The transformation in South Africa’s construction sector from 15 short years ago when local green building pioneers started to establish the case for Green Star rating systems is visible to more than sector professionals.

Words Alan Cameron

The fundamentals of

The investment to create high performance buildings is significant. Often particularly skilled professionals are needed to fully utilise the site as well as the complimentary design and use of the building.

“Facilities managers (FMs) today are challenged with working as efficiently and as waste-free as possible,” says GCX CEO and founder Kevin James. GCX provides a reporting and analytics platform for managing ESG risk to give companies reporting functionality to map carbon footprint activities across multiple buildings or sites. “FMs are often required to meet ESG targets that are being set at group level. This is a dramatic change from a decade ago when FMs performed a maintenance function and simply hoped nothing expensive broke.”

“Every day, FMs need to make the facility run and are dealing with building systems, tenant representatives and occupants. Their role varies from equipment maintenance to managing how people behave to making sure the indoor environment is a good place for people to be,” says sustainability consultant and owner of Common Space, Zendre Compion. “This role covers procurement, coordination between stakeholders, site management, through to aspects affecting indoor environmental quality and health like thermal comfort and cleaning.”


Instead of jumping into efficient lighting projects, first establish a baseline of power use and make sure your FM actions are informed, encourages James. “Once there is a recorded understanding of good and poor performing assets, you then look at what projects can be started to reduce energy, water or minimise waste. FMs achieve the support required by showing how green behaviour contributes to overall ESG targets set by the landlord and often the tenant as well,” advises James.

The FM team runs the building according to a regulatory standard. The GBCSA Energy Water Performance (EWP) tool enables organisations to benchmark the energy and water performance of a building over time. Only once requirements increase for FM teams to also document the sustainability of the building is the extra data collected. This can be used when looking at existing building performance certification.

Waterwise planting enables significant irrigation savings. – V&A

Compion, who uses a human-centred approach to building sustainability, points out that areas where green building ratings are designed to have an impact are often not recorded. “Today’s FM is required to understand the intended performance of the building, measure it and manage it,” she says. This points to tracking, reporting and ensuring the operational systems FMs use are robust enough to prove building performance. “Buildings can only be smart in as far as the management team are driven to turn data into insight that improves their ability to manage their building well.”
FMs are required to have a deep technical background to understand the functioning of air conditioning, glass and materials used inside and outside the building; an ability to understand nuanced building processes and ensure their implementation; while also having the emotional aptitude to handle service providers and tenants.

Building information modeling (BIM) is a process supported by various technologies that generate digital representations of a building. Data is extracted and used for decision-making purposes for the property. BIMs are a great backing for FMs wishing to support their drive towards sustainability.

To create and maintain an enjoyable living environment, FMs must decide on how best to utilise what is often limited space in the facility, including general grounds and garden areas. An example shown here is the food garden at V&A Waterfront.

The FM should be motivated to improve the building as part of their role. And this attitude is largely influenced by the work culture the FM operates within, notes Compion. Firstly, FMs need to understand they have the support to make and act on their own decisions. When there is mutual professional respect between colleagues Compion noticed that FMs do not simply manage waste, they look at the lifecycle of objects they are buying for the building. At this level of attention, FMs are often able to contribute significantly to group-wide sustainability targets. Secondly, incentives can be effectively used to ensure green management is not viewed as unnecessary additional work.

Today’s facilities manager is required to understand the intended performance of the building, measure it and manage it.
V&A Waterfront’s Radisson Red Hotel has a 5-Star Green Star Custom Hotel Design and a 5-Star Green Star As-Built rating. The Ridge (above) won the highest-rated building at the 2021 GBCSA Leadership Awards.

Greening FM’s four pillars

Smart metering systems track and monitor building performance and provide data that helps us optimise the building as well as attract and retain tenants, says Mareli Cloete, V&A Waterfront senior manager for Safety, Health and Environment.

People, processes, building and technology remain key to fulfilling the FM role. It is accepted that green construction is completed by following rigorous specifications applied to the structural material and technologies incorporated that reduce the carbon footprint associated with the build and operation. Gradings often support ethical and green standards present in the value chain surrounding the creation of these products.

