Social sustainability and FM

Havencab Group’s Dr Penny Newson discusses the emerging global focus on sustainability in building management.

Multi-residential living is enjoyed by about 9 per cent of the Australian population. The majority of apartments in Australia are strata titled and the total economic benefit to Australia for professional services in the strata industry is very close to $1 billion.

New South Wales accounts for around 25 per cent of that value, according to a report compiled by the City Futures Research Centre, UNSW Australia titled Australian National Strata Data 2018.

These figures underline the importance of the strata industry in the lives, health and wellbeing of many Australians and in cities throughout the world. There is now a global trend for a more holistic view of sustainability. The World Green Building Council has flagged its intention to place more focus on social and economic sustainability, where previously environmental issues have had centre stage.

Across the construction industry, architects, engineers, product manufacturers and builders are supplying toxin-free building materials to improve the health of buildings but now, that has become just the first part of the equation for producing eco-friendly buildings.

A second key component of sustainable multi-story living is implementing green living – cleaning and waste management in particular – to reduce a building’s environmental footprint. The Havencab Group has been working relentlessly to reduce chemical usage, limit water and energy use and encourage waste reduction because these are all important techniques to ensure that a building is environmentally sustainable.

However, there is a third factor now rating highly on the list of sustainability issues, social sustainability, which encompasses human health and wellbeing. The Havencab Group’s facility management company National FM has been researching and implementing some unique innovations in social sustainability.

From a facility management (FM) point of view, initiatives used in new construction and ongoing building maintenance that bring healing effects into living spaces have become valuable design features because they prioritise human health.

A recent survey in Contracting Profits Magazine found FM executives rank a healthy environment for building occupants as their most important priority

However, in this same survey, only 3 per cent of facility executives said cleaning commonly touched objects is the most important cleaning task. Instead, they emphasised clean restrooms and foyers — and yes these are key tasks that contribute to making a great first impression, but cleaning to control the spread of germs is a key part of keeping building occupants healthy.

Viruses spread when someone touches a contaminated surface and then touches his or her mouth, nose or eyes. In a multi-story building the most contaminated objects are elevator buttons, handrails, bathroom taps and door handles, water cooler buttons, vending machine buttons and computer peripherals such as touch screens.

The survey showed that only half of building service contractors clean high-touch surfaces like these on a daily basis. FMs must now move beyond mere appearance because proper cleaning and disinfecting reduces the spread of viruses by 80 to 90 per cent. Cleaning should focus on commonly touched areas and disinfect them daily or more frequently.

Building management should not only manage the obvious ambient comforts but also go even further in service to provide small but critical caring touches from ‘welcome packs’ down to supplying disinfectant wipes or dispensers so that occupants can also disinfect items themselves (especially if some areas are prohibited in the contract requirements).

A new and vital role for BMs is to ensure and maintain a ‘well’ living space and psychological wellbeing for residents and workers. The indoor environment should be a safe place that not only responds to basic human physical needs, but also meets occupants’ psychological needs by enhancing their abilities and boosting happiness.

So, FMs’ responsibilities have now evolved well beyond managing HVAC, lighting systems, energy and other physical factors that affect living space safety and quality. FMs can help occupants to better control and spend their human energy. A ‘well’ space is the one that helps the residents to thrive and happily perform to their optimum ability. To achieve and maintain such an environment, FMs must formulate strategies to regularly monitor and evaluate the ‘wellness’ of their building.

Of the many factors in a building that can influence occupant well-being, there is growing evidence to suggest that access to nature, or an outside view, and indoor greenery reduces mental fatigue and improves individuals’ ability to deal with stress and other work/life-related issues.

In addition, the creation of connected feelings through community and place have become increasingly important in multi-resident buildings. It has been shown that people living in stronger, healthier communities have greater life satisfaction and above average wellbeing.

Additionally, people who work to maintain a building affect wellness within the building as they can greatly influence the mood of those around them. FMs are responsible for the physical and psychological well-being of these workers. At a physical level this can be accomplished by reducing exposure to harmful substances at work.

From a mental health perspective, statistics on engagement and attachment to work present a bleak picture. Job satisfaction is steadily decreasing and very few workers feel a strong emotional affiliation with their place of work (Harter and Adkins, 2017).

Increased worker engagement is not only positively related to business performance and profitability but also beneficial to building residents who can then interact every day with staff who are enthusiastic, pleasant and engaged.

Finally, and most importantly, any FM should ensure their workers are treated fairly. In the cleaning industry, the payment of fair wages has been an issue because of the poor behaviour of some subcontractors.

Fair Work Australia is now imposing financial and legal penalties for those who knowingly or unknowingly exploit workers in the industry. Choose an ethical FM company that employs labour directly rather than those who employ contracted labour.

Innovative FM can offer all manner of skills and techniques to enhance asset value for clients who have the forethought and wisdom to evaluate global, long-term, big-picture outcomes rather than merely trying to choose the cheapest alternative, which would probably involve subcontracting cleaners, and which is not an ideal situation on many levels.

For further information on this article contact Havencab Group’s Facility Management Division – National Facilities Management

This first appeared in the September/October issue of INCLEAN magazine. 

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