen staff conducting a walk-through of their routing to identify alternative practices. Chefs were found to be turning on ovens as they arrived on shift when they could have delayed doing so without affecting their output. “It’s a little thing, but it makes a huge difference,” she adds.

The FM or workplace team should focus on identifying simple changes for employees or building users to make. It can “create a culture where people see that they too are making a difference – leading them to be engaged and look for other solutions in their area of responsibility,” says Bailey.

One such successful engagement at Scottish Water has been a car-sharing scheme whereby participants also get access to parking bays closest to the building. Engagement helps when employees earn something in addition to a clean, green conscience.

“We have already created green space for our workplace in two locations; this is an employee-led gardening team who focus on planting flowers to attract bees and herbs that employees can take home instead of buying them in a plastic bag,” says Bailey.

“We are also investigating placing beehives at further sites through local bee associations – we already have two hives at one of our sites.”

Emma Potter
© iStock
© iStock

Aim for quick wins

It behoves FMs to educate themselves and summon the activist or change agent spirit inside of them. Easton suggests starting “the day by blasting out Monkey Gone to Heaven by the Pixies, a great mantra for this planet’s struggles”. But after that it’s useful to “join a local activism group or charitable organisation and learn about wider issues in your community and how your employer, or industry, can learn from it or impact, directly or indirectly, the local and global community”, Easton suggests. 

Mega Trend: Climate Change

Speaker: Pen Hadow

Location: Premium Suite, Etc Venues, St Paul’s Cathedral

Time: 11-11.45

Tickets: www.iwfmconference.org

Topic: Climate change

  • David Attenborough calls it “the major challenge facing the world”. Beside the ‘B word’, two ‘C words’ look set to dominate this year’s political battleground: climate change – or climate catastrophe as some refer to it. 
  • The built environment contributes 40 per cent of the UK’s carbon emissions; and if we have any hope of achieving ‘net zero” by 2050 then a serious plan is needed. Workplace and facilities leaders have been quietly contributing to carbon reduction for some time. How can they lead further change? 
  • Hadow is an explorer, advocate and visionary committed to protecting the North Pole’s ocean wildlife, working with the UN. He also leads the not-for-profit 90º North Unit, which advocates for an international agreement to create a protected area for the international waters of the Arctic Ocean; and he is director of the annual scientific research and public engagement programme, Arctic Mission, which supports the unit’s work.

 An energy perspective

Revolution is unnecessary, says Mike Sewell, energy services director at Interserve; evolution will suffice.

Managing energy use requires a need to “evolve the technologies we have and focus on implementing them correctly”. 

But being in the power seat requires the ability to persuade and convince others. “People involved in workplace carbon reduction schemes need to be clear, focused and razor-sharp on delivering measurable outcomes. The individual must have a vision, be able to sell that vision, have strong project management skills and then be able to demonstrate the changes achieved by producing proven data sets.”

For long-term energy management guidance, Sewell says the strategy is simple: “Buy well, pay well, use well and make well. This means buying energy from the right supplier; ensure the amount of energy being used is reflected by what you are paying; use it correctly and look at ways to go off-grid; for example, by making your own energy.”

Quick-win suggestions


  • 2020 Waste Challenge – 20 per cent less waste and only 20 per cent going to non-recyclable waste streams;
  • Rechargeable batteries;
  • Visitor mugs and cups to remove single-use cups from the canteen;
  • Presentation to all leaders to take action in their work areas;
  • Printers that only print if ID card or email is presented;
  • Car-charging points; and
  • ‘Just One Drop’ campaign to highlight how small acts can have big impacts.


  • Zero landfill through waste-to-energy for our general waste – King says the waste carrier processes food and 14 other recycling streams so the only general waste, mostly used hand towels and carrier/crisp bags, is processed by the carrier into renewable energy, which they supply to the national grid. Shredding is recycled into copier paper, toner cartridges are remanufactured and reused, fluorescent tubes are recycled into glass and road aggregates.
  • Energy from 100 per cent renewable sources – when putting their energy contract out to tender, King sought only suppliers with 100 per cent renewable sources.
  • Phased implementation of LED and PIR lighting as old stock is replaced;
  • Reflective windows for cooling in summer/warming in winter.


  • Lighting, heating and cooling add up to 80 per cent of carbon output, so install LED lighting and systems to pull fresh air in at night to cool the building;
  • Improve building users’ behaviours such as turning off lights and equipment; and
  • Use a building management system to inform usage. 


  • Reduced single-use plastics – switch to drink cartons and wooden cutlery;
  • Set up an eco-garden and redirect suitable food waste from the kitchen to be used as compost; and
  • Use the ash from biomass boilers for compost.