Strategic FMs must plan for climate change now

The impact of climate change on the built environment faces us every day. And for facilities managers, planning to mitigate against impacts on the built environment is a very immediate issue.

The impact of climate change on the built environment faces us every day. And for facilities managers, planning to mitigate against impacts on the built environment is a very immediate issue. With recent extreme weather events such as heatwaves, flash floods, and storms, it is vital we start to understand the changes we need to make to ensure our new and old buildings will survive the effects of these events. 

Despite the Scottish Government recently scrapping the deadline for its initial carbon emission targets, the commitment to be a Net Zero nation by 2045 remains. The UK’s overall commitment to achieving Net Zero emissions by 2050 is very ambitious and because most of the buildings we will occupy then already exist now (80%), it demonstrates the importance of refurbishment, and retrofit, with a particular focus on Net Zero. And particularly so, as 25% of UK emissions are directly attributable to the built environment.

The Design & Build and Facilities Management industries are aware of the need to prepare for the impact of climate change, and there is recognition of the importance in implementing solutions aligned with decarbonisation, efficiency, and futureproofing. 

Assessing vulnerabilities

Typically, FMs are responsible for developing forward-maintenance plans and lifecycle schedules, which focus on asset replacement in the longer-term. While a reactive approach to maintenance has, and always will be, required following unpredictable disasters, adaptations involve an assessment of unique vulnerabilities so buildings have an in-built preparedness and mitigation against the immediate and potentially dramatic impacts of climate change.  

FMs need to monitor vulnerabilities and continuously assess the risks that severe weather events pose. For example, if local weather data shows storms and floods are prevalent, regularly checking and clearing drains would be a priority. Where buildings with a high risk of overheating would require frequent temperature checks throughout the year, because of the increase in unpredictable unseasonal heatwaves, they would also benefit from checking the capability and capacity of the HVAC systems. 

Such factors need to be considered in planning the longer-term FM strategy. This strategic thinking is what forms an adaptation plan and once that is in place, FMs can address what’s needed to implement their plan – which in many cases will be the implementation of new technology. 

Harnessing technology

Technology can play a crucial and beneficial role in supporting efforts to mitigate risk and allowing adaptation to provide a structure to manage the impacts of climate change. 

Building Management Systems (BMS) are the de facto tool used by FM teams for some time to optimise operations, including controlling heating and water temperature in the workplace. Developments in smart sensor technology and the Internet of Things (IoT) sensors to monitor data generated within a building are now giving FMs more tools for the job. 

Using sensors and monitoring technology to measure how a building and the associated plant are performing can allow FMs to make predictions about when maintenance and replacement activity might be needed in a more strategic way. Such technology, however, creates an enormous volume of data, which requires processing and action. Recent advances mean that this analysis and decision making might be supported by AI technologies that could process data to create more accurate forecasts for when maintenance is required or when equipment should be replaced. If done properly, this could both improve reliability and save money by removing the age-old risk of ‘sweating the assets’ with its potential knock-on of unforeseen impacts.  

Combining technology with occupancy, energy, and performance data, and potentially integrating AI, will help FMs with medium to longer-term maintenance planning. 

The next step for Facilities Management

Taking a proactive approach is crucial to managing the threat of climate change and minimising the impact on facilities. By embedding data collection and assessment of vulnerabilities into risk management, unforeseen disasters might be avoided, while cost savings will be secured through maximising the life of assets. With the right tools, facilities teams are well-placed to proactively mitigate risks and reduce energy consumption as part of their day-to-day ongoing operations. 

This article originally appeared in Facilitate Magazine