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The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals: How do facilities managers contribute?

by Michael Arny and Mary Reames, Leonardo Academy — Sometimes it is good to look at the big picture to see how our efforts support progress. In this article, we will look at how the work of facilities managers contributes to meeting the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Here are the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals from the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development:

Goal 1: End poverty in all its forms everywhere

Goal 2: End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture

Goal 3: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages

Goal 4: Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all

Goal 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls

Goal 6: Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all

Goal 7: Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all

Goal 8: Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all

Goal 9: Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation

Goal 10: Reduce inequality within and among countries

Goal 11: Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable

Goal 12: Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns

Goal 13: Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts

Goal 14: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development

Goal 15: Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss

Goal 16: Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels

Goal 17: Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development

The United Nations and its member countries are calling on governments of all sizes, as well as the private sector, civil society, and the general public to contribute to achieving these goals by the year 2030.

According to a 2015 PwC survey, there is broad awareness of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and a large percentage of businesses around the world plan to integrate the SDGs into their planning by 2020.

Key survey results:

  • Awareness:
    • 92 percent of businesses surveyed are aware of the SDGs
    • 33 percent of citizens surveyed are aware of the SDGs
  • Action:
    • 71 percent of businesses are planning how to respond to the SDGs

The work that you, as facilities managers, do every day contributes to society’s progress toward achieving these goals. While the interconnection of facilities management with each of the SDGs could be an article in itself, here are just a few examples of how important your work is and how you can expand your contribution:

Goal 3: Health

Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.

How you contribute: By maintaining high standards of building safety and indoor air quality, you provide safe and healthy indoor environments where people work, play, and live.

How you can expand your contribution: Take a look at the WELL® Building Standard for ideas on how to improve facility air quality, water quality, access to natural light, and occupant comfort.

Goal 4: Education

Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.

How you contribute: You provide ongoing staff training and education. This not only benefits your building, but expands the minds and opportunities for your employees and co-workers.

How you can expand your contribution: If you are not already a member of an organization that provides ongoing training for your employees, join one. Subscribe or add subscriptions to trade journals and encourage your employees to learn more about their chosen fields.

Goal 5: Gender equality and women’s empowerment

Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.

How you contribute: You provide good-paying jobs for anyone, regardless of gender.

How you can expand your contribution: Provide additional training and advancement opportunities for women on your team.

Goal 6: Water and Sanitation

Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.

How you contribute: You implement technologies and practices that reduce the use of potable water to plumbing fixtures and cooling towers.

How you can expand your contribution: Talk to your suppliers. Ask them what they are doing to reduce potable water use, and choose suppliers who make water use reduction a priority.  Also look for ways to incorporate the use of gray water, such as harvesting rainwater for later use in irrigation.

Goal 7: Energy

Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.

How you contribute: By keeping your HVAC equipment in tip top condition, you are making sure it runs efficiently.

How you can expand your contribution: In addition to adopting new technologies and energy-saving equipment, explore the opportunities for using renewable energy, both on-site and off-site, for your building. Also, talk to your suppliers, and choose those who prioritize energy efficiency in production and transportation of their goods and services.

Goal 8: Economic Growth

Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.

How you contribute: You are a consumer, and the purchases you make for your building help grow our economy.

How you can expand your contribution: Try giving opportunities to smaller suppliers, to women- and minority-owned businesses, and to businesses who make sustainability a part of their mission statement.

Goal 9: Infrastructure

Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation.

How you contribute: Infrastructure is your business! Improving it is what you do every day.

How you can expand your contribution: Take a look at the infrastructure around your building. Can you and your employees provide ideas or assistance in improving the community by adopting a highway or taking care of a bicycle path or park?

Goal 10: Reduce inequality

Reduce inequality within and among countries.

How you contribute: You hire quality employees without regard to race, gender, or disability.

How you can expand your contribution: Talk to your suppliers. Ensure that your products and services are purchased from suppliers who do not employ child labor and pay a living wage.

Goal 11: Cities and communities

Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.

How you contribute: By operating a safe and healthy building, you are contributing to a safe and healthy community.

How you can expand your contribution: Reduce the impact of traveling to your building. Make information about public transportation available to building occupants, and make alternative transportation safe and easy by installing bicycle racks and preferred parking for alternative fuel vehicles or carpool and rideshare vehicles.

Goal 12: Sustainable consumption and production

Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns.

How you contribute: You provide recycling facilities for your building’s occupants.

How you can expand your contribution: Consider implementing a composting program for food waste and landscaping waste. Implement a sustainable purchasing policy for the products you purchase for your building that emphasizes the purchase of local products, products made from recycled materials, and reduced packaging. Take a look at the TRUE® Zero Waste certification program more for ideas.

Goal 13: Climate Change

Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.

How you contribute: Everything you do to save energy in your building contributes to reducing the effects of climate change.

How you can expand your contribution: Track your building’s greenhouse gas production using ENERGY STAR or another tracking tool, and then reduce or offset that production by saving more energy, using more sustainable products and services, and purchasing renewable energy credits and carbon offsets.

Goal 14: Oceans

Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.

How you contribute: You provide plastic recycling facilities for your building’s occupants.

How you can expand your contribution: Talk to your suppliers. Choose suppliers who make an effort to reduce the amount of plastic packaging they use and who take back plastic goods, such as toner cartridges, at the end of their useful life.

Goal 15: Biodiversity, forests, desertification

Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss.

How you contribute: You provide paper recycling facilities for your building’s occupants.

How you can expand your contribution: Take a look at your building’s landscaping. Does it incorporate native vegetation and provide habitat for native species? If not, consider making some changes. If your building doesn’t have landscaping, consider making a monetary or service contribution to an organization that promotes off-site native vegetation and habitat.

Goal 17: Partnerships

Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development.

How you contribute: You partner with your building’s owners to create a safe and healthy indoor environment.

How you can expand your contribution: We may have mentioned this before, but talk to your suppliers. They rely on your business, so they should be responsive to your requests for their participation in advancing these goals. Also talk to your building’s occupants; make sure the services you provide are meeting their needs and solicit their input on improving and expanding those services.

Conclusion

Looking at this list, it is clear that much of what you do contributes to the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals and helps address climate change. As a facilities manager, you can make a major contribution to sustainability by operating your building efficiently and by engaging with your community and your suppliers to find new and better ways of doing what you do every day. 2030 is fast approaching, but together we can achieve great things!

Leonardo Academy is a nonprofit organization that develops sustainability solutions through consultation and certification services in the LEED Green Building Rating System and the Cleaner & Greener sustainable event program. Leonardo Academy also provides sustainability and continuing education training, including training for the LEED Green Associate credential for individuals who support green buildings in their profession, such as building owners and facility managers.

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