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How FM is Helping Create a Carbon-Neutral Workplace


A sustainable building icon
Image: lumerb - Alamy Stock Vector
When it comes to bringing about a sustainable future of work, workplace leaders across all departments need to each do their part, finding ways to cut carbon from their processes and the products/services that they use. In many ways, facility management (FM) professionals have a particularly important role in reducing carbon, as they are often on the frontline of making small and large changes that can significantly reduce carbon use in a workplace.
The International Facility Management Association (IFMA) — a membership-based professional organization for facility managers — recently held a two-part video discussion (click here for part one and here for part two) with Dean Stanberry, the first vice-chair of global board of directors for IFMA, where he shared his insights on how facility management can actively work to create a more sustainable, carbon-neutral future for workplaces.
Starting with several term definitions, Stanberry began by describing net-zero carbon as "achieving the balance between the amount of greenhouse emissions [produced] and the amount removed from the atmosphere." Stanberry admitted that the term net-zero can be a bit intimidating, and people tend to see it as moving from the "the current state to this net-zero state in one giant step." To make the task of reducing carbon less intimidating, Stanberry suggested the term “pathway to carbon neutrality,” depicting an ongoing journey towards net zero.
When it comes to actually finding ways to cut carbon, Stanberry noted that this is accomplished in two ways: removing greenhouse gases and reducing existing emissions. Currently, technology doesn’t exist for large-scale carbon removal, but facility managers have a range of options to reduce carbon within their day-to-day practice.
For instance, FM professionals can everything from furniture, paint, concrete, and even the vehicles used to maintain a facility, Stanberry said. Working with suppliers to select eco-friendly products (which might cost the same or slightly more) and finding ways to bulk purchase supplies to minimize transportation and packaging are two ways that FM professionals can cut down on carbon.
Adjusting the operational hours for energy-heavy systems like commercial heating and cooling is one area where FM professionals can actively reduce carbon. In fact, the commercial sector accounted for 18% of the total energy consumed in the U.S. in 2021, as the U.S. Energy Information Administration reported.
"Armed with basic building performance data, and occupant or production patterns, an FM can fine-tune the operational hours for heating or cooling, which reduces energy consumption, thereby reducing energy cost and reduces carbon emissions. This is a relatively low-cost option," Stanberry noted.
On top of these ways to reduce carbon, FM professionals are also responsible for arguing for upgrades and preventive maintenance projects like replacing old systems (HVAC, air filtration, etc.), even if those projects don’t generate revenue. In these cases, Stanberry suggested making an argument focusing on the risks to the business from not making the upgrade.
"What's the risk of your air handling system going down? You can't occupy a building if there's no air moving in it," Stanberry said. "Those are the real risks that you need to describe to the executives so that they get a sense of why we need to spend the money.”
While all these changes can be a lot to take in at once, Stanberry reminded facility managers that carbon neutrality is a "transition that occurs in phases." As the real-world impacts of climate crisis come into sharper focus, more workplaces will need to make that journey to carbon neutrality and start the transition from one way of working to a more eco-conscious one — but facility managers have the opportunity to lead the way.