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Sustainability: The FM industry's growing mandate

Sustainability is one of the most important aspects of business planning, especially for firms operating in the facility management industry, as energy and water consumption in the Arabian Gulf continue to increase on the back of growing populations.

"The bottom line with sustainability is that it saves a building or hotel money by dramatically cutting utility bills while promoting environmental awareness and corporate social responsibility at the same time as keeping guests and shareholders happy," Markus Oberlin, chief executive at facility management specialist Farnek Avireal told Zawya.

"Prudent return on investment and reduced energy consumption have never been higher on the business agenda for local industries, especially hospitality," Oberlin said.

Improving professional competencies, understanding, knowledge, and skills is necessary if facility managers are to identify the right approaches that add value to their organization's sustainable developments, added Mick Dalton, managing director of Musanadah FM, Saudi Arabia, and IFMA Foundation's liaison for the Middle East.

"The challenge lies in identifying sustainability drivers, best practices and issues that maximize the great opportunities while minimizing the risks," Dalton told Zawya.

"Facility managers have been inundated over the past several years with information about green and high-performance buildings. Most of the attention of the green movement in buildings has been on the design and construction of new facilities," he said.

"However, the facility manager is faced with the challenge of ageing facilities that are far more costly and time-consuming to make more energy-efficient and sustainable. Beside, FM professionals continue to face numerous challenges such as rapidly changing contexts, tighter legislation and the ever-widening of responsibilities. They have responded by creating facility related sustainability programs."

The Challenge of Legacy Structures

According to Dalton, existing buildings remain the biggest challenge and the largest potential for energy reduction, conservation of resources, and improvement of work-place productivity worldwide. Recent and ongoing financial challenges in organizations around the world pose significant difficulties in making existing building stock more sustainable, he said.

"Sustainability is defined as the ability to meet our needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs. Over the past several decades, we have increasingly measured governments, industries and businesses by their commitment to sustainability. Traditional financial measures of success are being supplemented with social and environmental standards.

"Now, these entities are being held accountable for their impact on people and the environment. The so-called 'triple bottom line' is the effect of everything we do on three critical facets of life and work in the modern age: the social, environmental, and economic impact of life on earth. The annual reports of the organizations we serve as facility managers are just as likely to contain statements about environmental impact and corporate social responsibility as they are to report bottom line financial results," Dalton said.

In the Middle East, governments are looking at energy conservation issues as the norm. "In the UAE, we have Estidama and its Pearl Ratings in Abu Dhabi. The Saudi Building Code (SBC 601) for energy conservation is being updated and should be out by 2013 as a mandate. In the rest of the UAE as well as the Gulf, you can see LEED projects," Dalton said.

Meanwhile, the Qatar Sustainability Assessment System (QSAS) of 2010, renamed GSAS (Global Sustainability Assessment System) in 2012, is a comprehensive assessment scheme that was developed after in-depth studies of 40 green building codes from around the world. This certification is now mandatory in all private and government sector projects. In October 2012, the Saudi Green Building Forum and US-Saudi Arabian Business Council will sign an agreement in Riyadh to improve business opportunities between both countries by facilitating two-way exchanges of expertise and technology in the green building industry.

"In general, sustainability tends to be overlooked in favor of design and aesthetics. The UAE is clearly leading the region in terms of sustainability, with the introduction of LEED building standards and Green Globe certification for the hospitality industry. Both the Abu Dhabi and Dubai governments actively support sustainability with the stand-out project clearly being Masdar," Oberlin said.

"At present, it is operating and maintaining buildings or facility management that has taken the lead in sustainability - often as a result of an energy and water audit highlighting the huge savings that building owners can make by adopting a more sustainable practice. However, rarely at a design stage do we see plans that accommodate or complement the sustainable operation of a building," he said.

A Successful and Sustainable Business Model

According to Oberlin, there are many aspects to a successful, sustainable business model and product development, in which solar panels and LED lights play an integral part. "Many clients may not realize that there are coatings for buildings that dramatically reduce the amount of heat it absorbs and also reduces its carbon emissions. Window technology has also improved from triple-glaze and reflective self-cleaning glass to simple and cost-effective linings, which can lower inside temperatures considerably," Oberlin said.

"Water savings can be made by attaching faucets to taps and installing artificial grass and putting covers over swimming pools to reduce evaporation. There are air conditioning energy-saving modules on the market, which can be attached to the main chillers, regulating the range of temperatures a room is allowed to reach before the A/C is automatically switched on or off. That can save enormous amounts - up 20% in certain cases - of energy, considering that 40% of a building's energy use is through air conditioning. All these measures are reflected in the savings made on the utility bill at the end of the month."

Dalton added that developers in Qatar and Saudi should take sustainability more seriously and the GCC market should look at sustainability as a whole and not just as benchmarking schemes. "Yes, we have a few projects, such as the King Abdullah Financial District in Saudi Arabia and some progressive urban transport systems, which are opting for LEED. In fact, we are now seeing governments invest in metro systems. Today, sustainability is mostly LEED or Estidama," Dalton said.

"FM companies are still not making sustainability an integral part of their service. Many offer energy management as a niche service while some FM consultants do LEED assessments."

Oberlin suggested that sustainability be worked into the early design stages of a building. "That is the stage at which we can provide professional advice on how to make sure the building is extremely energy efficient, which in turn will save the developer money. At the moment, this is not happening." Consequently, when the building is handed over and becomes operational, issues arise that manifest where budgets were compromised at the early stages of development.

Opportunities in 2013

Business opportunities over the next one year in the GCC for facility managers, in terms of the sustainability sector, will depend on government legislation. "In Saudi, a raft of new legislations will come into place over the next 12 months with energy conservation building codes and related legislations to save energy," Dalton said.

Oberlin believes business confidence in the market for 2013 is good. "More and more developments are coming online in 2012 and 2013, which will need professional FM. The market is very competitive and interesting at the moment as there are new companies starting business on a monthly basis. Also, I believe the FM industry has hardly touched upon sustainability, which will gain in importance for existing and start-up companies in the future."

In July, the Middle East Facility Management Association told Zawya that its current membership count is now well over 500, representing some of the largest and most respected facility management operators, suppliers and owners in the region.

Dalton recommends that facility managers support the development of a sustainable workforce through the staff and contractors within their management remit by providing a conducive and safe work-place and associated facilities for the rest of the organization. "Additionally, assessing the sustainability performance of your organization's supply chain is an essential step towards developing a climate change strategy and managing business risk," he added.

In January, a Jones Lang LaSalle MENA report noted: "The role of properties' sustainability characteristics will play an increasing role in leasing and investment decisions, growing from a marginal criterion to a critical decision-making input. Such concerns will force greater transparency of energy efficiency and green building benchmarking."

Change is inevitable. How developers and facility managers respond will determine the sustainability not only of the planet but also their businesses.


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