Tripling Down On The Bottom Line: Facility Management Strategies

Posted on February 5, 2014

It wasn’t too long ago that “triple bottom line” wasn’t much more than a catch phrase bandied about by over-caffeinated product managers and marketing folks. But increasingly, social, environmental, and financial responsibility (put another way: people, planet, profits) is the collective lens through which just about every action an organization takes is measured. For facility managers these days, measuring the success of sustainable operations means moving beyond traditional metrics of kilowatt-hours avoided or pounds of waste diverted. It means understanding how sustainability strategies fit within the triple bottom line. Increasingly, a successful facility manager is one who knows how to speak in terms of the triple bottom line.

Facility managers are already well aware the success of their department often depends largely on aligning their goals with the overall priorities of the organization. So as organizations continue to emphasize the triple bottom line, facility managers know that they need to, also.

“Find what’s important to the organization,” says Laurie Gilmer, vice president of facility services with Facility Engineering Associates. “The facility manager’s job is to bring it all together and create a culture in which the FM is facilitating the right conversations.”

The good news, though, is that, for a number of reasons, no department is better situated to work towards triple bottom line goals than facilities. But facility managers must work hard to press that advantage. They must understand how to frame their strategies and successes in the context of the triple bottom line. And they must be willing to work with other departments on organization-wide initiatives that may go beyond the traditional definition of facility management.

Creating a positive work environment for occupants in a cost-effective and environmentally responsible manner is practically a word-for-word definition of facility management. Facility managers manage the assets that are the second largest expense in an organization. These assets — buildings — heavily influence how efficiently the first largest expense (people) are able to do their jobs. That puts facility managers in a position to lead triple bottom line efforts.

“FMs are in a unique position because they control the assets,” says Gilmer. “Buildings are there to serve the people who work there.” So right off the bat, the very nature of facility management covers the people and profit pillars of the triple bottom line. Adding sustainable operations to the mix covers all three, and again, helps facility management augment the overall goals of the organization.

Consider a large organization like TD Bank Group, which has more than 80,000 employees in North America. The company has set an organization-wide goal to be carbon-neutral. “This goal drives all behavior,” says John De Benedictis, senior manager, retail facilities, and an FMXcellence honoree. “And so facility management is a huge component of our environmental strategy.”

Indeed, in general, buildings are the biggest contributor to an organization’s greenhouse gas emissions profile. So facility management — especially in terms of reducing energy use, a key goal of any facility department committed to sustainable operations — has a huge role to play in matching the corporate goals and contributing to the planet pillar of the triple bottom line.

But facility managers still have to design strategies in the real world — they must plan strategies that are “viable, equitable, and bearable,” which is another way to think about how strategies fit into the triple bottom line, explains Larry Morgan, global facility management and sustainability expert for SAP Americas. “It’s very easy to save energy if you just turn off all the lights,” he says. But that’s not exactly bearable. And it’s not equitable to reduce energy costs by spending millions on a gigantic solar array. And if your building is a downtown high-rise, nor is that strategy viable.

“You often hear the justification ‘we’re doing this because it’s the right thing to do,'” says Gilmer. “And that may be true, but that doesn’t play in the business world. You have to put a business case on it. Put it in terms the business can understand. The triple bottom line helps you think through the business case.”

In other words, the triple bottom line can actually be the yard stick that helps facility managers determine whether strategies are viable, equitable, and bearable. “The triple bottom line is a tool,” says Gilmer. “Facility managers can be much more intentional and filter sustainable operations through the triple bottom line.

While facility managers are best-positioned to contribute to triple bottom line goals, it doesn’t mean they should try to go it alone. “Facilities can be a repository for all sustainability discussions,” says Morgan. “But the idea of facilities being totally responsible for sustainability is wrong. You have to be able to build bridges horizontally throughout the company. Sustainability is about a deep understanding of the entire enterprise.”

At BAE Systems, a large defense contractor, Sean Delehanty, sustainability manager, electronic systems, and an FMXcellence honoree, says he’s seen the most success with routing sustainability through voluntary committees consisting of folks from all walks of the company. “We’ve tried numerous functional engagement strategies, but we’ve found that localized, volunteer committees is the best solution,” he says.

Ideally, it’s facility management leading these committees. But facility managers can’t go from zero to leadership in a week. They need to build successes and credibility over time. “In order to build bridges to other organizations, you have to have big-picture end goals, but have short-term wins to get you there,” says De Benedictis. “Facility managers have a huge opportunity to drive projects, but you have to make sustainability and the triple bottom line part of what you do on a day-to-day basis.”

If you’re known and credible, have built relationships, and are recognized as a leader with whom the company’s executives have placed trust, it’s much easier to build those bridges. Again, this takes time and practice.

“You must learn to understand your audience and approach them in ways that resonate with their businesses and markets,” says De Benedictis. “Gather feedback and respond to it. You don’t want to be a salesman, you want to change the culture.”

This means being able to speak the language and understand the priorities of other parts of the business. “You have to adapt communication to the ears that are going to be hearing it,” says Gilmer. “You really need to understand what is important and with whom you’re speaking.”

One key to getting other business units as partners is simply to be available to help them when they ask you for help. This is a huge part of relationship building, both with other departments and with executives. “Stay attuned to happenings in other departments,” says Morgan. “Support other department’s initiatives. This helps build a track record.”

Show occupants and executives alike that the facilities department is engaged in their goals specifically, and larger organizational goals, like the triple bottom line. “FMs need to know they’re operating in a very large context,” says Gilmer. So making things relatable to what’s important up and down the organization — to individual occupants, other departments, and the C-suite’s organizational goals — is key to success.

What it comes down to is this: “Relate sustainable operations to the triple bottom line,” says Morgan. “It becomes the lens to be able to judge and report successes.”