Encyclopedia of Sustainability in Higher Education

Living Edition
| Editors: Walter Leal Filho

Sustainable Facilities Management in Higher Education Institutions

  • Carla D. Aceves-AvilaEmail author
  • Marco A. Berger-García
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-63951-2_280-1



Sustainable facilities management (SFM) consists of a set of articulated practices oriented to adapt buildings to the climate. SFM specifically addresses water and carbon footprint controls and reductions and provides for the opportunity to generate research-based knowledge with collective impact and, ultimately, provides a mechanism for achieving the highest performance standards.

Sustainable facilities management (SFM) in Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) may be understood as the set of necessary operations to control and reduce environmental impact of higher education facilities and their operations while potentially achieving the highest safety and performance standards. An integral approach of SFM in HEIs would also consider research-based generation of knowledge through the application of such procedures as well as the collective impact of these actions through community learning, engagement, and organizational change.

Facilities Management (FM) and Sustainable Facilities Management (SFM), Apparent Synonyms

Facilities management (FM) is understood as the operations necessary for the maintenance and preservations of buildings and the built environment for providing a safe and ergonomically comfortable living or working environment for people at a given organization. Sustainable facilities management (SFM) is an emerging field within facilities management (FM) through which to achieve the building’s high performance and safety, low resource utilization, low greenhouse emissions generation, as well as other adaptations to climate change such as energy management, waste and recycling management, health and safety management, or control and reduction of the water and carbon footprints.

The management of facilities should ultimately lead to an environment which is habitable and fit for working for people. This consideration of management may be already related to sustainability in the sense that living and working standards must be preserved in time in order not to affect people’s living or working. In this sense, FM is considered an array of activities regarding the daily operation and maintenance practice of the built environment in order to preserve the buildings as assets, to provide a safe space for living and/or working conditions, and ultimately, to favorably influence different aspects of the performance of the building such as energy management or water consumption and management in order to improve it and make it more sustainable, that is, to reduce its overall impact on the environment. The most common approach to FM tends to involve the early planning stages of facilities, considering design and materials in order to create efficient buildings. Thus, the current approach to FM involves sustainable design and building techniques in order to create efficient buildings in every sense possible. On the other hand, SFM does not necessarily involve the planning and construction stage of facilities as it also may be put in place on already made facilities, regardless of sustainability in design, materials or construction techniques, or technology. SFM tends to focus on strategic operations management that tends to minimize environmental impact of facilities operations, whether the facility itself has been sustainability oriented or not. No significant distinction between FM and SFM has been found in literature so far, although some authors are beginning to identify differences between FM of sustainable or efficient buildings and sustainable management regardless of the characteristics of the facilities. Although efficiency is not necessarily a synonym of sustainability, the minimization or optimization on the use of natural, human, or economic resources sought by FM is certainly a common goal of sustainability. Also, this tends to lead to a reduction on the environmental impact of human activities, which is also a common goal of sustainability. Although FM and SFM approaches are different in methodologies and objectives, they tend to have positive effects on the control and reduction of environmental impacts of facilities, but no literature has been found exploring and comparing integral environmental, social, or economic effects of either. Since no clear distinction has been consistently made so far in scientific literature, this exploration of the link between FM and sustainability has considered both approaches.

One of the most comprehensive analyses of FM was the one performed by Sha (2007) exploring fundamental aspects of facilities management. Sha (2007) focused and addressed the environmental management practices in an effort to fill the gap between policy research on sustainability management and the technical research based on the processes of FM operations. Sha generally covered FM policy and global trends affecting businesses, general compliance requirements (these mainly based for the UK and Europe), and complemented with case studies. Sha put great emphasis on regulatory compliance and focused on planning management operations for achieving the greater efficiency of all resources used identifying the economic benefits of sustainability practice.

FM is generally analyzed by authors focusing on the technical aspects of operations and their effects on efficiency or else for achieving SFM. Pearce (2017) has focused on the role of the FM professional as the most strategic aspect for achieving sustainability. Pearce (2017) identifies buildings and infrastructure as significant means by which humans contribute to problems such as resource depletion, damage to ecosystems, and climate change. Facility managers have a significant role to play in improving the sustainability of human enterprises by improving the sustainability of the facilities for which they are responsible. Pearce (2017) centers on the role of the facility manager and describes ways in which these professionals can improve the sustainability of the built environment at the facilities, portfolio, and community scales in urban environments through best management practices and provide future directions for sustainable facilities management. Although the focuses are primarily on the role of the facility manager and not on the management activities, it gives substantial input on FM operations. The author identifies facility managers as potential professional drivers for change toward sustainable operations.

