Thirty five years ago this month, 20 million people across the United States participated in the first Earth Day demonstration. In a call for the government to step up its regulation of pollution and acknowledge the harmful effects on the environment and health, these people participated in coast to coast rallies on April 22, 1970. At a time when many corporations were dumping waste into bodies of water and using landfills with minimal regulation, Earth Day provided the spark that launched what many refer to as the modern environmental movement.
Today, another movement is on the rise—sustainability. Sustainability refers to the concept of procuring products and services that have a minimal, if non-existent, impact on the environment through energy efficiency and resource conservation efforts.
Facility professionals have long been proponents of efficiency, primarily for economic reasons. And with the current focus on creating sustainable buildings, they may have their work cut out for them if they want to effect change. Taking action can range from installing an energy efficient HVAC system to purchasing furniture that is recycled–and recyclable.
Environmental responsibility may not be new to the facility management profession, but as the movement continues to go mainstream, environmentally friendly products and services are increasingly available. Still, once a facility manager is on course to pursue a sustainable building, he or she may face challenges, such as identifying truly environmentally friendly products and services and justifying the possibility of higher costs often associated with green products and services.
Research And Resources. The fact that suppliers for virtually all areas of facility management offer items geared toward sustainability can be a mixed blessing. While one might not need to search very long to find a desired product or service touted as sustainable, discerning the degree to which it is environmentally friendly can be another task.
Checking for third party certification of a product is one way to tackle this issue. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) defines a third party as “a person or body that is recognized as being independent of the parties involved, as concerns the issue in question.” In other words, the certifying parties do not benefit financially (directly or indirectly) from awarding the certification.
Another approach is second party certification, which is performed by a party interested in the process, such as a trade association. Last is first party certification, where the manufacturer or other directly involved party declares the environmental benefits of the product.
Moving past products, if a facility manager is searching for ways to lower energy usage, there are other resources to consult. Take, for instance, the Energy Star® Program administered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Launched in 1992, the program aims to help consumers identify energy efficient products. Since its inception, Energy Star has prompted numerous manufacturers to design products that meet its standards, and facility managers have purchased many of these products as part of their quest to increase energy efficiency.
The reach of the Energy Star® Program extends to the more recent U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rating system. LEED certification is a voluntary, consensus-based national standard for developing high performance, sustainable buildings.
Facility managers already using environmentally friendly practices may view LEED certification as a venture that requires them to duplicate or adapt efforts. However, in many instances, current practices fulfill some LEED requirements. For instance, if a facility participating in the EPA Energy Star® Program has achieved a Performance Rating of at least 60 (on a 1 to 100 point scale), that fulfills one of the requirements for “Minimum Energy Performance” in the LEED EB (Existing Buildings) rating system. Here, the challenge is often categorizing existing practices to fit LEED ratings.
Cost. Another challenge familiar to most facility managers is keeping costs down. The notion that it costs more to implement systems that conserve resources (such as energy) and to purchase green products contributes to the institutional inertia sometimes encountered. In the recent survey conducted by Allsteel and TFM, 52% of respondents noted “prohibitive cost” as the largest barrier to adopting sustainable concepts [see "The State of Sustainability" insert, found between pages 36-45 of this issue]. However, the true cost premium of green products and services may not be as high as many think. Further research into this topic may help to clear up misconceptions.
A factor to consider is cost savings over time. For example, installing a building system for efficient operation may call for a premium initial investment. However, by calculating savings that the system will provide over time, facility managers often find that savings will be substantial.
Decreasing the cost to the environment is another factor to consider. If, for instance, a recycled product costs 10% more than its non-recycled counterpart, budget conscious facility managers may opt for the less expensive choice. However, one should also consider the lesser impact the recycled choice will have on the environment.
Achieving a facility that is sustainable by design entails the consideration of many aspects. Each month, this column will address an issue that facility managers face in this arena. Whether or not the facility manager is familiar with the business of saving the earth–within a budget–there is always another idea on the horizon.