The World

“Extreme events have the greatest potential to produce natural catastrophes that affect businesses, jobs and economies on a regional or global scale.” 

Those are the words from an FM Global white paper. It’s a heavy way to launch into the subject, especially if you’re reading this with your morning coffee. 

But climate change is important to keep in mind and the world’s weather is changing. It’s getting hotter. Ice caps are melting. Dry areas are getting drier, and other parts of the world are set to get much wetter.

Jeff Burchill, former CFO of FM Global, writes that extreme wet or dry conditions can bring about troubling consequences for profit-generating buildings, machinery, data centers, transportation networks, supply chains, sales and staff.

Think about what’s at stake for a retirement home on the water’s edge on the East Coast. With sea levels rising, how do facilities managers devise a strategy to deal with the possibilities of the future? 

Gwendolyn Schanker, at the New England Climate Change Review, points to a speech from Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, who said no area of Boston will be exempt from future climate impacts. In the next 50 to 100 years, flooding of coastal neighborhoods, winter storms and hot temperatures will Boston cause residents to suffer.

How about the world getting hotter? One of the defining features of the UK’s capital city, London, is the grim weather. The summers are always grey and cool. But as former Mayor of London Ken Livingstone has said, the city will be so hot by 2050 that conditions in existing buildings will be unbearable for nearly a quarter of the day’s working hours. That’s a lot of unhappy staff, overheated computer servers and fewer hours of productivity.

FMs have a demanding task ahead of them to find ways of managing temperature levels in a sustainable and cost-effective way.


Becoming Resilient

Companies will need to be resilient to weather the change. FMs need to prepare for the inevitable and, as Burchill writes, getting ahead of the curve will go a long way toward saving the profitability of a building.

In the cases of new builds, action should be taken at the planning stages. This includes researching whether locations are likely to be affected by increased precipitation or heat, for instance. 

According to the U.N., 84 percent of the world’s population will live in cities by 2100. Yet an estimated 65 percent of the necessary housing has not been built. Katie Peek, at Scientific American, writes that this is an “opportunity for city officials and planners to construct buildings that are resilient to climate change and to plan for better water and transportation infrastructure.” 

For both new and existing buildings, Burchill suggests CFOs take the following action (though the advice is equally valid for FMs):

  • Ensure emergency equipment is up to date and state of the art.
  • Research the risk from updated sources.
  • Protect water supplies, and optimize drainage.
  • Diversify sources of suppliers and goods.
  • Consider how transportation may affect staff, supplies and services, and find alternative routes when possible. 

It’s not just about the actual damages to property and disruptions to businesses or services that are to be mitigated. There is also the pressing need to comply with changing regulations and statutes relating to climate change policy.

Change Must Be Comprehensive

Cameron Steel and Andy Lewry say FMs need to be ready to meet challenges. Turning off the lights to keep overheads low is not enough of a strategy. They suggest a long-term approach with coordination throughout the different parts of the business. Energy management is important at all levels of business. It’s not just an FM who needs to deal with these issues. It starts at the board level and carries through to the shop floor.

“Short-sighted cost cutting should not be allowed to prevail as this will affect productivity and profits,” the pair write.

There needs to be a plan. The form it takes is nuanced and idiosyncratic, but a failure to devise a strategy will bring disaster as well as huge costs when providing remedies. 

Change Must Involve All Stakeholders—Including Occupants

Part of this multilevel concern is about changing the culture of all occupants in the building. People need to shift their mindsets to understand that greater awareness and diligence today mean increased resilience against the troubles of the future.

However, occupants should not be blamed for their reluctance to change. To many, the working environment needs only to be comfortable. That is their priority. FMs are tasked with finding innovative ways to bring about change without affecting dips in occupants’ morale or causing a sense of discomfort.

Change Must Be Built In, Too

In an article in Science Direct, Zaw Mina, Paula Morgenstern and Ljiljana Marjanovic-Halburd also call for a multi-pronged solution. They write about how adopting proactive operations and maintenance strategies in existing buildings can improve energy performance. 

The trio call for FM personnel to be trained strategically at the organizational and national/industrial policy levels, as well as a need to integrate design processes for a holistic approach. 

A report on preparedness for climate change from the City of Seattle says building managers, FMs and other decision-makers need to safeguard against soaring temperatures, heavy rains, and rising sea levels, which are the major climate change concerns facing the state.

There has to be a rethinking of design standards in terms of future threats. The report suggests modifying building standards to:

  • Allow greater heat load transfer out of buildings through passive cooling.
  • Adjust the size and slope of drainage systems and infrastructure.
  • Evaluate overhangs to prevent water damage.
  • Plant more trees to help reduce temperatures and provide shade.
  • Assess the need for passive and active cooling and resilience retrofits.

Facilities management in the age of climate change involves a great deal of future planning. As Edward Sullivan at Facilities Net writes, “The facility management leaders of tomorrow will be the ones who lead the transformation of buildings today.” To do this, Sullivan urges FMs to reduce carbon emissions today through energy-efficient building products, as well as best practices for design and operation.

Piggy Bank

Money Spent Is Money Saved

FMs are trying to make buildings safer, more comfortable and efficient, but they’re also trying to maximize value. Consider a report from the Multihazard Mitigation Council that says every $1 spent mitigating potential hazards leads to an average of $4 in future benefits.

Chris Preston, at Building Energy, also chimes in with the economics of forward planning. He says using energy-efficient practices between now and 2030 to limit warming to 2°C could be up to $2.8 trillion cheaper than a more energy-intensive approach.

Preston continues, writing that 30 percent of the energy that commercial buildings consume is wasted. Improving the energy efficiency of commercial buildings and industrial facilities by 10 percent would yield $40 billion in savings. That would reduce the same amount of greenhouse gas emissions generated by 49 million vehicles.

Further, Joan Pinyol argues that making buildings more efficient now will help mitigate the effects of climate change by reducing negative emissions, save money and create a culture of preparedness. The sense of urgency to bring about climate change readiness is out there. Many thinkers, policy-makers, FMs and business owners know what needs to be done. 

Christina Dotzler, coordinator of the Centre for Urban Ecology and Climate Adaptation in Germany, says corrective action is needed now. Use regenerative energy sources wherever possible, plan for traffic-calming areas and green spaces, plant trees, and construct buildings with vegetation on roofs and facades. 

If you own or manage a commercial building and are worried that going green could affect the competitiveness of the business occupying your premises, think again. A review by the LSE’s Grantham Institute reveals climate change policies have not affected businesses adversely and, over the long term, competitiveness is improved by making companies and building management teams more innovative and efficient.  

Karin Holland writes that all stakeholders need to be on board with resilience planning. This will not only help everyone understand how money can be saved over the long term, but also create more awareness of any national, regional or local grants available. These can be used to assist with funding for resilience measures against climate change.

In addition, Holland stresses the importance of building the right insurance coverage into the budget to be able to bounce back from the impact of climate change events. 

Whatever the strategy, FMs are in a unique position to affect change in measurable ways. These changes won’t only benefit the climate, but will also improve the bottom line. Planning ahead is essential in order to achieve this. Finding ways to retrofit green solutions and implementing emergency protocols now will make a demonstrable difference in the future.


Slava Bowman
Jason McCann
Reymark Franke