Junghans (2011) proposes that FM may contribute to a sustainable development of the built environment. FM directly and indirectly influences the procurement and delivery of construction. FM directly influences the sustainable development of the built environment through the support of primary processes, the development of space and infrastructure, and the development of people and organizations. The sustainability of the built infrastructure contributes to the overall sustainability of the environment. Junghans (2011) explores how FM influences indirectly to the objectives of sustainability concerning society, environment, and economy promoting organizational practices that strengthen sustainability. The findings are that FM contributes to the overall objectives of sustainability. Additionally noted is that there is no common definition nor consistent application of the term “sustainable facilities management” in Europe. This fact also appears to be true for American English-speaking scientific literature as well.

As FM, SFM also may consider a wide array of issues, ranging from the adaptation and sustainable operation practices to operations management based on sustainability performance, although the greater trend in literature focuses on environmental sustainability. Some pieces of literature put emphasis on economical sustainability, few on social sustainability, and even fewer with an integral sustainability approach involving all three dimensions. Although an integral sustainability approach would involve ecological, economical, and social aspects, most of the FM and SFM authors identify sustainability with effects on the ecological ambit. In regard to SFM and consistent with Sha (2007) and Junghans (2011), Nielsen et al. (2016) performed an important literature review and find that the greater stress of research is put on environmental sustainability through a wide array of possibilities, although FM may help in the development of solutions and contributions on societal effects through organizational analysis through an integrated approach, although such is still very limited.

Finch and Zhang (2013) explore FM as a discipline and how it may contribute to sustainable building performance. FM practices and user behavior are part of a multilayer system that may influence a facility’s performance making it more sustainable. Finch and Zhang (2013) defend the fact that intended environmental improvement depends on the behavior of users and the ongoing management of the facility throughout its life. Finch and Zhang (2013) invite to explore the built environment as a multilayer life cycle process in which FM plays a critical intervention in sustainable decision-making processes. Finch and Zhang (2013) make an interesting contribution through the analysis of life cycle process of the built environment as well as the interaction between FM operation processes and the behavior of users. The discussion of the critical role of behavior and decision-making in facilities processes enriches the discussions of FM as a social driver for sustainability change.

Zakaria et al. (2018) identify and compile critical success factors for a positive impact of SFM. This assessment analyzes the perceptions of facility managers that recognize their practices as SFM. The analysis concludes on 19 success factors. The most common ones identified in literature are strict legislation set by the government, the organization’s sustainability policy, the commitment and the perception of practicing facility manager, and the involvement of senior management personnel. According to Imualim et al. (2012), the most important driver for the implementation of sustainable practices around facilities in the UK is legislation. This result is consistent with traditional command and control environmental policies and is one of the most visible tools to enforce sustainable practices around facilities. However, legislation is not sufficient to ensure both compliance and behavioral change among stakeholders. The main issues that ought to be taken into account besides legislation and regulation in order to successfully implement sustainable facilities practices are located at the organizational level and have to do with monitoring, management, and reporting on issues like energy management, waste, recycling management, and carbon footprint.

Green Buildings and Green Maintainability as SFM Practices

Sustainable facilities management (SFM) tends to be oriented to improve the performance of the built assets through the management practices that allow to optimize resource consumption and general environmental impacts. SFM may be implemented in any facility, but “green buildings” or “sustainable buildings” tend to require specific maintenance practices in order to preserve and maximize any benefit that the design, construction techniques, or materials used in the construction may contribute. Sustainable management practices of facilities are currently confused with green building maintenance considering the necessity to link sustainability and maintainability considerations with the facilities management knowledge and practice in order to achieve the expectations of sustainable constructions and green buildings. Current literature review does not reveal a consistent use of SFM, and neither has yet revealed a consistent approach in the use of “green building maintenance.”

Adopting a similar approach, Asmone and Chew (2016) find several gaps in literature that allowed them to affirm that SFM and green maintainability are often confused. Asmone and Chew (2016) define the terminology and find fundamental issues in green building maintenance in which environmental sustainable performance is not sustained through its operational and maintenance phases and propose mechanisms to link facility knowledge from its operation stages with design and construction stages. Based on identified literature gaps, Asmone and Chew (2016) propose a link between facility knowledge from its operation stages with design and construction stages in order to potentiate the opportunity to push forward synergistic design decisions to achieve lifetime sustainability of built environments. Asmone and Chew (2016) also propose the concept of green maintainability of facilities in order to bridge this knowledge gap and create high performance, low-risk, and cost-effective facilities while maintaining minimum resource utilization and emissions generation. This approach strengthens the integral view of FM from operations to maintenance in order to enhance environmental sustainable performance of facilities while proposing a definition for “green maintainability.”

