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One of the ongoing ‘hot topics’ within the FM industry is that of achieving net zero carbon emissions, which is being driven by a growing number of client organisations and the larger service provider businesses.

Among the many aspects of this debate is how FM service providers and their clients can support each other in their aims around net zero, which may vary from the desire to understand the carbon footprint of their organisation, to reducing emissions and energy usage.

Due to the complexity of the topic and its various connotations, the FM net zero journey was chosen as the focus of discussions for the first roundtable event organised by FM Business Daily. Held at the impressive KI Europe showroom and office in New Fetter Lane, London, the event included a mix of senior representatives from large and SME-size hard service providers, consultants and client-side FMs.

Prior to the debate, the delegates enjoyed an impressive buffet lunch provided by Sodexo catering provider Fooditude, which received numerous compliments for the quality and taste of the freshly prepared meals. The more informal buffet-style lunch was also appreciated by delegates for allowing everyone to mix freely and get to know each other before beginning the discussion.

Everyone then prepared for the main purpose of attending, which took place in the KI Clubhouse, a new product about to be launched by the company and providing a fascinating early experience of the meeting room concept.

The debate quickly revealed the difference in attitude and approach to the net zero topic. While the larger service providers represented on the day were more aware and advanced in mapping out both their carbon footprints and working towards the net zero emissions target, SME businesses were less likely to have achieved this.

There were also wide-ranging divisions from those representing the client side of the industry, although this was not due to the size of the businesses in question. The differences in understanding and approach revealed by the opening remarks of delegates led to a general agreement that an overarching process should be provided by the government, with the aim of assisting a more coordinated effort from businesses.

Concern was expressed over the lack of involvement and support from the government, which was attributed to it being distracted by the Coronavirus pandemic and the various political upheavals and change of leaders last year. Bearing in mind the 2050 deadline for the UK to achieve its legally binding target to reach net zero carbon status, the urgency for making more notable progress is increasing, with just over 25 years left to make the significant changes required.

Suggestions to assist the government to improve its efforts to support businesses included increasing its levels of collaboration with industry bodies and associations, the majority of which were able to provide exemplary levels of expertise.

Another point of discussion included the advice from delegates to avoid relying on the method of offsetting carbon emissions by investing in relevant projects, such as tree planting, or purchasing carbon credits. With all service providers present on the day involved in the operation of fleets of cars and vans for engineers to attend sites, questions were asked about how it would be possible to achieve net zero for these companies.

There has been additional comment from industry experts advising against relying on purchasing carbon credits, as the price of these can historically be seen to rise dramatically as demand increases. This is likely to be the case as the 2050 deadline approaches and organisations seek to offset their outstanding emissions.

The use of entirely electric vehicles was considered impractical for those travelling long distances on a regular basis, due mainly to the lack of sufficient charging facilities. It was therefore stated that only marginal gains would be achieved through investing in electric vehicle fleets.

With several delegates reporting that they found identifying their Scope 1 and 2 emissions difficult, there was general agreement on the need for considerably more information to be provided to enable them to understand Scope 3. The creation of frameworks was deemed to be urgently required to provide a much more understandable means of reducing carbon emissions, both from an individual company perspective and for all members of the supply chain.

Another recommendation from delegates touched on the need for closer collaboration between all members of the supply chain to agree on the actions required to reduce carbon emissions. Among the various benefits outlined was the assistance this would provide to smaller businesses that did not have the same resources available as larger organisations, particularly in the area of net zero and the actions required.

For those starting out on the journey to reduce their emissions, the best-agreed method was to avoid trying to achieve too much. It was advised that the most effective route was to take small steps initially and focus on the easiest areas.

Further to this, it should be noted that the most successful projects were those that had been delivered on a localised basis, typically because they were easier to manage. It was additionally suggested that the majority of successful sustainability actions followed a similar profile and had been completed by local businesses, with the aim of assisting others in their immediate community.

