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How the FM Sector Can Help Drive Britain’s Decarbonisation

How the FM Sector Can Help Drive Britain’s Decarbonisation
13 October 2021
 

Pradyumna Pandit from Mitie outlines what is discouraging businesses from making their buildings net-zero.

Pradyumna is Managing Director of Sustainability and Energy Services, leading Mitie’s efforts to help public and private sector organisations implement sustainability, cost and energy management solutions help customers achieve their net-zero targets. Pradyumna has over two decades of experience working in engineering, automation and technology for commercial, industrial and public sector organisations. Prior to joining Mitie, Pradyumna was Schneider Electric’s Vice President of Digital Energy for the UK & Ireland and before that, he held global leadership roles at Honeywell and Tata Group. Pradyumna holds a degree in Electronics and Telecommunications Engineering from the College of Engineering at the University of Pune, and has a master’s in International Business from the Indian the Institute of Foreign Trade in New Delhi.

You can hear Pradyumna speak at EMEX, The Net-Zero and Energy Management Expo, on Wednesday, November 24, 2021. The session, “Energy Managers for the Future” will be held in the Energy & Carbon Management Strategy theatre at 13:00.

 

"By working closely with facilities management experts, who have the best understanding of how to improve efficiencies and are familiar with managing buildings, businesses are best placed to get their decarbonisation journey off to a strong start."

 

Clearing the Road to Net-Zero

 

With COP26 around the corner, many businesses are putting an even greater focus on outlining and rolling out their decarbonisation plans, so that they can help contribute to Britain’s target of net zero by 2050. While the commitment to sustainability is there, many businesses that kick off their journey to net-zero are faced with three main roadblocks – limited buy-in from senior management, financial barriers, and limited sustainability expertise – which can delay, or even halt, their progress.

Overcoming these challenges and reaching net-zero is not something any organisation can do alone which is why businesses, landlords and the public sector must all team-up. And FM providers must make use of their unique position as experts in energy, engineering, and building management to lead these joint efforts to decarbonise Britain.

This is exactly what we’re doing at Mitie. As part of our Plan Zero commitment, we’re using our experience decarbonising our own operations to help customers achieve their own sustainability targets. Through these efforts, we’ve not only helped public and private sector organisations save over 353,000 tonnes of carbon – the equivalent to 11 times Mitie’s own annual emissions – in the last decade, but we’ve also become familiar with the common roadblocks that organisations may face. Now we’re helping speed up the nation’s fight against climate change by sharing our insights on how businesses can overcome some of the main obstacles in their journey to net-zero.

 

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Picture: a photograph of a Mitie Energy Manager using a thermal imaging camera to check energy efficiency of lighting

 

Small Changes Generate Big Savings

 

To be able to accurately track progress, the very first stage in an organisation’s net-zero journey has to be getting the data in place. Auditing each building to collect baseline data on energy consumption is the only way to create a realistic roadmap to net-zero.

However, developing this decarbonisation plan is a specialist task, requiring businesses to have significant engineering, building and energy management expertise to not only collect and analyse this data, but to then identify the best solutions to cut carbon emissions for each location. Although the success of any project is in the planning, many businesses simply don’t have this expertise in-house.

By working closely with facilities management experts, who have the best understanding of how to improve efficiencies and are familiar with managing buildings, businesses are best placed to get their decarbonisation journey off to a strong start. FM providers can also use their expertise in waste management and landscaping to ensure that decarbonisation is factored into the organisation’s wider net-zero strategy, for example by eliminating waste to landfill or introducing landscaping practices that support biodiversity.

By working with many of our customers in this way, we’ve been able to help them identify quick and simple opportunities to save energy and reduce carbon emissions. For example, this can be implementing energy optimisations, such as tweaking settings for heating, cooling and lighting, to reduce the amount of energy sites use in the first place. Many of these changes can be made using remote monitoring technology, reducing the number of times that engineers visit the building, cutting down costs, while saving time and reducing the carbon emissions from transport.

