Business benefits compromised by box-ticking approach to sustainability, says BIFM

  • Corporate image and increased regulation are main drivers of sustainable practices by businesses
  • Businesses are operating on ‘border’ of compliancy, lacking strategy and effective measurement of sustainable initiatives

UK businesses are missing out on a range of benefits by operating on the ‘border’ of compliancy when it comes to sustainable business practice, according to the annual sustainability survey from the British Institute of Facilities Management (BIFM).

The survey, led by BIFM in collaboration with Acclaro Advisory, and sponsored by Open Energi, investigates what aspects of the sustainability agenda organisations are engaging with, and the drivers that are bringing issues to the forefront of business.

Despite two-thirds of businesses (60 per cent) reporting that sustainability policies are integrated into their business effectively, 78 per cent cited corporate image as the main driver for doing so, closely followed by an increase in regulation (77 per cent). This suggests a ‘box-ticking’ approach to sustainability instead of businesses embracing and investing in longer-term practices and the advantages of ‘spending to save’.

Despite ambitious sustainability targets forecast over the coming years and increasing demands of regulation forcing energy and waste issues further up the corporate agenda, there also remains too much of a ‘short-term’ view among senior executives and board-level who are choosing instead to focus on ROI of a few years versus the longer-term.

Further, the findings reveal that reporting is not done effectively enough and that sustainability measurement tools that are available are not being used correctly, or utilised to their full extent, resulting in a lack of evidence-based ROI.

More positively, the increase in regulation is improving engagement between facilities managers (FMs), senior individuals and the boardroom within their business, where policies tend to get sign-off.

Gareth Tancred, Chief Executive of BIFM, commented: “It is encouraging to see that over half of businesses we engaged with are imbedding sustainability into the heart of their business practices. However, it is concerning to see that this is being driven primarily by corporate image and legislative requirements versus a desire to want to be a better and more sustainable business.

“As a result, many businesses are missing out on the benefits of long-term sustainability, such as increased competitive advantage, increased productivity, a reduction in costs and ultimately, more efficiency leading to better performance.

“Businesses can’t afford to not be sustainable and in contrast to those who think investment in sustainability requires expensive technologies or significant capital expenditure, there are operational and behavior changes that would make a considerable difference.

“Sustainability must be spelt out as a clearly defined requirement within contracts and supply chains, and should be embraced in the ‘culture’ of a business – by all employees regardless of department or job role. As one of the biggest contributors to the UK’s environmental impacts, the FM and property industry has a crucial role in meeting national sustainability targets. We would like to see a firm commitment from businesses to ‘go beyond’ the bare minimum and commit to long-term initiatives that will ultimately prove beneficial for their bottom line, and the wider society.