Greenwash

greenwash-paintingAnyone who attended this year’s BIFM Conference in Oxford would inevitably have been impressed – either positively or negatively – by James Woudhuysen’s rousing keynote address. Woudhuysen (Professor of Forecasting and Innovation at De Montfort University) made the subject of the sustainability “greenwash” his focus as he railed against both politicians and environmentalists for making the issue one of individual responsibility and personal guilt. Instead, he argued, the solutions had to be on a global scale and had to be practical rather than “moral”, citing nuclear power plants and bio-engineering as two potential ways forward. In some ways echoing what Al Gore’s been saying for years (you’ll no doubt by now have seen “An Inconvenient Truth”, but if you haven’t you should) it was a certainly strong message.

Actually, I couldn’t help but agree with him, albeit that I think we all have to consider our individual responsibility with regard to climate change too. In fact, the point was recently brought home rather forcefully as I traded in my beloved Alfa Romeo 3.2 litre beauty for something smaller, slower and less mouth-watering… the fact that the car’s emissions were identical to those of a Ferrari 550 was just too much for my conscience to bear. Maybe it’ll make no difference in isolation but – as I did when I started separating my domestic waste for recycling – I felt better about myself afterwards. It just hurt more this time.

As a consultant, I’m beginning to think that the sustainability movement in FM might also be a little narrow-minded in the way it goes about its business. Yes, the issue is always high on any agenda at conferences these days; and yes, energy management, DEC’s and EPC’s are invariably discussed at some point whenever more than a handful of practitioners get together. These things are rightfully at the forefront of our drive to identify sustainable FM  practice; in fact, according to the Carbon Trust, energy efficiency is now the number one cost-cutting priority for UK businesses looking to combat the impact of a potential economic slowdown. However, having acknowledged the importance of energy efficiency as a given, what else can we do? And how often do you hear anyone talking in any detail about sustainability in the areas of procurement/tendering and contract specification? Is at all, or only, about energy management?

Some time ago, I was at a BIFM International SIG event at which I made contact with a guy who was attending as the representative of a quango that promulgates a Green Procurement Code that’s available to any business operating in London. A quote from their website: “The Green Procurement Code is a free support service for London based organisations committed to reducing their environmental impact through responsible purchasing.” Sounds great, and a chat after the event confirmed that they would be delighted to work with me in order to support Edifice in the development of model processes and documentation that would ensure that all procurement activity undertaken for clients was awash with green credentials; that we were seen as an exemplar in the field of green procurement (yes, the pun was deliberate). However, I was unable to progress this initiative in the way I’d hoped due to a complete lack of response on their part, and instead proceeded without the benefit of their expertise. Or, apparently, their interest.

I’d be delighted to hear from anyone else who shares the view (or doesn’t, for that matter) that our focus within the industry has become a little narrow, and that there’s more to be done in a practical sense to ensure that FM meets its sustainability responsibilities. Because carbon reduction is about more than a metre reading, surely?

NB: Be careful when typing quango in MS Word. If I hadn’t been on my toes spell-check would have had me wittering on about guano instead. Mind you, at least it’s organic!

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