Of the many possible definitions of sustainability, this one seems the best: “A state in which the demands placed on the environment are met without reducing its capacity to allow all people to live well, now and in the future.”
Sustainability in Facilities Management
One group that takes the challenge of environmental sustainability is facilities management and maintenance. Managers of building complexes, college campuses, and other large facilities have embraced the critical nature of the concept and are making huge differences with their decisions and actions.
Supporting sustainable practices became easier as ecologically positive and equally effective products became competitively priced. Earth-friendly cleaning materials and solvents, paints and fertilizers, and recycled and recyclable materials have replaced traditional chemically harmful products in many cases.
Sustainable Goal #1: Protect and Conserve Water Supplies
The challenge of conserving water has been a significant priority for facility managers. Today, buildings are designed with low-volume water fixtures. Water-efficient faucets, laundry equipment, no-flush urinals, lower water usage toilets (1.28 gallon/flush) and dishwashers have reduced usage dramatically. Outside low-volume irrigation systems using recycled non-potable water that reduces wasteful watering have been incorporated. Since success cannot be determined without measuring, wireless meter systems have been installed throughout campuses and office complexes to monitor efficiency. As a result, adjustments can be made quickly to bring a faulty component into conformity.
Using chemical fertilizers that leach into the soil and eventually flow into our rivers and streams have been replaced by safe organic products, compost and mulch that do not harm the water supply. This change, plus efficient watering, have resulted in beautiful and more sustainable landscaping at lower cost. Landscape designs today consider optimal placement and watering requirements to minimize water usage.
Sustainable Goal #2: Use Environmentally Safe Products to Reduce Air Pollution
Air pollution resulting from the use of petrochemicals is a widely discussed topic among facilities managers. Methods and systems have been adopted in new construction and retrofitted to older buildings to reduce the emission of harmful gases into the atmosphere.
One product, BioStripe®, is a biobased and sustainable marking paint used to stripe parking lots, walkways and other surfaces, is produced from soybean oils. This low-VOC (volatile organic compound) product does not produce the harmful emissions while drying as traditional petroleum-based paints do. Sustainable, low-cost and durable, BioStripe® is replacing conventional paints in many locations around the country.
Sustainable Goal #3: Adopt Efficient Energy Programs
The top LEED–certified buildings of today are not only constructed with recycled materials, but they also are incorporated with a variety of sustainable energy systems. Methods such as employing more efficient heating and cooling systems, closing curtains to preserve temperatures, altering lighting patterns inside and outside during less busy periods, changing to more efficient lighting systems and other sustainable practices are being incorporated.
Some universities have been at the forefront of energy conservation by developing, testing and implementing some unique, high-tech systems to manage and minimize energy usage. Facilities managers at the University of Iowa has adopted some specific programs:
- Energy Audit Program: electronic system to collect data and identify energy-saving opportunities
- Chilled Water Optimization: effectively improves HVAC system functioning with less energy
- Steam Trap Maintenance Program: buildings where steam is used for heating, the system reduces energy usage by 5-10% by trapping steam that previously had been escaping
Simply put, what we consume today should not degrade our resources to the extent that our progeny will struggle to survive. Polluting the atmosphere, spoiling the water supply, and consuming natural resources without replacement are non-sustainable activities and cannot continue without jeopardizing future life.
What sustainability goals would you add to the three above? Share your thoughts below!