Thinking deeply about sustainability by Stephen Brown

Thursday, June 11th, 2015

Stephen Brown

Stephen Brown

By Stephen Brown (FM-adviso, Ltd.) & FMCC STAG Member  11 June 2015.

In aggregate, I have spent more than three weeks of my life under water:  20-70 minutes at a time. SCUBA diving in tropical climates has provided me a respite from the challenges of the work day and has revealed a completely different, some say alien, environment. There are marine creatures of every color imaginable. There are fearsome creatures to be respected as well as cute little fishes (think of the movie ‘Finding Nemo’), and there are some oddities that have evolved within their environment (suggested to look up STONE FISH).


Stephen Brown: “Thinking deeply about sustainability…”

As a SCUBA Divemaster, my responsibilities include assisting certified instructors to impart knowledge of safe diving to the new divers and to guide the newly certified divers about leaving ‘nothing but bubbles’ when underwater. Beneath the sea is a special eco-system where man is only a visitor. The diverse aquatic life – including fishes, corals, sponges, shrimp, lobsters, turtles, and much, much more can be dramatically impacted by careless or wilful actions. By example, some corals only grow a couple of centimeters in 25 years. Simply touching them can cause a long-term decline in health or worse. When you consider how the various marine creatures rely on each other for food and shelter, a seemingly inconsequential amount of damage caused can have a huge ‘domino effect’ of adverse ecological impact to the entire life-cycle in the sea.

In turn, these impact in the sea systems can affect mankind. A loss of coral reef can expose the shore to increased ravages of wave actions. Many of us have watched the waves roll to the shore and considered how peaceful and relaxing the waters appear. What many people do not realize is that the waves also include powerful movement under the water. Perhaps you have been wading at the sea shore and felt the raw power of the waves as they roll in. This force of water motion is generally equal under the water as is the visible rise and fall of waves on the surface. When the coral reefs are healthy, they serve to interrupt the flow and to diminish the power of the waves with result to protect to shore from erosion. If the reefs are in decline, the waves can scour the sea bed and break the coral apart. This permits the waves to maintain their force and travel farther onto the shore. Persons who live along the coasts can be exposed – especially during storms and other tidal events. As an extreme example, recall the tsunami events that devastated the coasts of Thailand and Japan a few years ago.

Sure, one diver who breaks a piece of coral is not going to be a singular cause of coastal devastation. But the cumulative effect of ecological damages resulting from pollution, over-fishing, and other factors adds to the risks from ozone depletion. This depletion is forecast by some scientists to cause a global elevation of sea level with dire risk to low-lying islands and coastal areas.

The shock of relocation…and urgent actions to follow

After a long-term assignment in the Middle East, last week I have relocated to the Caribbean. I have greatly anticipated being near to more than 300 identified dive sites. Whilst also prepared for the adjustment to drive with the steering wheel on the right and almost daily rains during this season, in other regards, it has been a huge shock.

  • I was paying the equivalent of US 46₵ per gallon for petrol/gasoline and now it is the equivalent of US $5.47 on the island (almost 12x more expensive).
  • Electricity was approximately 6.4₵ per kWh and now it is approximately 33₵ per kWh (about 5x more expensive).
  • Water sourced from desalination plants is comparably expensive (within 15%) in both locations:  equating to 6-8x more expensive than the US average.

As a facilities professional, I have been very conscious of sustainability, but it is easy to understand why my mindset for utility conservation has quickly become re-focused. This cost differential has caused me to reflect on more efficient use of resources. An attitude of urgency was born to reduce or eliminate wasteful consumption and spend.

A quick audit was made to define the options. As result, the ‘low hanging fruit’ actions were completed. Lighting was upgraded with CFL’s and LED’s. Programmable thermostats were installed, and the water heater is now on a programmable timer. Low-flow fixtures were already in place, so I am exploring the latest options for further reductions of water usage. More upgrades are planned.

The continued need for change

In the months prior to return to the Caribbean, I had a few occasions for travel in the Middle East, Europe, and North America. I visited some sites that were very proactive with regard to energy management. What I also noted was there is still a long road to travel to get much of the built environment to a preferred level of energy efficiency.

