COP26 And What The Built Environment Can Do To Assist With Climate Change Targets

A city landscape with grass in the foreground In this article, Ewan Henderson, Senior Consultant at Control Risks talks about how facilities management can help create greater sustainability and increase social responsibility to deliver net-zero solutions.

For the first time in more than two decades, this year's COP summit, held in Glasgow, Scotland, dedicated a day to the subject of cities and the built environment, and the contribution this sector makes to global emissions.

Cities and the built environment account for nearly 40% of global energy and activity-related emissions, around 10% of worldwide employment and approximately 50% of global wealth. Without concrete actions from the built environment, the set target of "holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels" will be hard to achieve.

Nevertheless, despite being a significant stakeholder (and contributor), the built environment, and therefore facilities management, is often overlooked and not included in negotiations despite its unique capability to deliver net-zero solutions. The built environment offers many solutions needed to tackle climate change while concurrently advancing social and economic development. For that reason, the inclusion of the sector in this year's COP was significant. However, having been in the spotlight and centre stage, it is time to deliver.

What does this mean for facilities management, and how can we work towards creating greater sustainability, increasing social responsibility while lowering our exposure to risk and reducing our sector’s carbon footprint? There's an old saying that goes, "there is only one way to eat an elephant: a bite at a time." Clearly, this isn't to be taken literally; no-one is encouraging dining on elephants, but it is good advice about tackling a massive project. Achieving net zero, increasing our corporate responsibility and reducing enterprise and environmental risk without significantly impacting the bottom line may seem daunting, overwhelming, and even impossible. But it can be accomplished gradually by taking it on just a little at a time, in bitesize chunks.

Nobody has the entire roadmap. This article isn't written to provide all of the answers; however, it gives some guidance on tackling the issues and working towards successful results.

Working with specialist consultancy firms, facilities managers can identify ways that a specific or desired outcome from a project can provide value and results outside the original scope. The immediate benefit of this is amortising cost, but other less tangible benefits pay dividends in the mid-to-long term. For example, in the built environment, safety and security planning at the earliest stages of a construction or regeneration project allows adequate and aesthetic security controls to be designed into the project instead of applied to a finished product. As well as creating safe and secure environments, this approach reduces cost in the short term by recycling byproducts of the project and negating the need for excessive security architecture, such as bollards and fences. Earlier involvement by facilities management in the design and renovations process also ensures the project brief is informed by aftercare and vice versa, which can impact efficiencies.

In the mid-to-long term, unobtrusive security and safety controls increase the vendors' marketability of the product, driving consumer desirability, promoting the vendors' reputation and increasing their market share. Blending in innovative green technologies and sustainability strategies at the earliest stages of a project, you have a blueprint for a new environmentally safe, secure, and sustainable living model.

But what about the existing built environment? Higher utility costs, energy price volatility, market controls on our carbon use as well as current and future legal compliance all place additional pressures on property owners, managers and occupiers. Furthermore, energy use has become an essential element of the corporate profile. As a measure of corporate responsibility, energy contributes directly to brand image and is increasingly used by investors to indicate business efficiency.

Where there are many different interests in how a portfolio is managed, the challenges of change initiatives are magnified, from the practical and financial challenges property managers face in delivering energy-related savings, such as embedding good energy management practice into the day-to-day work of teams, to the difficulties in creating the right performance environment, incentives and training for all building users. The methods necessary to achieve the solutions, assurances of cost and management of other risks that ensure swift project implementation must be understood, and identification should be the first step in developing a strategy.

Effective and experienced leadership for carbon management must be translated into practical, embedded approaches that satisfy all parties: developers, property owners, landlords and tenants alike. Facilities managers need to be looking into sustainable incremental changes at the tactical level that filter up to positively impact and address strategic corporate and environmental objectives. Moreover, while COP26 brings environmental issues to the forefront, these issues should not be viewed in isolation and are closely intertwined with other social and governance risks within the broader arc of environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG). A true sustainability strategy needs to be balanced between the E, S, and G, and trade-offs and interdependencies should be understood and addressed. Companies can be more successful at managing their overall exposure and making a case for change internally by identifying risks in their outward impact on the environment.

Frequently referred to as a critical enabler of optimum performance, automation resources keep assets across a building portfolio running optimally for longer. Building management systems (BMS) and building automation systems (BAS) are the backbone of a real-estate portfolio's lifecycle and are the way forward for ensuring significant cost savings and energy/emission reduction. The alignment of corporate and environmental risk can be cited within the business case for investing in BMS/BAS and used as a tool for business development.

Facilities managers must commit to evaluating, checking, and executing building performance plans set against energy-use reduction targets over time. These plans should include preventative maintenance schedules to ensure asset optimisation and clear objectives for ongoing engagement with end users/occupiers.

Concurrent to exploring and enhancing automated solutions, facilities management must invest in their human capital by implementing skills and training plans for employees to understand energy targets and plant maintenance requirements for net-zero archetypes. Ongoing collaboration between procurement and operations teams is required for identifying eco-friendly alternatives to commonly used chemical-based products and reducing risks associated with health, safety and environmental issues. As with the aforementioned elephant, the key to success is bite-size chunks that embed themselves in the corporate and operational culture and become second nature in day-to-day work.

Every little helps, and by 2025, a designated milestone, facilities managers should be in a position to report on performance against these plans and be able to demonstrate significant progress within the ongoing management of existing/future assets that will drive low-carbon, sustainable and environment-centric decisions.

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COP26 And What The Built Environment Can Do To Assist With Climate Change Targets