Benchmarking for sustainability

Why benchmarking is a powerful tool in an age of rapidly changing demands.

Businesses today are under enormous pressure to be environmentally aware, socially conscious, and respond accordingly to new sustainability regulations.

This can relate to waste management and recycling, cleaning, energy usage, and transport. And with the facilities management (FM) sector responsible for many of these areas, it is understandable why the industry is under pressure.

In this article, we will discuss the challenges that facilities managers face in making processes more sustainable, what this means for the FM industry in 2020, and how benchmarking can provide a mix of quick fixes and long-term solutions.

Making processes more sustainable

The issue of sustainability has sparked enormous creativity and innovation that is translating into a host of adaptations and novel technologies. Smart buildings and sensors, for example, allow organisations to adapt to occupancy rates and energy usage.

But the workplace is a complex system and any changes can result in unforeseen knock-on effects. For example, some businesses offer remote working as a means of reducing emissions from commutes.

With more people working from home, less waste is produced by the building. A failure to modify waste collection accordingly will lead to over-scheduling, wasting money, and producing unnecessary emissions. It is vital that as our buildings become more complex, our understanding of them develops in parallel.

FM team adaptation

While a business may write sustainable development into its mandate, it is the FM team that will likely have to adapt to many of the resulting changes. Whether integrated under a single contract, managed together, or entirely separate, each team providing an FM service must ensure provisions are agile and continually improving.

Sustainability issues have become front-and-center for most organizations in recent years, yet it is becoming more and more challenging for FMs to respond effectively.

Fluctuating market conditions (such as those caused by Brexit), tightening budgets, and employees requiring new skills and training to work with changing technologies and expectations, are all barriers to incorporating sustainable practices.

Increasingly, FM teams recognise the importance of the triple bottom line (people, planet, and profits) and are aligning their practices with their organisation’s corporate agenda.

However, even where a focus on environmental and social well-being is implemented, a one-size-fits-all solution is not good enough. The needs of an organisation vary and will evolve as it grows and develops. A well-integrated and effective FM team – outsourced or in-house – will adapt and evolve alongside.

Benchmarking is a useful tool

Identifying how well an FM team is able to provide an agile and personalised solution is no small feat. Benchmarking can provide an independent and objective measurement of how well an FM team responds to the needs of a site or organisation.

The outdated view of benchmarking is that it is a tool in the race to the bottom–a means of finding the cheapest option. That is far from the truth, especially in an age where corporate social responsibility is taking the limelight.

At a basic level, best practice benchmarking involves comparing like for like across an industry. The process will look at an entire solution, such as cleaning or waste management, and account for factors including service standards and specifications, staff training, wages, social value, and overall productivity.

By compiling a wealth of data that an organisation is not even aware it is lacking, benchmarking can identify specific actions for an organization to take in order to significantly improve its day-to-day functionality and sustainability.

The softer side of facilities management, such as training and staff engagement, can be benchmarked and improved, especially when measured over a longer period of time.

Regular benchmarking allows the assessing organisation to identify the less quantifiable impacts of solutions that have been implemented.

For example, a greater focus on engaging with the circular economy and prolonging the lifecycle of products, may save money and emissions, and may encourage the engagement of staff members who believe in and care about sustainable practices.

By repeating the benchmarking process over several years, businesses can collect data that has a wider frame of reference. As technologies evolve and legislation changes, it’s essential to continually measure and adapt.

Generally, benchmarking every six to eight months gives an organisation a comprehensive overview of the change management process and enables it to reach a level of best practice. This is more important than ever with client and customer expectations continually rising.

Benchmarking is a powerful tool that offers an objective perspective on business practices. Expert advice and independent credibility are assets not to be underestimated in an age of rapidly changing demands.

Mike Boxall is managing director of Sitemark, the FM best practice benchmarking company.

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