On sustainability what you contract for is what you get

Shaun McCarthy
7 August 2014

8 August 2014 | Shaun McCarthy

Shaun McCarthySeeing the blanket coverage of the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow gives me a sharp reminder that the London 2012 Olympics are becoming history.

However, the lessons of history can provide us with clues to the future. There is no doubt that the ODA, under the combined leadership of Sir David Higgins and Sir John Armitt set unprecedented levels of sustainability for the Olympic Park and other permanent venues. Through rigorous management of the supply chain these were achieved, leaving a legacy of great sustainable buildings and infrastructure. But during the Games, energy consumption was not well managed, the energy plan wasn’t implemented soon enough, the Games energy team was recruited too late and venue managers were inadequately trained.

This behaviour is replicated across much of the built environment sector. The construction industry is making progress in delivering more sustainable buildings, but do those buildings actually perform as they were designed? According to the British Institute of Facilities Management 2014 sustainability report “over 30 per cent of respondents stated they do not compare the building’s energy performance over time externally with other buildings and nearly half do not know how the actual performance compares with a designer’s claims for its performance”. This is set against a backdrop of the highest ever number of respondents considering sustainability to be extremely important or very important (34 per cent and 42 per cent respectively).

The reasons for this disappointing statistic are many and varied. The report has much to say about supply chains. “Sustainability initiatives, particularly those involving outsourced providers, must be clearly set out in the contract. Otherwise, the survey shows, they will be overlooked”. Clients have a big responsibility here, what you contract for is what you get. I recently helped a major FM client evaluate tenders for their FM contracts, I asked one of their potential suppliers about their carbon strategy in an interview, their response was “we are thinking about getting an electric van”. They didn’t get the job, but how many clients ask - or contract for - hard sustainability performance? Not many I suspect.

To quote Gareth Tancred, the CEO of BIFM: “It is up to facilities managers to make better use of the measurement tools that exist, and deliver hard, granular data that makes a compelling case for the even greater levels of sustainability that all of us wish for”. I couldn’t agree more.

☛ Shaun McCarthy is director of Action Sustainability

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