Sustainable facilities management has never been more crucial

24 October 2019

Simon Biggs, Monthind partner and director, looks at the importance of sustainable facilities management, and in particular how contract cleaning providers should support and advise organisations to consider their environmental impact when it comes to cleaning, maintenance and refuse disposal

Considering the environment, particularly when it comes to waste, is not a new initiative, but it’s a message that is receiving more media coverage and one that has an increasing impact on the decision making of potential customers and employees, particularly millennials

Reducing carbon footprint and minimising environmental impact isn’t just an ethical practice for a business, it makes economic sense, and should be the foundation of a business’ Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) policy. A proactive and positive CSR policy will incentivise business and tender opportunities, improve recruitment and staff retainment, and boost PR opportunities. CSR covers a plethora of initiatives including green transport, fundraising activities and pastoral care for employees, but for the purpose of this article we will concentrate on those affecting the cleanliness of your workplace. 

Where to start

First of all, as is the case with all projects, you need to find someone to champion the cause. If your environmental drive is going to succeed, you need someone who is passionate about the environment and reducing carbon footprint, and who can influence change amongst their colleagues.

Once you have identified that person, make sure they have management support and a budget to get things off the ground. A time-bound action plan with achievable tasks is a good start and tackling something familiar that won’t require dramatic change works well.

An incentive can work really well. A company we worked with pledged to put all the money saved on printing and paper over the course of a year into a fund. The staff appreciated the resulting all-expenses-paid trip to Dublin and have continued to use resources mindfully. 

Get recycling   

An office of 100 people produces an average of 20 bags of waste a week, which would be more palatable if it wasn’t for the fact that more than 90% of office waste can be recycled. A large proportion of office waste is paper. Surprising, in this age of cloud storage and paperless processes, isn’t it? So, what can you do to reduce the waste of paper in your business? 

Paper is expensive, so, start by asking your procurement manager to produce a report on usage per department and check for any discrepancies. Change the printing process so that staff activate from the printer and not their computer. This will reduce the number of duplicates printed and prints not collected. Place recycling bins in prominent places around the office and remove under desk waste bins. If staff have to get up from their desk to dispose of rubbish, they are more likely to put it in the appropriate recycling bin! This additional activity ticks a box for time away from their screen too. 

Recycling food rubbish correctly will reduce the risk of pest infestation and its associated impact on health and safety. The other big waste categories for offices are packaging (particularly plastic and glass) and IT equipment. Check that your contract cleaner or facilities management company holds the relevant licenses and ask them to organise recycling or disposal.

Get networking

How much of your rubbish could be used by others? Local playgroups or schools may be able to use some of your waste packaging, particularly cardboard and paper, for their arts and crafts. Your defunct IT equipment may be years newer than anything they have. By building relationships with local schools, charities and community groups you may be able to recycle more effectively and raise your profile with a large number of potential stakeholders. 

What are you cleaning with? 

Although environmentally friendly cleaning products may cost a little more to purchase, you may not have considered their return on investment. Cleaning agents can have a huge impact on indoor air quality and the gases they omit (volatile organic compounds, or VOCs) as well as odours, can aggravate respiratory problems such as asthma as well as exacerbate skin allergies. It only takes a few resulting staff sickness-related absences before the annual cost of eco-friendly products pales into insignificance.

Improving the air quality improves workplace productivity too, so the benefits continue to stack up.

Is your contract cleaner green?  

If they are, they will be more than happy to tell you! In fact, they will probably be very enthusiastic to share their knowledge and experience with you to help you improve your CSR. Depending on the size of the company, they may be able to provide many of the recycling services you need, within their contract. From providing the appropriate recycling receptacles to waste accredited IT asset disposal, ask if removal of recyclable waste can be added.

Talk to your contract manager about the chemicals used in your regular cleans and whether changes could be made to protect the environment further. Ask whether you can incorporate relevant sections of their CSR policy with yours, even if it’s just an online link.     

 A good contract cleaner and facilities management provider should be part of an organisation’s team but is often unnoticed as they work in the background. Their good practices and additional services can contribute to improving businesses’ environmental policies. 

What difference can I make?

It doesn’t matter what the size or nature of your business, we all have a responsibility to do what we can to protect our planet. If you think you are already doing everything you can, you may be able to help other local businesses to improve their CSR. If you are a contract cleaning or facilities management provider, then talk to your clients and potential customers to find out how you can help them. Don’t forget to regularly review your own environmental policy and those of your suppliers to make sure you are doing everything you can.