I saw T-12 fluorescent tubes still in use, toilet fixtures without low-flow valves or fittings, a lack of controls for HVAC and lighting, and operational standards/settings that failed to deliver efficiency. Worse, I noted maintenance failures to make these conditions even worse. These sites were quite diverse and included universities, private enterprise, and governmental lease buildings. Why have these sites been overlooked or ignored?

I was reminded of the ocean wave actions. Recall that the unseen part of the wave is what can cause negative impact. Perhaps the owners/operators only see part of the picture.

  • They recognize the utility expenses are ‘too high’, but are concerned about costs for upgrades or retro-fits.
    • The unseen part of the wave is ever-increasing utility costs and the financial penalties for wasteful consumption.
  • They are aware of wasteful operations, but don’t appreciate the quick pay-back that can be realized by effecting positive changes.
    • The unseen parts of the wave include environmental matters (like mold) when air infiltration is excessive; or increased waste fees from use of paper towels instead of air hand dryers; or failing to set back thermostats during unoccupied times.
  • Some may be ‘penny wise and pound foolish’ – simply trying to realize rental income with minimal or nil investments.
    • The unseen part of the wave can include deterioration of the building systems, diminished rental rates, and reduced tennant occupancy. Also, there is missed opportunity to reverse these losses and to increase the profitability of the site.

Being ‘champions’ for sustainability

Similar to the earlier observation about one diver breaking a piece of coral not resulting in coastal devastation, one FM Professional is not going to immediately overcome the inaction or apathy of some building owners/operators. For note, contact was made to a few of the sites referenced prior. One responded negatively, but others were receptive to varying degrees. More follow-up is needed.

United as a group, FMCC and IFMA can have a notable impact.

  • As a consultant, you advise, guide, and instruct. As individuals, we can contact the unknowing or unwitting owners/operators and offer the benefit of our knowledge and expertise.
  • As part of the larger body of IFMA, we display professionalism that can be viewed as ‘leading by example’. The consultants are the ones who are called upon to be leaders and counsel on the actions to be taken.
  • The parent organization of IFMA provides an even more significant forum for interaction with all manner of persons / groups / business leaders / government leaders / etc. that can impact change.

We are part of a formal movement to support facility sustainability. It is time to think deeply about how we can effect greater changes for the benefit of the FM Industry and for our respective organizations.

Bloggers Bio:

Stephen Brown

Stephen Brown, CFM, FMP, SFP, CPE, CBCP, CESCO, REM CEO, FM-adviso, Ltd.

After a successful career in stateside facilities management, Stephen Brown assumed a position with an international portfolio. Since that time, Brown has held senior posts in the Caribbean, UK/Europe, and the Middle East. After more than 20 years managing the built environment for both private and public sector organizations, Brown founded FM-adviso to support organizations with specialist and credentials training in addition to consulting on operational efficiencies, outsourcing, policies and procedures, contract management, environmental matters, and emergency response / business continuity.

Brown earned an MBA after undergraduate work that combined studies in Architectural Technology and Business Management. Qualified as a trainer for IFMA and DRII credentials programs, he has been published and has been an instructor for other environmental, emergency response and disaster preparedness training programs.

For more than eight years, exceptional studies have been applied to refining two key facility assessments – IAQ (indoor air quality) and Business Continuity Management.

Active in IFMA program development activities, Brown has earned IFMA Certified Facility Manager®, Facility Management Professional®, and Sustainable Facilities Professional® credentials. He also holds Certified Plant Engineer, Certified Business Continuity Professional, Registered Environmental Manager, and Certified Environmental and Safety Compliance Officer credentials.

With more than 25 years managing and advising on the built environment for corporate, public, and academic settings in the US, Europe, Caribbean and Middle East, he has a diverse background of successes to draw from.

Recognized as a Subject Matter Expert in the field of Facilities Management, he has contributed broadly to professional credentials and certification programs.

In parallel, Brown has devoted efforts toward Disaster Planning, Emergency Response, and Business Continuity activities as well as keen attention to environmental matters, energy conservation, and to maximize efficiency in all aspects of the delivery of Facility Management services.

Credentials and Certifications held include:
- Certified Facility Manager
- Facilities Management Professional
- Sustainable Facilities Professional
from International Facilities Management Association

- Certified Plant Engineer
from Association for Facilities Engineering

- Certified Business Continuity Professional
from Disaster Recovery Institute

- Registered Environmental Manager
- Certified Environmental & Safety Compliance Officer
from National Registry of Environmental Professionals

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