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How Can Facility Managers be Stewards of the Environment?

Mayra Portalatin, SFP – Immediate Past President Capital Chapter of IFMA 2020-2021
Vice President of Facilities Services at NVE, Inc.

As Facility Managers, we have a lot of opportunities to be stewards of the environment just by how we operate our facilities. According to the United Nations Environment Program, construction and buildings are responsible for almost 40% of energy and process-related carbon dioxide emissions annually*. That means the more we do to operate more efficiently, and therefore reduce our energy consumption, the bigger impact we have in the overall global emissions. But it is not just about energy. There’s also how much and what types of materials come in and out of our facilities. We’re not just talking about construction materials, but furniture, electronics, and even day to day supplies like paper and light bulbs.

Over the years, with the growth of the sustainability movement and the predominance of Building Rating Systems focused on measuring how sustainable an organization is, many facilities have implemented programs to help divert waste and promote use of materials that are going to have less of an environmental impact. These include, but are not limited, to the following:

  • Sustainability Plan – This is the overall strategy of the organization’s goals to be more efficient and sustainable. Energy, water, and carbon emission reduction goals are part of this policy, along with strategies on how to reduce emissions and milestones that the organization is committing to. This plan will also cover communication strategy for everyone from the facility team to occupants and visitors.
  • Sustainable Purchasing Policy – This will focus on establishing a framework for the purchases of materials for the facility by imposing goals and direction on what should or should not be purchased. For example, requiring that all paper purchases contain at least 30% recycled content, that all electronics be ENERGY STAR rated, or that food purchases are sourced from local/regional areas.
  • Waste Management Policy – This will focus on establishing proper methods of disposal, including waste diversion for recycling or salvaging of materials, including an e-waste program to handle disposal of electronics in your facility. This is sometimes also known or bundled with a recycling policy.
  • Sustainable Construction Plan – This encompasses a lot of different parts of your overall operations plan. Basically, ensuring that any construction (whether minor or major) in your facility follows your sustainability goals, such as the use of rapidly renewable resources for materials (such as bamboo), use of low to no-VOC (volatile organic compounds) paints and adhesives, or the salvaging and recycling of construction waste to the extent possible.


Your sustainability plan will change over time based on your accomplishment of goals, as you evaluate the program against priorities, as well as new information or new technologies that may help advance your sustainable goals. One thing is for certain, to keep your occupants and your team involved, you need to constantly engage them through messaging as well as events. The intent is not only to have them help you be more successful in your sustainability goals, but also help them in translating what they learn to apply in their own daily lives and at home.

One such opportunity is just around the corner. Earth Day is an annual event celebrated around the world on April 22nd. On this day, participants demonstrate their support for protecting our environment and living more sustainable lives. Over the years, facilities have incorporated this celebration as a team building opportunity, as well as a way to promote their sustainability efforts. At the Capital Chapter, we’ve done our part through our Annual Potomac River Clean-Up Activity. It’s not only been a bonding opportunity for our members, but a feel-good opportunity by making sure the stretch of river we “adopt” is clean of trash and debris for all to enjoy.

What have you and your organization done for Earth Day? We would love to hear from you! If you’ve never done anything formal, perhaps you can get ideas from others when they share in the comments.

But if you’re looking for some quick ideas, here are some things you can do:

  1. Organize Household Hazardous Waste & Electronics Collection Event for your occupants. Local communities sometimes organize these, but not everyone will be so lucky. This will allow them to bring items such as anti-freeze, car and household batteries, lawn care products, paints and varnishes, and electronic equipment (“e-waste”) that can be mixed in with any facility waste for bulk handling.
  2. Organize a Sustainability Expo/Fair. Bring various vendors to the facility for a mini fair that will expose occupants to new technologies or materials they can use in their day to day lives to do their part for the environment. This could even include vendors who create arts and products with recycled/salvaged materials to make it an interesting shopping experience.
  3. Earth Day Competitions. This can include anything from coming up with sustainability slogan or logo for a campaign, to ideas to incorporate to the sustainability program. The winner not only gets recognized, but earns a prize of your choosing.
  4. Acts of Greenness. Collect from your staff their “Acts of Greenness” over the span of a period of time leading up to Earth Day. These can be posted on a board in your lobby or café for all to see.
  5. Host a Local Farmer’s Market! This could be done on its own, or perhaps in coordination with your Sustainability Fair.
  6. Announce a New Program! This is the perfect time to unveil any new ideas for keeping your occupants engaged and your sustainability efforts growing. You can get some of these as a result of ideas provided from a competition, or from your own strategy to grow the program. Things like a composting program, a bike to work program, alternative transportation program, or even organizing a 5K run with proceeds going to sustainable programs.
  7. Host a Sustainability Lunch & Learn. This is a good opportunity for you to share the successes of your current program, as well as teaching folks some new tricks on being sustainable.

Whatever you decide to do, make it your own, something that truly speaks to your organization. Document it, celebrate it! Celebrate each other. And don’t forget there’s plenty of resources and ideas out there to help you have an Earth Day Celebration that’s right for you!



*2019 Global Status Report for Buildings and Construction, United Nations Environmental Programme

Earth Day Resources:


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