On a similar approach, Chew et al. (2017) defend the concept of “green maintainability.” According to them, the economic, environmental, and social impacts and opportunities of green FM are identified as “green maintainability” throughout the life cycle of a facility. Chew et al. (2017) develop and present a methodological framework for the research of green FM. This approach is meaningful and relevant since both efficiency and sustainability approaches tend to lack consistent methodologies for their reporting schemes, making it difficult for a strong scientific evaluation and even record tracking in order to prove goal achievements. While most of the observed methodologies tend to be descriptive, traceability is often overlooked resulting in methods with scarce reliability in their goal results.

Sustainable Facilities Management in Higher Educational Institutions (HEIs)

As it was observed before, FM and SFM are practiced in management operations of facilities regardless of the use or application of the facility itself. Although there are some examples of specific management practiced for certain types of specialized facilities such as the case of hospitals, no relevant literature is found that specifically explores facilities management of education facilities. In the case of education facilities, several specific applications of SFM practices are found in literature such as LEED building management, or monitoring and control of greenhouse gas emissions of buildings oriented to carbon neutrality, but literature tends to be descriptive of case studies rather than methodology based, and the lack of consistency makes it difficult to identify harmonic systematization of such experiences.

Mcmillin and Dyball (2009) suggest that universities can optimize their role as agents of change with regard to sustainability by adopting a “whole-of-university” approach to sustainability. Their proposal considers linkages through research, educational, operational, and outreach activities as well as student engagement in all of these activities. Mcmillin and Dyball (2009) suggest collaborative spaces within the curriculum for students, academics, and managers to critically reflect on university’s performance with regard to sustainability. This whole-school approach integrating management operations, research, and educational activities and outreach is widely explored in practice, although literature evidences that sectoral dimensions and analyses tend to prevail over crosscutting approaches, making it difficult to come up with a harmonic systematization of documented experiences.

According to UN Global Compact (UNGC 2012), assertive leadership of HEIs in sustainability practices is crucial for achieving quality education. The active engagement of responsible practices of HEIs, such as management operations, contributes to the well-being of involved stakeholders such as students and academic and administrative staff, while they become an educational and ethical statement of the institution. Research-based knowledge and ethical behavior of a university community benchmark HEIs. The Global Compact initiative recognizes that HEIs hold a responsibility as organizations and must control their impacts on environment such as waste and pollution they generate, natural resource and biodiversity preservation, their energy input, and adaptation to climate change. As institutional drivers of change, HEIs have several action domains according to UNGC (2012). These include local community involvement, risk management, and sustainable performance indicators. UNGC implicitly recognizes a sustainability link in facilities management through these social responsibility levers of HEIs as organizations.

Under this same idea, Dave et al. (2014) recognize facilities management department as a key operational unit of HEI given the fact that it may intervene in early planning of the design, construction, and operation of educational infrastructure and is permanently involved in the management strategies for optimization in the use of natural resources and pollution control of daily operations. Dave et al. (2014) identify these as “core biophysical strategies on energy, carbon and climate change” (Dave et al., 2014:12). These authors identify water consumption, waste generation, and biodiversity protection and enhancement as sustainability-related crosscutting issues that impact facilities management. Also, FM or SFM may intervene in the design and development of future infrastructure and even in sustainable procurement of certain goods and services. Dave et al. clearly pinpoint SFM operations as strategic for sustainable campus performance.

Also, as education institutions, UNESCO (2017) recognizes that HEIs play a fundamental social role in student engagement. Humanity needs an urgent paradigm shift, a mindset change that enables a transformation in our lifestyles and the way we think and act as societies if we are to successfully face the challenges of climate change effects. In order to achieve this goal, societies need new skills, values, and attitudes that lead to more sustainable behaviors. Thus, education systems must respond to this need by defining relevant learning objectives, learning contents, and pedagogical methods that are able to empower learners, as well as every other participant, and HEIs are no exception. Even though there is no direct association between learning objectives and FM or SFM per se, UNESCO (2017) identifies the capacity of learners to participate in, evaluate, and influence decision-making-related management strategies of local, national, and international enterprises as behavioral learning objectives for several SDGs. Clearly, the ability to participate through student engagement is an indicator aspect of SFM in HEIs that should be further explored as suggested by other cases in literature not oriented to education facilities mentioned before. Literature review in this area is difficult since a great number of experiences have been documented, but methodologies, approaches, and outcomes are as varied as sectors, scopes, or dimensions of sustainability are explored through HEI strategies.

HEIs in all the globe explore reality-based learning supported on the use of the built environment and facilities management as a learning tool. This behavioral or cognitive approach to reality-based learning through FM or SFM practices is a well-received strategy among HEIs in American continent. Such is the case of the experiences documented through Cohen and Lovell (n.d.). Perhaps the greatest difficulty in the implementation of such strategies within HEIs is the assessment of sustainability through traditional FM or even emerging SFM indicators.

