From Where I Sit: Doing Less Bad Is Not Doing Good

By Tim Springer
Published in the June 2006 issue of
Today’s Facility Manager

The title of this month’s column, “doing less bad is not doing good,” comes from the seminal work by William McDonough and Michael Braungart’s Cradle To Cradle. I strongly urge everyone to read this book. It not only lays out a new way of thinking about what we do, how we make things, and how we can be more eco effective, it speaks to how facility managers (fms) can increase the positive impact of what buildings are and how they are operated and managed.

The notion that if someone is doing something wrong—like littering or polluting—doing less of it just isn’t good enough. This seems like common sense. But as Voltaire once said, common sense is not so common.

From where I sit, the news is alight with information and misinformation aimed at scaring the bejeezus out of you and me and everyone else. Headlines read like something out of a bad “Twilight Zone” episode. Our oilman chief executive sounds like Jimmy Carter in the 70s recognizing “America is addicted to oil.” GM realizes that when gas is over $3 a gallon, maybe betting the future of the firm on selling huge SUVs was not a great strategic decision. Ice caps and glaciers all over the world are melting as fast as the Devil’s ice cream cone. Crude oil prices have topped $75 a barrel—nearly twice the price where alternatives such as ethanol and bio diesel are economically viable. And following one of the most expensive winters in history, fms are bracing for even larger increases in fuel oil and natural gas while fighting for every budget dollar.

With news like this it would be easy to become despondent (if not suicidal) about the state of the world and facility management’s (FM) place in it. But remember a few things. Good news doesn’t sell, and the way “crisis” is written in Chinese requires two characters side by side: one means danger and the other opportunity.

The opportunity for FM lies in leading the sustainability movement. FM is uniquely situated for this role.

The life cycle of buildings is longer than almost any other resource of an organization. Consequently, FM professionals are, of necessity, more attuned to long range thinking. They are used to considering outcomes that are far removed from immediate decisions and actions. Also, decisions made by FM professionals have direct impact and implications for how well an organization does with regard to energy usage, waste, conservation, and other indicators of eco efficiency. Not only is the ball in their court, they can make the rules!

The danger for fms in the “green” movement and the race for sustainability is the paralysis of analysis. While LEED certification is a wonderful thing, process or certification must not stand in the way of doing something now.

Fms should be both cautious and excited about the place they hold in the present and future global crises. Cautious because those who will survive, succeed, and thrive will need to exercise skepticism about what can and, more importantly, cannot be done. Excited because some pretty smart and impressive people believe this is the threshold of a new economic era—where conservation, sustainability, renewable resources, and elimination of waste will become not just watchwords, but central to the way of business.

Businesses will need to examine at a very detailed level where energy and materials come from, where they go, how they are used, and whether or why some of it must be wasted. Who better than the fm to lead the way?

As professionals with responsibility for input to—and making of—decisions regarding energy, materials, conservation, waste, and sustainability, fms need to be smarter, more enterprising, and even more willing to take calculated risks than anyone else.

Sustainability serves as an umbrella term for all the associated elements of ecological effectiveness. It also presents significant opportunity for fms to couch their value to their organization and to the larger community in terms that go far beyond the traditional measures of cost.

Real economic impact will, if it is not already, be determined not only by the so-called “Wal-Mart” model of lowest cost at any cost, but also by metrics of lowest ecological impact. Fms need to be able to initiate and lead the debate over how best to address the problems associated with traditional modes of operations and the values inherent in more ecologically effective, environmentally sensitive ways and means.

A brief look at the issues reveals two key truths. First, few simple answers can solve the very complex problems. Second, the outcomes are deadly serious. Sustainability, perhaps more than any other endeavor, is a long journey, so it must begin with small steps. Doing something, provided it delivers benefit, is better than doing nothing.

When it comes to the environment, we are all in it together. To solve our problems will require new ways of thinking, new ways of acting, and new tools, techniques, and technologies. It also requires thinking about others—something FM professionals also do better than most anyone else in an organization. So, whether as an individual you decide to drive a hybrid car or eat organically grown food, or as a professional you convince your organization to reuse waste heat, explore alternative fuels, or lower emissions from processes, you can and should take the lead.

Why? The stakes are high but the rewards are higher. If looking for role models of how FM can make a difference, fms need to look no further than the present and past TFM Facility Executives of the Year. These gentlemen—Stu Carron and Ward Komorowski–exemplify the promise of FM coupled with a passion for leading their organizations toward improved eco efficiency.

FMs of the world unite! You can save the world, one square foot at a time.

Springer ispresident and founder of Geneva, IL-based HERO, inc. andfrequently writes and speaks on a wide variety of issues affectingorganizations, work, and workplaces. For past columns from Springer, go to From Where I Sit and for future musings from Springer, visit his Web site.