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ABCs of Advanced Maintenance: Facility Sustainability

Green facility

If you’ve been considering implementing sustainability initiatives at your facility, but don’t know where to start amid the complex tangle of “green” standards, practices, and technologies, you’re not alone.

Over the past decade, sustainability has gone from a fringe ivory tower concept to a full-blown mainstream movement. Take the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards for example. The rating system, introduced in 1994 as a single standard applying strictly to new construction projects, has grown into a complex framework encompassing interior design, neighborhood development, building operations and maintenance, and industry-specific standards for schools, healthcare facilities, and retail stores among others.

This growth in complexity might help explain why just 7,000 projects worldwide have earned LEED certification—leaving the impression that only high-profile projects with major funding and resources are capable of joining the ranks of the “green” elite.

Unfortunately, this impression has helped turn sustainability into an all-or-nothing proposition for many facility managers, when in reality, there are numerous inexpensive, easy to implement measures that can lower costs, improve health, and minimize environmental impacts in any facility.

The key is to use tools like ManagerPlus CMMS to maximize the efficiency of existing resources, implement sustainable best practices, and upgrade parts and equipment with new eco-friendly versions.

+ Make the most of what you have. Conservation is one of the core tenets of the sustainability movement. Facilities that proactively maintain their assets not only prevent costly emergency breakdowns—they also catch minor problems early, before they cause major inefficiencies and waste.

Leaky plumbing, aging HVAC systems, cracks in window frames , and other wear-and-tear issues may not cause full-blown emergencies in the short term, but they can still quickly rack up substantial costs—both to the business and the environment—by wasting resources such as water and heat. A thorough preventive maintenance routine, complete with regular inspections, is the best way to identify these issues and address them while they’re small, thus reducing waste and improving the overall efficiency of your facility.

Ultimately, even the advanced technologies associated with LEED certification are designed to save resources at the margins, saving 5% here or 10% there on the usage of water, heat, fuel, and other resources. The trick is to cut back in as many areas as possible, even if only by a small amount, in order to accrue major savings over the long term. That is exactly what effective preventive maintenance will help you do.

+ Implement sustainable best practices.  The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), the governing body behind LEED certification, has created a set of standards specifically for building operations and maintenance; you can check it out here.  

The idea is to design maintenance practices that extend beyond basic facility reliability and uptime to include environmental and health objectives, such as water efficiency, indoor environmental quality, innovation in operations, materials and resources, and more.

The standards and guidance provided by the USGBC are much easier to implement for companies that use a CMMS to manage their maintenance operations. Many of their recommendations can be converted directly into schedule groups and set to come due at the recommended intervals, whether those be timeframes, log-based, or both.

With a clear blueprint in place, and the proper tools to implement it, achieving elite sustainability becomes much more viable.

+ Replace old parts and equipment with eco-friendly versions. While it might not be in the cards for most facilities to invest in major renovations for the sole purpose of increased sustainability, there are countless smaller upgrades that can have a substantial cumulative impact.

Light bulbs are the first and maybe most obvious example. Compact fluorescent (CFL) fixtures have become commonplace and can easily be substituted for older incandescent bulbs. But be on the lookout for low mercury fluorescent bulbs wherever possible. Mercury is damaging to the environment and difficult to recover from disposed bulbs.

Also be on the lookout for paint, cleaning supplies, flooring materials, and other products that contain minimum volatile organic compounds (VOC). These chemicals pose a variety of short and long term health risks to occupants and workers, and are often concentrated in indoor spaces. Check out the Environmental Protection Agency’s guide to VOCs here.

And for the more ambitious facility managers considering major remodel projects, it’s a good idea to check out the latest advances in building materials. Every year, new methods are discovered to recycle or repurpose different materials for use in construction—last year’s list of top ten sustainable innovations included several of these materials, including wood from trees that were killed by the outbreak of mountain pine beetles.

Most of these innovative new materials are LEED accredited, meaning that they can count toward full certification. CrossLam, the reconstituted wood product, carries a Major Renovation (MR) Credit for certified wood, and an Indoor Environmental Quality credit for low emitting materials.

+ Start somewhere. When it comes to making your facility more sustainable, there are a lot of options, of which LEED is just one. The goal, whether the steps taken are big or small, is to minimize your impact on the environment, and that can start with simple steps to improve efficiency through proactive maintenance. The important thing is to have tools like CMMS in place to ensure that any initiative you choose to roll out will be successful.

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