Not only are these measures quick to put in place, many are also free or very low cost, generating enough financial savings to pay for the initial investment in less than a year. In many cases, this has helped our customers show impressive results in a short timeframe, in turn helping them to secure internal support from senior leaders to continue, or even speed up, their sustainability progress.

 

Investing in Your Buildings

 

While energy optimisations are very effective in cutting emissions, the reality is that many of the sites in use today were built before sustainability became a priority. As a result, improving the fabric of the building itself is often required to unlock the biggest carbon reductions. This can include switching lighting equipment to more sustainable alternatives such as LED, installing double or triple-glazed windows, or improving the building’s insulation.

Having secured the capital to improve the building’s fabric, businesses looking to make substantial changes to the site will need to get their landlord’s permission. In these situations, starting with easier changes, such as switching to LED lighting, can generate quick savings and create momentum, whilst organisations secure permission for bigger projects. Similarly, in shared buildings, companies may look to partner with other tenants on infrastructure investments that will also benefit them.

Given that these aren’t simple switches, making these improvements has a cost implication that can vary significantly between sites. We know that, despite the significant savings that come with these solutions, financial considerations can be a significant roadblock. To help get more organisations invest in making their buildings more energy-efficient, we recently launched a new service, Plan Zero BoltON. We’re procuring, purchasing, installing and maintaining the equipment, including solar panels and electric vehicle charge points, on behalf of customers, so that they pay a monthly subscription fee once the installation has been completed. This means companies aren’t encumbered by upfront capital costs and even organisations with small budgets can move forward in their journey to net-zero.

 

Achieving Net-Zero Buildings

 

For a building to be truly net-zero, it must be powered only with renewable energy and the heating must also be zero--carbon system too.

For organisations that are based in shared buildings, the easiest way to make the switch is by procuring green energy directly from the supplier. Meanwhile, companies that are letting an entire building have the added benefit of being able to install solutions such as solar panels to produce their own renewable energy, providing them with more energy security and reducing costs.

For example, for Essex County Council we recently installed solar panels at 15 schools to help them reach their goal of being a net zero county by 2050. These panels alone are expected to produce around 700,000 kWh of renewable energy every year, equivalent to the energy needed to power 185 homes, saving 180 tonnes of CO2 and around £115,000.

When it comes to transitioning heating systems from gas to electricity, ground or air source heat pumps are usually the most viable alternatives. But, like any significant change to the site’s infrastructure, it requires a large capital investment which may be difficult for many companies to secure, especially given the current environment and the fact that payback times may be longer than for other projects in the business. In addition, gas is disproportionately cheaper than electricity, in part due to the Climate Change Levy for gas being lower than for electricity, which can make the operational costs of switching systems unaffordable for many businesses.

These financial barriers can be overcome, for example, we’re using our procurement and project management expertise to help our customers draft their business cases for investment in decarbonisation equipment and help secure senior buy-in. And we’re also working with public sector organisations to help them secure government funding for green projects.

However, to ensure that all organisations can access the tools they need to speed up their decarbonisation journey, it’s imperative that the UK government offers more support for both public and private sectors. This can be done through initiatives such as extending the Renewable Heating Incentive, offering wider access to green finance, or shifting the Climate Change Levy from electricity to gas. With COP26 on the horizon, now is an opportune moment for the government to make these commitments.

 

The Road Ahead for Facilities Managers

 

Although every building and business is different, organisations looking to decarbonise and improve the energy efficiency of their operations are likely to face some of the same main roadblocks. With expertise in energy, engineering and building management, facilities managers are uniquely placed to help businesses overcome many of these challenges. Now is the time for FM providers to sit in the driver’s seat and take a leading role in decarbonising Britain.

Picture: a photograph of Pradyumna Pandit

Article written by Pradyumna Pandit | Published 13 October 2021

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