Open-access content Monday 6th October 2008 — updated 12.17pm, Tuesday 26th May 2020
03 April 2008
Let's inspire people, urges cleaning boss
"Are all cleaning firms the same?" asked Doug Cooke, managing director, Principle Cleaning Services. We may think so, but he spent the next half hour of showing us why they are not.
Cooke takes enormous pride in the company he has built since the days when as an undergraduate he cleaned offices to stretch his grant. He now employs 1,300 cleaners, services 140 clients over 240 sites, enjoys consistent growth, and makes a profit.
So what's important to Cooke? It's the triple bottom line - his people, the environment, and community. The cleaning industry's record on people is not very good he reminded us; labour forms 80 per cent of a contract's costs, but workforce churn can be as high as 100 per cent. "Totally unacceptable," he asserted.
"The best person for the job today is the supervisor of tomorrow and the manager of the future. If you give people the right pay, clean uniforms, and the best equipment, they will give you respect, honesty, integrity and loyalty."
Today's is a very diverse workforce, acknowledged Cooke, with a large percentage of EU and non-EU employees. He operates a strict non-discrimination policy, and a number of foreign workers have come up through the ranks to become supervisors.
"It's also important not to pay lip service to training and development," Cooke pointed out. "Let's inspire our people; let's offer them a career path so everyone has a chance to come up the ladder."
Eden Project founder extols rock and roll life
Turn off the electric lights and work by 'winelight'. That was the message from Tim Smit, CEO of the Eden Project, closing this year's conference. "People talk differently around candlelight and fire than they do with electric light. During daylight you get the work person, when the sun sets you get the whole person and their whole life experience comes to the table." Every major decision Smit and his team made when they were building the Eden Project was done by "winelight", he explained.
The Dutch-born businessman talked through how he went from being a songwriter to working on the Lost Gardens of Heligan to coming up with the idea for the Eden Project, the environmental project is Cornwall which opened in March 2001.
"The Eden Project is a metaphor for a way of working," he told delegates. "The rock and roll attitude to doing things is vital as people want to feel alive and have something to write on their tombstone."
The project broke visitor estimates and also set a number of construction firsts. Sir Robert and Alfred McAlpine worked for 18 months without payment or contract (something neither had done in their respective 175-year histories) and agreed to loan Eden a significant sum only to be repaid if the project was successful. And there were some memorable moments. "When was the last time you heard a construction firm say 'rip that wall down, it doesn't look beautiful enough'" said Smit.
The site recycles 67 per cent of everything it produces and is aiming for 100 per cent. And it encourages its suppliers to go waste neutral by giving them an extra 18 months contract extension if they achieve that status. "It's the best type of pyramid selling," Smit explained.
Knowledge is the key to understanding world poverty
What do we mean by sustainability? For Barbara Stocking, director of Oxfam, the concept is as wide-reaching as you can possibly imagine. As head of an organisation that operates in 70 countries around the world, her role is to understand sustainability from a household level, through to communities and states, and finally, the planet.
Delivering the Hugh Channon memorial lecture, Stocking issued the stark reminder that a billion people survive on less than $1 every day. Oxfam's role in overcoming poverty - and Stocking insists that it can be overcome - is to help people organise themselves out of it.
Climate change is a global problem, and one that we must all face, Stocking argued, particularly in the face of growing economies such as India and China.
She explained that people in developing countries might not understand the technicalities of climate change, but they are certainly feeling its effects.
"Climate change is here, it's already happening," Stocking said. "Our role is to highlight the impact that it is having now on the world's poor."
FMs beware of the 'sustainababble'
Sustainability today is all about guilt and pessimism. Innovation on the other hand has taken a back seat. Ring a bell? Well, yes, this just about sums up what many in FM have been thinking but no-one has yet been brave enough to say. Not until James Woudhuysen at the BIFM Conference's keynote presentation.
The government was his first target. "Why should we buy their messages?" he asked. "We need to think carefully before absorbing their sustainababble."