As opposed to linear or sectoral FM or SFM approaches, no significant literature is found to asses FM or SFM specifically in HEIs. As identified by Ramos and Moreno (2013), given that HEIs are knowledge institutions, they foster sustainability assessment initiatives more than supporting policy and management issues as they would do in other enterprises or corporations. Under this role, universities should be ready to integrate and well reflect the uncertainty values of nonlinear complex processes, where limits are often unknown. Moreover, Sonetti et al. (2017) suggest the fundamental role of SFM in order to successfully transform into a sustainable university and propose a sustainability assessment transition framework for HEIs that integrates (a) the built-environment quality improvement, (b) the civil society engagement, (c) the industry partners’ involvement, and (d) the public institutions support and collaboration in policy implementation.

Adams (2013) explores sustainability reporting and performance management in the university sector. Findings evidence that university practice in sustainability reporting and performance management significantly lags other sectors and fails to optimize the potential of the sector to influence transformational change through knowledge transfer. This research evidences the need for increased accountability, improved management of performance, and the need for a more innovative approach. Clearly, literature review shows the important role of FM or SFM in HEIs sustainability transition, but the widespread array of possibilities is not explored through applied science.

It is important to mention that while different approaches to SFM are identified in scientific literature, no justice is made to the extraordinary diversity of experiences documented in nonscientific literature. Such is the case of the vast majority of experiences documented through the International Sustainable Campus Network (ISCN). ISCN (2018) recognizes that as institutions committed to learning and teaching, HEIs have the possibility of testing new ideas and technologies and measure change and impacts. ISCN members, which are HEIs all over the world, increasingly integrate the Sustainable Development Goals into governance, operations, teaching, learning, research, and engagement, and they descriptively document case studies in yearly reports. The scope of possibilities observed in real-life examples reflects sophisticated possibilities of research related to SFM ranging from campus as a living laboratory to rich and diverse campus sustainability strategies based on management practices. Although not recorded for scientific purposes, the annual collection of documented experiences published in their yearly reports offers an interesting array of possibilities for exploration, as many of these experiences are operations and management based and may have followed scientific methods under the scope of living laboratory approach or case study-oriented techniques or methods applied for a particular purpose. Some of the case studies may have been documented under scientific methods and literature and could deserve constant observation, special consideration, and further follow-up for identification of SFM methods or frameworks in the near future.

Final Comments

Further research and discussion on the meaning and application of SFM and green maintenance is urgently needed. Also, research on the applications of SFM on green building management is necessary in order to assure long-term benefits of sustainable infrastructure.

Literature review suggests that significant efforts are made to document SFM in HEIs through core biophysical sectoral analyses, such as energy, carbon, and climate change strategies as well as those related to natural resource consumption. There is a substantial amount of literature documenting sustainability-oriented FM experiences in different universities around the world. In this context, a wide array of diverse approaches, methodologies, and even the use of description instead of method descriptions makes it difficult to document a scientific approach relating FM and sustainability or sustainability assessment. There are great opportunities to define what should be understood as SFM and green building management both in general and applied to HEIs. Also, objective and consistent framework development is needed both for documenting ecological, economic, and social impacts of SFM and also for appropriately documenting the insertion of SFM in a whole-school or systemic approach considering educational, management, research, and outreach activities simultaneously.

Research and evidence is needed in order to document the use of the built environment as learning environment. Clearly, the use of higher education facilities could have a great potential in learning outcomes as well as in the development of assessment frameworks for continuous improvement of a great array of FM practices.

There is a significant opportunity in the development and proposal of public policies in education as SFM is also observed as a learning tool. The exploration of the possibilities of the linkage of successful SFM practices to controlled learning experiences may reveal public policy opportunities linking management practices in HEIs to practical learning experiences. Also, the visibility of successful SFM practices may contribute to a synergistic effect of nonformal education on collective or societal behavior.

Finally, regarding higher education, there is limited assessment on the effects that FM or SFM have either on personnel or on the university community. Studies should be conducted in order to assess and learn the effect that SFM practices and their observance have on any individuals exposed to the practice in the form of nonformal sustainability education, particularly on the student community, which is widely viewed as a prospective catalyzer of social change.



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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Carla D. Aceves-Avila
    • 1
    Email author
  • Marco A. Berger-García
    • 1
  1. 1.Center of Economic and Management SciencesUniversity of GuadalajaraZapopanMexico

Section editors and affiliations

  • Madhavi Venkatesan
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of EconomicsNortheastern UniversityBostonUSA