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Low carbon, hot topic

7 April 2011

Natalie Li

Collaboration is key if facilities managers are to achieve a low carbon economy – that was the core message from the London First spring conference last month.


In a keynote speech on the business of retrofitting, Chris Smith, director of the Eco City Programme at GE stressed to delegates that collaboration was both key in the behavioural aspect, through education, but also in terms of systems and processes.
It was a theme echoed by many of the keynote speakers. “We need to bring people together. Consumer engagement is a must to achieve a low carbon future,” said Sara Bell, UK Power Networks.

“What is learnt in London can be transferred to the rest of the world,” she said. She described how UK Power Network launched the Low Carbon London project which will run until mid-2014. The project will see the company working with Transport for London and electric vehicle owner groups to explore how best to meet demand from the country’s anticipated growth in 
the use of electric vehicles.

This encouragement to view the wider picture was emphasised by Pip Errington from EcoXchange, who urged FMs to think about the importance of low carbon as a real business driver.

“In my experience, buyers and directors simply don’t understand a lot about a carbon footprint and its impact – modern management must develop an awareness of this,” she said.
Regulatory compliance and legal requirements all appear to be key factors in driving a low carbon workplace but Errington added that stakeholder expectation, investors and employees all expect a responsible attitude from employers. Errington stressed the importance of removing ‘green speak’ from business language in order to engage all parties.

But what else can FMs do to drive down carbon emissions? Chris Smith from GE told attendees that green refurbishment is potentially becoming the only thing that needs to be carried out in a building. Refreshed lighting, voltage optimisation and solar PV (photovoltaic) can all play its part.

The retrofitting market is fast emerging but there remains barriers in raising funds, concerns about performance and the lack of an integrated approach. Smith gave an example of a successful retrofit at Lloyd’s Avenue where upgraded HVAC and tenant based control (heating/lighting) was put in place, reducing energy by 25 per cent. 
He also highlighted Skanska research from March 2011 where 71 per cent of respondents feel that an integrated and planned approach 
is necessary.

“Legislation demands retrofits, the time is now and we need to give it authenticity and deliver tangible benefits,” he concluded.

Cost concerns

But it was cost which proved to be the pressing concern for FMs. With public sector cuts imposed by government, how would FMs find the funding for green projects? The new Budget announced after the conference could put FMs minds at ease in the knowledge that the chancellor, George Osborne, announced £3bn investment from 2012 onwards for green projects.

Sustainability consultant, Paul Appleby, in his opening address to the conference, said change in government would provide both a challenge and an opportunity. 
He agreed that it was a complicated market for funding but reassured FMs that when carbon construction becomes the norm, the cost will fall through demand.

Integrated sustainable design for buildings is key, and government has a big role to play, he added.

With an eclectic mix of speakers throughout the day there were plenty of opportunities to hear about data protection from Yag Kanani at Grant Thornton, through to the value of district energy schemes from Simon Woodward at Cofely. But in this mixed bag came a few questionable sessions. Robert Guice, executive vice president from Shred-it, spoke in the morning about how to ensure supply chain excellence when developing an outsourcing strategy. He pointed 
out that it made good business sense for companies to pay close attention to their green agenda. He talked about how suppliers could engage with customers. But some attendees felt the session was far from enlightening, almost turning into a sales pitch.

However, the importance of a low carbon economy was certainly driven home. It was an inspirational closing address from James Close, a partner at Ernst & Young, which left delegates with food for thought.

Low confidence
An Ernst & Young survey released in December last year showed that confidence in the cleantech sector was faltering. The study, which surveyed 529 UK-based corporates, financiers and cleantech companies found that just 13 per cent of respondents believe the government will establish the conditions for success in the cleantech sector in 2011.

When Close asked delegates whether they were optimistic about the future of the clean technology (cleantech) sector – he was met with a crestfallen silence. The majority were neither optimistic or pessimistic about the potential benefits of cleantech. Confidence is fragile with the Comprehensive Spending Review dealing a worrying blow to confidence, admitted Close.
“But Cleantech has phenomenal growth potential and opportunities are within our grasp, not just for the UK but for business and clients,” he enthused.

“We have to ensure there is a long-term plan which can drive a transformation in our built environment. Growth does not come without your ambition and urgency.”