"We need to place our hope in innovation, not keep thinking about consumption," he added.
"It's not about metering our way to a new life. It's not about worrying about being a consumer of the earth's resources."
Of course we have been worrying about consumption because that's what we have been told to worry about. But it's cheap emotionalism, says Woudhuysen (pictured), from counting our carbon emissions in order to persuade China worry about theirs, to getting people to switch lights off. But this uncritical attitude to the standard sustainability messages is not going to solve any problems. "Let's back off," he said.
So what should we be doing and thinking? Buildings, power generation and innovation. First - buildings. To save on carbon we need to build new buildings. The existing infrastructure is rubbish because you can't make old buildings energy efficient. "Let's quit the KPI mentality and take efficiency seriously when we're designing our buildings."
And power generation? "There will be power cuts in Britain in the next five years, because of our failure to build infrastructure," he predicted. "We haven't built any major new power stations since 2000. How about making Battersea power station a power station again?"
Further scorn was poured on the government's desire for micro-generation. For Woudhuysen scale is beautiful. "We should be thinking about generation on a community-wide basis," he says. "Think big. Think macro-generation. Let's have a coherent energy supply. Let's have more discussion around energy supply."
Lastly, investment in innovation. What we have at present says Wouhuysen is retrograde innovation. We certainly don't measure up the Victorians, and although we might not like the Chinese record on human rights, they are investing in new ideas more than we are."
Woudhuysen's presentation was entitled 'The triple bottom line'. But for him, the bottom line seems to be, "Don't buy the hype. Commit to ingenuity, and think big."
Sustainable working is "multi-mobile"
Is flexible working sustainable? This was the question posed by Marie Cecile Puybaraud and Martin Bell.
Their presentation reflected on results of research carried out by Johnson Controls examining the trends and implications of what they called "multi-mobility" working.
Puybaraud noted that while many of the audience members considered themselves to be 'mobile workers', a significant number retained a dedicated desk and workspace. It bore out the findings that people still need to maintain a connection with a team of people.
Modern attitudes toward working at home or "on the go" have helped to further a change in working practices and the functional requirements were being driven by the availability of new technologies.
Bell then drew attention to some less positive aspects of flexible working, asking if employers did enough to ensure working at home was as safe or as productive as the more traditional setting. And he warned about negative feelings that can arise should individuals feel dislocated from their organisation.
Looking ahead, both speakers concluded that flexible working was sustainable. Puybaraud predicted that employees would continue to demand flexible working and would see it as an attraction in a potential job.
And while communications would improve to meet the functional demands of flexible working, employers would respond accordingly. This would mean less estate to finance and operate. Firms could also promote themselves on their CSR principles, to which flexible working would be central.
Greenwash or green action?
Will companies have to face an increased fear-factor before they make an effective response to climate change? This was the question put to a panel of businessmen and academics entitled 'Greenwash or green action?'
A member of the audience prompted a debate by noting that many companies were only paying lip service to sustainability because there was no immediate fear of the impact of climate change.
Panel member and businessman Doug Cook, who runs a cleaning business, said the reaction from his clients to sustainability was still mixed. "Some are very enthusiastic and some pay lip service," he admitted.
Tim Dixon, director of the Oxford Institute for Sustainable Development countered the original comment by noting that there were encouraging signs that leading companies were rising to the challenge without the need to make them feel more fearful.
He referred to a survey of FTSE companies carried out last year. "Many of the companies in the survey said they were worried about climate change.
Banks and insurance companies were particularly concerned and many have a good record on corporate responsibility," he added.
Rising FMs raise facts
Sustainability, the growth of the remit of FM, legislation, qualifications and an FM skills shortage are the key issues facing facilities professionals who are new to the industry. That was the conclusion of a meeting of the Rising FM's special interest group held as part of the Fringe at last month's BIFM conference.
Sig chair Ismena Clout set out the key issues to the audience which included both those new to FM and what Clout described as "risen FMs" who then gave their views on the key challenges.
