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Facilities Management’s Role in the Sustainability Process


Higher Education Facilities Leaders at colleges and universities need at the forefront of the sustainability process. Approximately 80 percent of a university’s emissions are the result of physical-plant activities, which means the facilities manager’s role is crucial as a resource and expert on campus utilities and physical operations.

Facilities Management has what the Office of Sustainability needs – an organized and segmented list of campus projects with cost estimates. Not only does Facilities Management have the list, but they also have knowledge and experience with project execution and sequencing that others do not. Assembling a project list is both an art and a science. Most assessments contain detailed project deficiencies for campus buildings and infrastructure, but need greater analysis and organization to have an impact on both the physical space and sustainability.

To be an effective tool for campus and capital allocation, a capital plan has to be designed to build a constituency at the three “B’s” — boiler room, budget, and board room. The plan has to anticipate upkeep of core systems, help drive strategic capital investments, and persuade the board (or sustainability committee) by underscoring long-term impacts on finances, safety, upkeep, and sustainability.

Unfortunately, in today’s economic climate, the second “B” — budget — is becoming more difficult to manage as competition for campus dollars intensifies. Both capital and operating budgets are being cut, which means that fewer projects on the list get financed. Without informed discussions, core infrastructure projects are bound to be deferred and opportunities to reduce emissions may be lost. But if projects are explained persuasively, decision makers can gain a broader strategic view of the campus and its needs. The key is to think of the project list not as a technical tool but as a rich source of knowledge for sustainability committees that can lead to more informed and successful climate-action plans.

So what’s the next step? First, get organized. Review your project lists and categorize each project according to its impact on sustainability. Understand that maintaining systems to last a long time is itself a sustainable step, as important as a project that lowers energy consumption. Create discussions on “pre-investment projects” – efforts that are designed to trigger a new direction in mechanical systems (i.e., building a chilled water loop that links several buildings, rather than replacing separate chillers in each). Finally, get members of the sustainability committee to join you in making the case for campus stewardship and investment in campus infrastructure. Projects that save energy and preserve building envelopes are the same projects that reduce carbon emissions.

(c) 2009 Anthony R Stack

About the Author

Tony Stack is the Managing Director of BeyondFM. With over 25 years of facility management and real estate strategy and operations experience in the higher education and corporate world, Tony has worked with Facilities Leaders around the globe to develop business processes that position facilities groups as change leaders. He has been instrumental in the development of several large scale facilities strategies for Universities and Colleges based on demographic and economic change drivers and brings insight into the way technology and business process can be blended to enable and support change.




  1. John Clark | TRIRIGA says:

    Great write-up.

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