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How has COVID-19 impacted FM’s views on environmental sustainability?

13th October 2020

No sector has been completely spared the impacts of COVID-19. And while we’ve all felt the changes in how we live and work, few professions have been able to observe these changes as clearly as workplace and facilities management.

So, along with the Institute of Workplace & Facilities Management (IWFM), we surveyed the profession and received an impressive 345 responses—including in-house facilities managers, outsourced providers, product suppliers and consultants—mostly in senior and middle management, to get a sense of the perceptions of, priorities around and barriers to sustainability. You can find the report here.

The layer cake of sustainability

Overall, even in what the IWFM has appropriately described as “turbulent times,” sustainability remains important to organisations large and small. 74% of executive managers, 73% of middle managers, and 82% of FLM staff consider sustainability to be very important.

According to the surveyed professionals, the barriers to a sustainability practice are predominantly practical—financial constraints (86%), structural constraints (77.1%) and time constraints (70.4%) are the top challenges the organisations they work with face.

That’s not to say the business case for sustainability no longer needs to be made. Financial constraints might be an issue of perception—we know from working with customers across sectors that sustainable initiatives can improve operational efficiency, decrease utility consumption, and lead to both cost savings. But lack of awareness of innovations and best practices (70.9%) time constraints, lack of business-wide understanding (66.8%) and lack of awareness about sustainability remain key organisational challenges.

Embedding through the layers

Encouragingly, a noticeable improvement the IWFM has observed is a 26% increase in the perceived importance of sustainability (“very important”) by line managers and staff in the past two years—jumping from 56% to a formidable 82%. While Inenco tends to highlight the need for board-level buy-in to a sustainability strategy as a first step towards success, the goal is embedding sustainability throughout the many layers of the organisation. An increased sense of sustainability’s importance across teams is crucial to a feeling of personal investment in its implementation. We’re seeing change happen, and it’s not solely at the top.

Sharing the spotlight

Overall, while the realities of the “new normal” haven’t overshadowed sustainability, the report suggests that what had previously been a strong focus on the quantifiable, carbon and utilities-focused aspects of environmental sustainability (the “E” in ESG) has now expanded to the more subjective areas of physical and mental wellness and personal development.

How do we keep environmental sustainability relevant?

We often tell our customers that there’s no avoiding environmental sustainability. It’s true: consumers demand it, investors increasingly make decisions based around it, and governments are legislating towards it—with the UK setting a global example in its pace and level of commitment.

The real question is: how do organisations embrace and hold onto environmental sustainability, even in turbulent times?

Data & Engagement

In our role as an environmental sustainability consultancy, focusing on topics like decarbonisation and green procurement, we spend a great deal of time working with customers on goal-setting, measurement and KPI’s. That’s because, when embarking on a journey with a long time horizon—often looking towards 2030 or 2050 when crafting strategies—we need objective measurement to help determine our success along the way.

But we know, just as our clients do, that there isn’t a point at which environmental sustainability is simply achieved. Despite the very necessary focus on metrics and performance indicators, environmental sustainability is a process and way of working that we hope to embed and help evangelise within the organisation, so that all decisions, across all levels of organisation are made with sustainability in mind. That’s why board-level buy-in is so crucial, and line-manager and staff-level awareness is so encouraging.

In these turbulent times, the best way to make a case for environmental sustainability’s strategic importance is by demonstrating results. Focusing on good data to inform clear KPIs aligned to working hard to ensuring stakeholder buy-in at all levels; seems a good place to start.

To find out more about how Inenco can help your organisation on the journey, please contact us on 01253 785294 or email us enquiries@inenco.com