FM Frequency: Asking Tough Questions; Seeking Honest Answers

By Jeff Crane, P.E., LEED® AP
Published in the June 2008 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

Has anyone noticed that fuel prices are high and fresh water supplies are tight in parts of the country? Those may be silly questions with obvious answers, but it seems like tough policy questions are not being discussed. And it isn’t only politicians missing in action. Our industry’s self-appointed advocates are ignoring tough questions too.

Why am I writing about this? Because facility managers (fms) will soon be developing 2009 budgets, and we’re increasingly concerned about the cost of electricity, natural gas, diesel, gasoline, and water. We realize that political policies affecting utilities-specifically reliability and cost-ripple through virtually every product and service we purchase.

We need all of the candidates answering tough questions. But instead of engaging in debates and seeking honest answers on our behalf, facilities “advocates” seem content standing on the sideline soap boxes, pointing fingers and condescendingly reminding fms-with serial hand wringing and lamentations (accompanied by consulting fee proposals)-about the enormous quantities of energy and water our facilities waste each day.

We know that many facilities need operational improvements, and the rising cost of utilities has helped focus more organizational attention (and resources) toward these efficiency challenges. But the truth is this: competent and experienced fms are always working to minimize utilities consumption without jeopardizing occupant health or safety. It’s what we do. Telling a qualified fm to conserve utilities is like telling Tiger Woods to hit the little dimpled ball in the cup.

So which tough questions should fms and our industry advocates push to the front and center of political conversation this year? I suggest we consider the following:

  • Should the U.S. get serious about oil and gas exploration in North America?
  • Should we build new refineries to make the gasoline and diesel fuel required in order to lubricate the gears of our economy?
  • If fossil fuel based power plants aren’t desirable, should nuclear and hydroelectric power plants be fast-tracked into operation?
  • If nuclear and hydroelectric power plants are objectionable, what are the best viable and scalable sources of energy?
  • Should new reservoirs and desalination plants be quickly sited to serve areas with growing populations that are susceptible to drought?
  • Will energy conservation alone reduce (or better yet, eliminate) our dependence on hostile and unpredictable foreign governments?
  • Our current energy policy seems to focus exclusively on reducing demand with no discussion of finding more oil and gas supplies (which are, by the way, 100% organic and renewable). Considering the Earth’s diameter of about 8,000 miles, should we believe the only large deposits of these supplies are located under the Middle East and Russia?
  • In contrast to a “demand reduction only” approach, when we consider shortages of food around the planet, there is exclusive focus on increasing supplies. Should there be more discussion or legislation for “food demand reduction,” especially considering widespread obesity rates?
  • Should we quantify the amounts of energy, water, carbon dioxide, pollution, healthcare costs, and other raw materials associated with eating more than is actually required for personal sustainability? Should organizations that trade “carbon credits” similarly participate in “body mass index” credit markets for their employees, executives, and constituents?
  • Should developing nations stop improving their children’s lives because of the opinions of world experts and their allegations about carbon dioxide-the essential fuel for propagating anything and everything naturally green?
  • How are ethanol policies impacting crop land and food supplies that could be feeding human beings around the world? Is it true that ethanol requires more energy to produce than it actually provides?
  • Have environmental activists become too extreme? Is it acceptable for organizations to be intimidated, threatened, or bullied by environmental celebrities who consume more natural resources and energy in one week than most people use in an entire year?

On a personal note, I recently set a new record filling my SUV with regular unleaded. Before the hybrid owners pat themselves on the back for their fuel sipping transportation, consider a few more tough questions:

I live 12 miles from the office and probably drive my SUV about 8,000 miles per year. How does this compare to average driving habits? My SUV is eight years old, and I purchased it used. How much energy, water, glass, plastic, rubber, steel, aluminum, carbon dioxide, and pollution are required to build a new car, especially one shipped half way around the planet?

Speaking of impact, if my 5,200 pound SUV has a head-on collision with a brand new subcompact that gets four times more per gallon and both vehicles are traveling 45 miles per hour, which vehicle would the coroner consider the more sustainable choice for the drivers and passengers?

Feel free to send this column to your favorite politicians. If they’re willing to tackle tough questions, please let me know. It would be wonderful to have a few honest answers before going to the polls in November!

Crane is a mechanical engineer and regional property manager with Childress Klein Properties, a leading real estate developer and property managementservices provider in the Southeast.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the columnist and do not reflect the views of the editors, advertisers, and management of the magazine and its Web site.