FM Frequency: Big Swings At Budget Time!

By Jeff Crane, P.E., LEED® AP
Published in the September 2005 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

We’re often reminded that, after staff salaries and benefits, corporate America typically considers facilities as its single largest operating expense. As health insurance and energy rate increases continue to outpace inflation, HR and facilities managers face enormous pressure to reduce and contain costs. To improve profits or simply to survive, many companies have been downsizing, rightsizing, outsourcing, outtasking, over working, and overwhelming staff since the dot-com bubble burst.

A few autumns ago, this column analyzed the various stages of budget season and compared them to football season. Since summer is officially over and that special time of year is again upon us, I want to express my support and fellowship with all the facilities professionals working hard to develop excellent 2006 budgets. If your company tackles this responsibility early in the year and you are already finished with budget work, you’ll probably feel the need to save this column for next year.

Folks, budgets are a very serious responsibility and as such, I would like to offer some very serious suggestions for saving some very serious money. You must remember: big dollars require big ideas. Are you with me? Let’s cut to the chase and focus on three of the biggest line items anyone of use has to deal with.


The dirty little universal but unspoken facilities secret about electricity, water, and gas is that we know we don’t need them. We only buy them from the same supplier month after month because we like our account reps. Many of my articles in TFM have focused on incremental improvements in the control and cost of utilities. But let’s face it—that was the product of an engineer’s typically small minded, logical thinking. Let’s swing for the fence people—let’s go long! We want creative solutions and we want to change facilities paradigms—now. We won’t be happy shaving a couple hundred KW here or saving a few thousand KWH there. We want to eliminate annoying utilities expenses from our P&L statements. Rate hikes, fuel surcharges, and curtailment options—none for me, thanks!

Most of you have windows in your buildings. Most of your employees don’t get to work until after the sun rises and they go home before the sun sets, so what’s the big deal? If people want light, they can bring battery powered lanterns or wear miners’ hats with lamps on them. Think of the incredible teamwork fostered as cubemates adapt to their new reality—what a nice bi-product of efficiency.

Imagine all the money we could save for our stockholders without utilities. No more re-lamping projects or mercury concerns. Without heat and HVAC, people would finally dress according to the weather and in layers. We could eliminate the cost and worry associated with gas leaks, water fountains, toilet clogs, cold calls, tripped breakers, elevator entrapments, microwave hit and runs, and equipment maintenance contracts. At last, no more nasty e-mails and threats about space heaters.


Take it to zero. This could easily be handled by the staff as another “team building” project. This would make another huge dent in operating costs. Again I say swing for the fence. People would learn to clean up after themselves or they would come to a utopian socialist agreement on a certain level of filth in the work areas. Without water (see utilities note above), we could convert the rest rooms to maximize the square footage and install desks around the decorative water fountains in the men’s room. Then everyone could walk outside to enjoy the fresh air while taking advantage of the natural facilities. Non-smokers would finally get to see what it’s like outside during the work day.


Here is another unnecessary expense for many companies—do you sense the opportunity? Get rid of it. How many of us actually bush-hog paths in order for staff to reach the building? Let the grass grow or even better, pave over turf and let the wildflowers bloom through the cracks. Think about how easy it would be to maintain. No more expenses for pesticides, fertilizers, or chemicals. No more screaming two-cycle engines futilely trimming weeds only to return the following week and repeat the ritual of cutting them down again.

Our facilities could be at one with nature. Ants, roaches, and a variety of rodents would be welcomed to help with the natural removal and digestion of trash (see cleaning note above). We could save a LOT of money while issuing press releases about our commitment to the environment. The stockholders would love it. It’s win/win/win!

What about employee satisfaction? Hey, stop thinking about HR issues—we’re talking about the facilities budget. Maybe if enough people leave the new “workplace au natural,” HR can finally satisfy its budget objectives.

What about computers and phones, you ask? Hey, that’s the IT manager’s problem—we’re talking about facilities. Speaking of IT, they had better get ready. They’re about to become the second largest operating expense.

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