FM Frequency: It’s Not Easy Being Green(er)

By Charles C. Carpenter, CFM
From the October 2014 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

Being green has not been smooth sailing for sentinels of sustainability. From LEED certifications to Zero Waste initiatives, adoption is not always foolproof. While the facility managers (fms) and architects understand the task at hand, there seems to be a disconnect when John Q. Public gets involved. For all the best laid plans for green initiatives, it is the occupants that get in the way. Alfred Hitchcock once referred to actors as “that necessary evil,” and some fms may want to refer to their building occupants in the same way.

The success or failure of sustainability initiatives in a given facility may have more to do with the education and age of that necessary evil. With all the talk about five generations of people in the workplace, it is safe to assume that each brings their own green habits. For instance, younger workers, who may have had recycling in their schools—some of which may have been LEED certified—seem to be the greener group.

Something mysterious seems to happen when a plastic bottle becomes empty. It appears to go from a thing of value to a blight. It must leave the vicinity of the person whose lips were touching it mere moments ago (even in areas where a deposit is paid). If a recycling container is not at arm’s length, that bottle will often end up in a trash can. Some people act like walking five, 10, or 50 feet to dispose of refuse properly is like asking them to walk across Death Valley. Even with recycling numbers, kindergarten level composting instructions, and color-coded containers with item-shaped slots, getting the proper items in the proper container is nowhere near a 100% proposition.

Trying to have greener landscaping can also bring out the naysayers. And this is not referring to xeriscaping on the extreme end of the landscaping landscape; rather, it is the grass-must-be-green-and-cut-at-the-same-height crowd. Let’s face it; lawnmowers were not designed with emissions in mind. The less an fm schedules mowing, be it frequency or area, the greener he or she can be. Unfortunately, the appearance of an unkempt lawn will elicit e-mails from employees, voicemails from vice presidents, and notices from neighborhood associations. You can’t win for trying.

To strive for a greener facility, there are some things that fms can try. The U.S. Green Building Council speaks of Occupant Engagement “to improve the performance of the building by enabling energy efficient behavior in building occupants.” To begin implementing change or to keep momentum on existing initiatives going, consider the following tactics.

  • Create a Sustainability Committee. You can expect greater and greener success when you have occupant buy-in. This is also a great forum to develop future fms to lead.
  • Training. Besides training when a new building opens or a new energy saver comes online, employee turnover requires training to be regularly offered for employees and contractors.
  • Refreshers. Call it a sustainability drill. Just like regular evacuation drills, it never hurts to both remind and reinforce what occupants are supposed to do.
  • Composting. Large-scale composting is quickly becoming a big business. In most cases, a ton of compost costs less than a ton of trash, so you save money and reduce environmental impact. If a suitable composting service cannot be found, there are still opportunities for a facility to have its own small-scale operation.
  • Butterflies and Wildflowers. Planting wildflowers and, more importantly, letting them grow is a very earth-friendly strategy. While the reduced mowing reduces lawnmower emissions, the flora and fauna will think it is really great. You may need to invest in some signs that say “Butterfly Habitat” to cut down on the complaints about not cutting the grass.
  • Lose the Cups. Even if you offer compostable cups, the embodied energy in disposable cups can easily be offset by having occupants bring their own mugs. Besides, it is a chance to sport your “World’s Greatest Facility Manager” mug.
Charles Carpenter
Carpenter is site manager, global real estate for HP in Austin, TX. He has worked in facility management since 1995.

Whatever you try, it is largely dependent on occupants. Human resources will probably not support a plan where employee pay is proportional to facility diversion rates. It is also impractical to enforce a “you bring it in, you bring it out” policy for refuse. Occupants may need a lot of education to break their bad habits. Volunteers from the sustainability committee may need to be posted at waste stations to help distinguish trash, recyclables, and/or compostable materials properly. If a guilt trip does not work, bribery might. You can offer prizes or parties (hopefully funded by lower dumpster fees) for reaching certain sustainability goals.

The trick is you have to try. Grab the savings with lowest cost or the best rate of return. If occupants cannot or will not cooperate, you may need to pursue initiatives where they cannot affect the outcome. Whatever you do to be more sustainable, hopefully it will not leave you thinking occupants are a necessary evil.


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