While engaging with clients and supply chain members, each business should ensure that all colleagues were included in messages and the sharing of information, it was stated. With the advantages including improved sustainability and environmental credentials for those reducing their carbon emissions, raising awareness of these positives can encourage everyone in the business to increase their efforts to support all the processes employed.

Due to the high levels of complexity surrounding the net zero journey, it was decided that organisations should not expect to achieve the completion of their actions without significant levels of effort and investment. The discussion then turned to the potential of legislation to drive higher levels of compliance and reduction of carbon emissions.

With no financial penalties currently in existence for large organisations failing to comply with reducing their emissions, smaller companies should be aware of the risks that they may be exposed to by investing too much resource into this area. On a more positive note, there is significant potential for service providers to advise and influence their clients, which could then lead to additional benefits – such as increasing the scope of contracts and the gaining of new business – when applied correctly.

This led to debate about the higher levels of appreciation from clients and real estate investors in the value of buildings and how to protect this. Significant increases in WELL Building Standard accreditations had been recorded in recent years, it was stated, and it is highly likely that this will continue and combine with carbon emissions, becoming one of the most important factors in building management in future.

The ability of service providers to assist in the building and maintenance of facilities with low carbon emissions was seen as another means to raise business activity levels. The growing focus on embodied carbon, combined with the fact that the majority of the UK’s commercial buildings will need to be refurbished before 2050, means that those able to provide the necessary support services are likely to see rising levels of demand.

Case study articles within FM Director have supported these views, with the examples of the two libraries in the December/January issue being the most recent of these. Both have recorded significant levels of energy usage and carbon emissions reductions through refurbishment initiatives, particularly in the case of Swiss Cottage Library., The National Library of Scotland, meanwhile, provides an excellent example of how the use of technology – and particularly that of artificial intelligence (AI) – can be applied and deliver considerable gains in these areas.

Another fascinating area of debate by the delegates produced further advice for companies seeking to reduce their carbon emissions and increase their environmental credentials. It was suggested that the businesses that had either employed or were rapidly approaching the size where they would recruit a chief financial officer should also appoint a sustainability manager or director.

It was additionally suggested that employing a sustainability director would have the same impact and benefits for a business as appointing a chief financial officer. Any company personnel involved in improving or delivering the sustainability of the business should have significant involvement in its net zero journey on a central basis.

Further discussion was devoted to one of the highly notable recent developments within the FM sector– namely, the increased use of technology and recognition of the importance of creating and analysing accurate data. Delegates agreed that this will be another essential factor in identifying the areas where most attention is required to reduce carbon emissions.

Another area of agreement was that of the number of facilities with inadequate energy management processes embedded, leading to considerable levels of waste and high levels of carbon emissions. The application of effective technology combined with the expertise of FM service providers and intelligent clients would result in dramatically reduced energy usage and emissions, it was stated.

Further discussion was devoted to the claims made by some large businesses, with insufficient levels of proof and supporting evidence, that the outcomes claimed had been delivered. Delegates agreed that ‘greenwashing’ should be avoided at all costs, as this could have a significant negative impact and result in the reverse of the intended outcome being achieved.

Additional topics of discussion were covered throughout the event, and all attendees stated their appreciation for being invited. FM Business Daily has received a number of enquiries for the staging of more live events in the future and those wishing to discuss sponsorship are invited to contact managing director Cheryl Ellerington

FM Business Daily roundtable attendees

Deep Mahida, Wates FM

Claire Curran, Linaker

Jack Prady, Thermatic

Nick Platt, Salisbury Group

Gerry Goonan, D Hammond

Michael Elliott, Over-C

Harry Leeson, Newtons Group

Simon Mussett, Sodexo

Geoff Grateley, FM Consultant

Simon Jones, Ambisense

Darren Steer, Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy

Alan Gilbert, Middle Temple Law Society

Stephen Kennedy, Rugby Football Union

Chaired by Dennis Flower