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Net zero, emissions, penalties… sustainability is crucial for facilities management

Committing to sustainability helps facilities management teams play their part in meeting future aims.


January 12, 2022
January 12, 2022
By Emily Newton


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January 12, 2022 – Sustainability is a frequent discussion topic, especially as scientists increasingly identify adverse events traceable to climate change. Focusing on it could give facilities management professionals advantages over competitors, plus show they’re thinking about the future.

Show progress toward upcoming legislation

Many national leaders have introduced net zero emissions goals. Canada, for example, has set net zero goals for 2050. The country also has a legal obligation to create 5-year intermediary targets and continually review its progress. The Canadian government has also said clean fuel and electrification are instrumental in meeting its net zero goals.

However, the associated legislation does not include clear-cut information about what businesses should do to help meet that target. So while a growing number of companies are committing to net zero goals, there is a lack of enforced standards dictating what net zero actually means. Some business leaders admit they will, instead, invent net zero definitions for their companies.

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Government officials in the United Kingdom are also focusing on sustainability; from them, we can glean insights into what may be coming to Canada and elsewhere for non-compliance. In the U.K., representatives from the National Infrastructure Commission recommended that firms face fines for not removing all of their carbon emissions from the atmosphere, and foot the bill required to do the job. Facility managers should start acting now to curb emissions, thereby reducing the risk of penalties later.

On the path of sustainability

Even when a facilities management team does not consider sustainability a priority now, the people in power do. As they continue introducing policies to support sustainability goals, property managers can expect associated penalties for non-compliance.

As such, committing to sustainability helps facilities management teams play their part in meeting future aims. Without question, new rules and regulations will add costs for organizations. Still, it’s easier to manage those expenses by getting informed about effective actions businesses can take.

One way to do that is to track average emissions by sector. A company called Normative provides an emissions insights tool specifically for small- and medium-sized businesses in any country. Parties that make a net zero pledge get access to themed resources for meeting that commitment.

There’s also the Zero Carbon Building Standard from the Canada Green Building Council, which provides design and operational frameworks for achieving a zero-carbon goal, including choosing one of several energy efficiency pathways. Moreover, PwC Canada published a net zero content hub filled with recommendations for making progress on sustainability.

Finally, Canadian Business for Social Responsibility offers a net zero leaderboard that shows how businesses are progressing toward targets. Thus, opportunities exist for particularly sustainable facilities to get noticed for their respective efforts.

Encourage facilities managers to think about tomorrow

Taking a sustainable approach requires facilities management professionals to look at things with a long-term point of view. Succeeding in this aim could mean insisting on using durable materials during a building’s construction.

Although facilities managers are not usually the primary decision-makers for new construction, they can still participate in discussions and make the case for tough building materials being a more-sustainable choice over time. They make structures better-equipped for inclement weather, and could mean property managers have less damage to deal with after a catastrophic event.

Thoughtful retrofitting can also factor into a sustainable building, specifically using digital upgrades, like software and smart technologies, to manage energy use.

Examples of businesses offering such solutions

C3 is a company offering artificial intelligence (AI) software that purports to improve energy efficiency in facilities. Its product provides real-time data about energy and water usage, plus the associated financial and environmental-related costs. The tool also provides tailored recommendations for meeting energy and carbon footprint goals. The company claims its software can help you realize a 15% to 30% reduction in energy expenses.

Montreal-based Brainbox specializes in autonomous AI for commercial HVAC systems. This solution does not require sensors; it takes data from various sources—such as the building management system and access control data—to guide decision-making. It learns the norms for each of a building’s thermal zones and offers tailored optimization strategies.

One estimate from Schneider Electric suggests such digital retrofitting solutions give an investment payback in an average of 1 to 3 years compared to the decade it may take to see the result of, say, upgrading your insulation.

Choices like these help a management team build a reputation for thinking through the consequences of their actions. Selecting strategies that make sense both now and over time makes buildings ready for whatever the future holds.

Reduces unnecessary expenses

Having a sustainable focus does not guarantee immediate cost savings. However, it can when management teams make strategic changes.

For example, applying sensors to climate controls and lights could cut excessive usage. Those are readily accessible options, making them relatively easy to implement. However, it’s also wise to key an eye out for innovations that are not yet commercially available, but could eventually become future sustainable facility upgrades.

For example, under the leadership of Harmut Hillmer, researchers working at the University of Kassel have designed a smart window glazing made from thousands of micromirrors that are invisible to the naked eye. The coating reflects incoming light based on things like the season and the sun’s position. It also provides free solar heat in the winter, supports cooling in the summer, and optimizes a room’s natural lighting. The developers estimate this solution could deliver up to 35% energy savings, plus reduce CO2 emissions by as much as 30%.

In another instance, project leader Felix Bünning and his colleague Benjamin Huber led a team at the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science & Technology in creating a self-learning heating control system. Using AI, its operations are based on the previous year’s temperature data and the current weather forecast. Tests show that the setup used about 25% less energy than conventional counterparts while adhering to pre-set specifications for occupant comfort.

Genuine efforts are essential

The people working to make a truly sustainable venue cannot launch short-term or half-hearted efforts. Otherwise, the public will likely accuse entities of capitalizing on sustainability as a buzzword rather than a foundational value that guides the facility’s operations.

Thus, a facilities management team should assess which strategies will make the most meaningful changes for things like energy savings and emissions reduction. After determining those approaches, they’re in an excellent position to take strategic actions that truly matter.


Emily Newton is the editor-in-chief of Revolutionized Magazine, an online publication that explores innovations in the energy sector.