Does FM fail the green test? Herpreet Kaur Grewal finds out.
06 January 2020 | Herpreet Kaur Grewal
Stories about how facilities management companies are striving to be greener are a pretty regular occurrence. For example, Wates Group recently appointed independent social enterprise Planet First Energy (PFE) to help the company to reduce CO2 emissions and meet its long-term sustainability goals.
Facilities management firms are clearly making an effort, but research commissioned by commercial drainage expert Metro Rod shows that the profession is among the worst when it comes to negatively affecting the environment.
This is ironic, given that it is facilities management departments within any company that are usually tasked with enacting change in this area.
The study conducted among more than 2,000 UK-based workers asked which environmental practices they partake in while in the workplace.
When workers were asked how easy their company makes it to be environmentally friendly, the social housing sector came out on top - 73 per cent of people said their employer makes it easy or very easy to be environmentally friendly in the workplace. This compares with only 36 per cent of people who work in travel and tourism.
The results determined which industries are having the most detrimental impact on the environment. Sales, media and marketing were the worst for environmental effects, followed by FM, travel and tourism and manufacturing.
The list took into account a range of environmental practices.
These included recycling, trying to use as little paper as possible (for example, only printing when absolutely essential), switching off all appliances at the end of the day, separating glass, plastic and metal from other non-biodegradable waste for recycling, unplugging phone chargers, enabling power mode for appliances used intermittently, such as photocopiers and monitors, and enabling power mode while at lunch.
The research also looked at which sectors are most likely to use plastic cups and cutlery - it discovered that local authority employees and those working in education use the least. Human resources workers, meanwhile, were found to use the most - 62 per cent admitted using single-use plastics in the workplace. A fifth of people also admitted putting grease, fat, food and wet wipes down drains while at work - something that can cause huge problems for the UK's drainage network.
Looking at who was responsible for guaranteeing that workplaces remain environmentally friendly, all sectors across the board said they believe it is up to senior management; almost half of respondents (46 per cent) stated that the management and owners of companies should take ownership of best environmental practice.
Peter Molloy, managing director at Metro Rod, said: "In general, we spend over 40 hours per week in the workplace, which is a considerable portion of our time. This means that there is significant potential that our collective activity at work has been impacting the environment more than we ever previously realised. And this is becoming a major part of a much wider problem.
"From using excessive amounts of paper to putting wet wipes in our drains, it is clear that the eco-friendly practices that have been adopted in our personal lives have not quite been translated to the workplace and this can cause serious problems for our environment.
"We're making a serious call for organisations to reinforce the collective responsibility we all have to protect the environment from a business point of view, to ensure our UK workforces are playing their part in future-proofing our local and national eco-systems for many years to come."
Julian Fris, director, Neller Davies, said: "There are many examples of where companies in the FM sector are leading the way in terms of minimising their environmental impacts, with a great deal of innovation being showed across many disciplines.
"As an industry which manages buildings, it is natural for occupants to attribute waste and environmental impact to FM teams.
"However, true reduction of environmental impacts can only be achieved through fostering a culture of collaboration across all departments. It cannot be seen to be solely the responsibility of FM teams."
Earlier in the year, research by video production group TopLine Film found that company-wide commitments to sustainability help both to attract and retain employees.
But other research states that workers are less likely to display 'green' behaviours if companies do not encourage it. Metro Rod's own research from August suggests that workers do not act in an environmentally responsible way at work despite doing so at home.
A study published in Science Direct journal in 2011 states that employees act worse at work because they don't have a financial incentive to do otherwise. Most do not know the energy spend of their firm, equipment is often shared so there can be a lack of responsibility and employees can't control many of the elements that could make a difference to energy and resources use, such as heating or lighting.
So how can FM companies encourage 'green' behaviour? The Science Direct journal study said feedback and peer education led to a 7 per cent and 4 per cent drop in energy use - so small-scale policies that affect behaviour really can work. But leadership is also essential; if chief executives show a commitment, employees are likely to follow.
The full list, ranking sectors from best to worst in terms of their eco-friendliness:
1 Social housing
7 Local authority
8 IT and telecommunications
9 Retail, catering and leisure
11 Arts & culture
13 Travel & tourism
14 Facilities management
15 Sales, media & marketing