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Beyond FM: Meeting the Sustainability Challenge

First published in Workplace Futures 2012 White Paper

It may be that the only people who care about the future of Facilities Management are those in the Facilities Management industry. There is certainly neither proof nor reason that our clients much care about how our services are described, packaged or formulated. For them, all that matters is output: what do we contribute to their organisation’s objectives and ability to deliver its core services?

And so for any discussion about the future of FM, we risk talking only to ourselves – a most self-indulgent and dangerous behaviour which could lead to us forgetting that our customers are, and always will be, our raison d’être.

Let us therefore consider not where FM is going, fascinating as we might consider that discussion, but where our customers are going, and where there might be an opportunity for FM to go as well. In doing that, I don’t want to lose sight of the great changes that have been made to move what we do from simple single service propositions towards an integrated service offer. But it is worth challenging some of the assumptions that have arisen in the last 5 years or so,  which I believe have  created an artificially limiting set of options for clients. For example, it seems to be widely believed that these are mutually exclusive alternatives:

  • Workplace management or Facilities Management
  • Tactical delivery v. Strategic contribution
  • Operational Stability v. Service Development
  • Risk minimisation v. Value Add
  • Local v. International Sourcing
  • TFM v. Single service
  • In-house v. Outsourced provision

In fact, I believe these are simply poles on a broad axis of options available to service users, and that in practice the vast majority of organisations use combinations of these factors from different sources at different times, to achieve their objectives as operational circumstances change and their challenges develop. The only “wrong” answer, I suggest, is in being too wedded to any one of the above options – which is why we believe that intelligent independent advice is needed to help frame decisions on how to obtain FM service delivery.

By this point , you may be wondering what any of this this has to do with Sustainability.  And the first response is that, if  the FM industry is to have a sustainable future then we need both to foster a more flexible set of offers from the supply chain, and to encourage our clients to be less prescriptive in the models they adopt, making their choices on the basis of informed options, not “one size fits all” solutions.

More fundamentally, though, the FM industry does have a serious problem. Its services are being rapidly commoditised – the “value add” driven out, often because benefits of integration have not been demonstrated, or perhaps because some parts of the supply chain focus on “service delivery solutions: and not on the management elements of facilities. Clients too are culpable in not obtaining the best outcome, by consistently seeking the cheapest solution rather than the most effective option, and by engaging in short term relationships which detract from the ability to gain understanding of an orgasniation’s needs and strategy. Whoever you think is responsible, the basic facts for the FM industry are undeniable: margins and profits are being driven down, relationships are short and change too often, and our collective value proposition is evaporating: cost cutting and cost control is what we offer, and rarely more than that.

And so, eventually, we come to Sustainability. I believe that in most organisations, the delivery of sustainable goals is achieved through the FM activity. Although most organisations are focussed at the moment on carbon reduction, where Facility Manager’s ability to drive reduction in energy consumption and to source low carbon materials is vital, carbon is obviously only one part of a Sustainability programme. Again, Facility Managers often have the key role to play in formulating and delivering policy objectives: our skill set and motivation, along with our pivotal position in organisations and our long-standing commitment to reducing waste gives Facility Managers a unique opportunity to be the leaders in this activity.

However, I have argued before that there is more to this than just Sustainability: a large part of the Corporate Responsibility agenda can be discharged by Facility Managers. If you think that is fanciful, consider how closely our combination of People, Place and Process[1]  mirrors the “Triple Bottom Line” :

Figure 1: The IFMA definition of FM:

Screen Shot 2013-05-17 at 09.11.40

Figure 2: The Triple Bottom Line

 Screen Shot 2013-05-17 at 09.13.21

Imagine, if you will, that we take off the blinkers that we have created for ourselves by talking about Facility Management. Think not about what we do – forget cleaning, security, catering, and maintenance. Forget office and factories and shopping malls and so on. Rather, concentrate on the skills and processes we employ, the strategic planning that we do … and apply those to the planet.

Doing that, imagine us as stewards of the planet – at whatever level we actually work, just think of what we do as being about helping our organisations to act as responsibly, towards all their stakeholders, and towards the world we inhabit, while still contributing towards commercially or economically viable operations.  We can, if you like, call that Responsible Management. And I suggest that Facilities Management as an industry, profession or discipline (as you prefer) is uniquely placed – with the processes, skills and commitment – to deliver Responsible Management techniques. That opportunity, to seriously add value to our organisations and create a truly sustainable operating model for them, is one we believe that our industry must embrace if it is to have a future of its own. And while that future of FM itself may not matter to our customers, what we can do should – if we work together to articulate it.



© Dave Wilson, 2012

[1] The IFMA definition of Facility Management