Over the Easter period it would have been impossible not to notice the widespread demonstrations and public disruption caused by the Extinction Rebellion movement in London. The whole purpose of the movement is to persuade Government to act on the climate and the ecological emergency confronting civilisation.
Peaceful protest and public displays of non-violent direct action are all designed to raise awareness and profile of the sustainability issues facing the planet. Judging by the press and media coverage this first objective has been a success. It is against this backdrop and by healthy co-incidence that at the same time as Parliament Square was completely pedestrianised due to some of this ‘direct action’, at the nearby RICS headquarters the IFMA UK team were hosting an event on single use plastics, including speakers from Greenpeace, City to Sea and Kids versus Plastics.
So, what may all this mean to those of us that work across the built environment and specifically within FM? Why and how would peaceful civil disobedience and direct action across our Capital ever impact on the job roles that we have? The Extinction Rebellion movement at their heart have only three demands of Government – Firstly, to tell the truth. Secondly to act now to halt biodiversity loss and reduce Greenhouse gases and Thirdly to let the solutions go beyond the politics and be led by the decisions of a citizen’s assembly.
The focus and possible shift in both Public opinion and Government sentiment with regards to the future of our planet offers enormous potential for the Facilities Management profession. The last few years have seen a real maturing of our sector regarding Sustainability Issues, Responsible Business practices and Ethical behaviours, the ability to make a difference is firmly in our hands.
The presentations at the IFMA UK event offered practical and sensible ways for both individuals and businesses to really think about their own impact with regards to the use of plastics, be that in our catering, maintenance or operational activities. The FM sector has long been an advocate and champion of energy management or waste reduction strategies and has led both behavioural as well as operational and practical change programmes across client and in-house teams.
At the end of 2018 the UN Secretary General warned that “The world must act swiftly and robustly to keep global warming under 1.5 degrees to try and avoid utterly catastrophic impacts to life on Earth.”
Hearing warnings such as this and over laying the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals that were published in 2016 create a political backdrop and therefore an emerging marketplace where “ending poverty, protecting the planet and ensuring that all people enjoy peace and prosperity” are not only solid aspirations but also political imperatives.
The emerging professionals in our sector will need to be able to support Governments in delivering against these Sustainable development goals but also to respond to the challenge laid down by the demonstrators in London this week to be honest about the challenges our planet faces and to act now. The political pressure will also come to bear on private sector organisations as increasingly their own customers as well as their own staff will want to know what actions they are taking to sustain the planet.
We don’t have the golden bullet within FM or the one single solution to improving the life chances for the globe, that would be a ridiculous statement, what we do have, however, is the ability to influence and drive behavioural change. Within FM we have the data sets, we have the service delivery, we have the ability to sustainably procure and deliver our operations, we have the people on the ground and we have the experience to incrementally change the way we use scarce or damaging resources.
The protests over Easter were a call to action, it would be criminal for all of us that work in FM to not now rise to the challenge and make a difference.