Delegates also heard from Sally Tombs, senior business services manager at Land Securities Trillium, about how BIFM membership had benefited her and how becoming involved in the London region and Rising Stars committees had inspired her and boosted her career.
The Rising Stars Sig was launched last autumn to bring together those who are keen to develop their career and are new to facilities management or the BIFM.
The group will hold a minimum of four networking events a year which will be open to all BIFM members. Two of the events will focus on topics that affect all FMs, one will include a building tour and one will be solely for networking and socialising.
Offsetting comes under fire
Is carbon offsetting the answer to climate change, or just a last resort? This was the debate explored at a lunchtime Fringe session at the conference.
The global regulated offsetting market is expected to be worth £68.2 billion by 2010, but the debate is raging amongst industry experts - should offsetting be seen as the last resort, or is it a way of taking immediate action against the effects of climate change?
Bill Sneyd, director of advisory services at The Carbon Neutral Company argued that there was no difference between offsetting or reduction, as both amount to the same end result. He said that offset-based approach is the most cost effective way of delivering the speed and reductions that scientists tell us that we need.
He then went on to debunk five other 'offsetting myths', including the fact that companies must choose between the two, and that reductions were somehow more 'credible' than offsetting schemes. "This simply isn't true," Sneyd argued, "Carbon credits have to go through more independent validation processes than most people realise."
"It's vital that companies have the courage to make stretching targets for themselves, and meet them."
Representing the other side of the argument, Neil McLocklin, director at green consultancy Corpra, said that carbon offsetting should be the last resort for any firm.
"It's true that offsetting has a role, but it can be a distraction for organisations - effectively, it is a way of paying for our sins," he said.
Instead, McLocklin said that reducing carbon emissions means adjusting our attitudes to the way that we live and work. This saves money, and the ripple effect means behavioural change which will benefit the planet in the long term.
Following both talks, and a Q&A session, the audience was asked: are you in favour of a carbon-offsetting, or reduction- based approach. Ninety five per cent raised their hands to the latter, suggesting that there is still much to be done before the offsetting industry gains the confidence of those working at ground level.
Education tops Global FM agenda
Last year, Global FM asked its members to name the hot topics in FM around the world, and 'education' topped the list.
This year, at the federation's 'Global FM workshop' held on the day before the conference in Oxford, the talk was of little else.
In 'Educating Rita - from local to global: the FM challenge', representatives from Global FM founder members BIFM, Ifma, FMA and the Association des Directeurs et Responsables de Services Généraux (Arseg) from France, as well as the Hungarian FM Society and newest member Associação Brasileira de Facilities (Abrafac) from Brazil, gathered to discuss the challenges facing FM education and training frameworks. Representatives from Ifma, FMA and Asset Skills, as well as Sydney University and fmedge consulting all gave presentations.
Professor Bob Grimshaw from UWE, referred to the "hard to define" nature of FM in his talk, 'Cradle to grave education in FM - a UK perspective'. Grimshaw tracked the development of FM higher education in the UK from the 80s, noting how academics from construction, surveying and architectural backgrounds were initially attracted to the broad and "people-focused" subject of FM.
"The FM intellectual agenda has moved on dramatically since then and it is underpinned by an even wider range of issues than before - technical, technological, cultural, and behavioural. That is why it is so difficult to pin down the subject into a standard curriculum," he said.
Question and answer sessions focused on whether FM can be regarded as a profession. Grimshaw argued that a profession was a role that had a wider impact on society, beyond the realms of a job's everyday remit.
"Read Ian Broadbent's column in FM World," said one audience member. "One in every two articles demonstrates that the FM's job impacts on areas that affect all of us - whether that's employee health and safety or the environment."
Peter Cordy, BIFM chair, added to the debate by asking everyone to consider how
FM contributes not only to a business's profitability but to people's everyday lives, and the environment.
"We have to think about the wider reach of facilities management - and its real impact upon the issue of sustainability."