Efficiencies are not only inherent to the design and selected materials but also in its use, and FMs manage how people use the building to achieve its designed performance. Installing green hardware such as water-wise aerator spray taps or grey water toilet flushing systems that use recycled water are only part of why a building may be viewed as high performance.

The use of monitors and sensors enable further efficiency of various elements of the building function according to their design, but the high point of optimisation – often only seen through ongoing educational efforts by the FM – is achieved when all building occupants support this goal through their individual actions.

Companies are expected to publicly report against a scorecard of ESG measures. ESG reports touch on all aspects of a company, including the carbon impact of their operations, offices and supply chains. An able facilities manager can reduce the sustainability impact of the building, to the benefit of owner and tenants obliged to include it as part of reporting on their working environment. A green building owner who outsources FM responsibilities, especially to multiple service providers, may find it more difficult to secure a level of feedback that reveals an understanding of all the moving parts, and which can be used to contribute towards and enhance ESG reporting, Compion notes. When FMs are part of the core team putting their equipment upgrade and modification recommendations through, a cost analysis exercise is often worthwhile.

Compion agrees that the professional value of an FM is increasingly being recognised, but points out what often is missed is their potential contribution during the design and development phase. She makes the case that should the FM of a new building be known, then they should be invited to give comment during design and construction to fine-tune operations of the new buildings in the very initial stages.

Encouraging tenants

“The most important thing to approach the tenant with is tangible facts. You need to back up your statements,” Cloete says. “The Waterfront believes in building a business case for green and environmental sustainability, so when speaking to tenants we present case studies, perhaps around efficient lighting or low-flow taps. We present the facts and figures around these installations to the tenants.” She explains that the Waterfront signs a green lease with tenants that stipulates consumption per m² and appropriate resource efficient initiatives.

When working within the FM remit there are several opportunities to create demand for improved products with a lighter carbon footprint, notes Compion. From the motivation to the procurement manager or CFO explaining why a high-value item should be green, to requiring smaller providers to explain why and how their products are sustainable. Similar action is possible with contractors and tenants by ensuring they take responsibility for the volume and disposal of their waste. Recycling practices are of-course key and to be encouraged, however a waste assessment will reveal how all parties can decrease the levels of waste entering the building, not just on how better to dispose of it.

Compion stresses that at each stage of implementing a green building practice, education should accompany it. As tenants understand the reason why, they will look to see what they can do to initiate and support green practices, such as requesting to use their own lunchboxes and refillable bottles at a local fast-food takeaway. A quarterly green forum for building occupants where ideas can be discussed is also a useful way to spread enthusiasm.

Facilities managers are often able to contribute significantly to group-wide sustainability targets.

Compion notes that in green buildings with multiple teams or tenants it is useful to measure the energy usage of each through smart metering. A project she was exposed to saw a screen installed in the building foyer showing the energy performance of each tenant. This quickly turned into a friendly competition between tenants, to everyone’s benefit. Besides for the convenience of sub-metering in usage patterns, users enjoy being exposed to the data and it encourages further interest and more engaged stakeholders.


There are and will be instances when FMs are unable to act, only advise. Wanting to drive change but unable to practically assist it can be discouraging. In these instances, FMs are advised to make a case based on research and benchmarks. Joining the dots between tenant absenteeism and a reluctance to invest in good indoor air quality and bibliophilic design can show the owner the price of a trying to tenant a sick building.

“Post-Covid, FMs are also facing potential changes in how their buildings will operate with flexible work hours and flexi-desk space and a range of other logistical issues becoming part of their responsibility. It is a good time to promote changes to how the building operates, or introducing new operational practices,” says Compion.

James says FMs should not be concerned. Sustainability roles within companies are now being elevated to executive level, no longer is the annual report sufficient, but stakeholders expect detailed reports on the company’s level of sustainable behaviour.

The role of the facilities manager reflects this, says James. FMs are acknowledged to contribute to property owners’ and tenants’ desire to steward natural resources in a socially just and environmentally sustainable manner. Today a successful facilities manager is key to ensuring a fuss-free green operating environment that retains tenants for longer while ensuring the building becomes an increasingly valuable asset.

The waste sorting facility at the V&A Waterfront.