Steve Sakach promoting the IMF’s bike program

27 February 2014 – International Monetary Fund chief of facilities operations Steve Sakach shows that the IMF puts its money where its mouth is after its head Christine Lagarde urged Australia to continue action on climate. This week Sakach spoke to Willow Aliento in a phone interview ahead of his trip to Melbourne next week to deliver the keynote address to Total Facilities Live.

 Breakout Box: “Stabilising atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases will require a radical transformation of the global energy system over coming decades. Fiscal instruments (carbon taxes or similar) are the most effective policies for reflecting environmental costs in energy prices and promoting development of cleaner technologies, while also providing a valuable source of revenue. Fiscal policies also have an important role to play in addressing other major environmental challenges, like poor air quality and urban congestion.” – IMF fact sheet “Climate, Environment and the IMF” – September 30, 2013

One of the world’s pivotal finance organisations, the International Monetary Fund, has been outspoken on the importance of responding to environmental challenges including greenhouse gas emissions, especially with high profile comments made by IMF head Christine Lagarde urging Australia not to drop its climate action commitment.

  • See: Christine Lagarde, the head of the International Monetary Fund, has urged the Abbott government not to abandon Australia’s role as what she calls “a pioneer” in the debate on climate change.  Read more

It’s not an abstract position, with sustainability initiatives undertaken at the IMF’s own headquarters in Washington DC proving that incremental improvements in building management can achieve substantial triple bottom line results.

The IMF owns three buildings in Washington. HQ1 was constructed in three phases (1971, 1988, 1998), and is currently undergoing a substantial occupied renovation of all the mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems with the goal of achieving 40 per cent overall energy savings.

The Cadillac building

Despite being what IMF chief of facilities operations Steve Sakach describes as a “Cadillac building” or “trophy building” with approximately 186,000 cubic metres of gross floor area, HQ1 achieved LEED-EB Gold certification in 2009. The renovation is projected to be LEED-NC (new construction) Gold.

HQ2 was opened in 2005 and was certified LEED-EB (existing building) Gold in 2009 and re-certified LEED-O+M (newer existing building) Platinum in 2013.

In a telephone conference with The Fifth Estate, ahead of his trip to Melbourne where he will be a keynote speaker for Total Facilities Live Sakach says the unique thing about HQ2’s Platinum certification is that it was achieved through in-house expertise without consulting support, and is largely the result of operating improvements not capital spend.

The Concordia

The IMF’s third building, The Concordia, is an extended stay hotel owned and operated by the IMF which was recently gutted and renovated with a LEED-NC Gold certification.

“Our objective is to operate all three buildings at LEED-O+M Platinum,” Sakach says.

The journey towards LEED certification began back in 2004, when the IMF’s facilities provider applied for, and was accepted into, the US Environment Protection Agency’s Energy Star Program. According to Sakach, it simply “snowballed” from there.

Some of the early initiatives under Energy Star included introducing setbacks at night for the HVAC systems and changing the temperature settings for the public areas.  As the facilities management division moved further into energy efficiency measures, the decision was made to strive for LEED certification.

Sakach says that at the time, he thought the decision to seek LEED Gold was overly ambitious, believing LEED Silver was perhaps the best the organisation could achieve without major capital spending.

“But once we’d done work on energy efficiency, waste management, alternative commuting and a water retrofit, and worked with our procurement people to get more sustainable products and more local products, all of that was enough to get us into LEED Gold,” Sakach says.

“It was all done organically within the LEED certification.”

Ensuring the sustainability of an international workforce

Having a workforce from every corner of the globe has itself been a major influence on the facilities management of the IMF’s two headquarters buildings.

“In an international organisation like ours, the environmental sensitivities of our staff are perhaps stronger than they are in other places,” Sakach says.

“In terms of energy efficiency, that became a leg-up.

“We were [also] early adopters of Green Seal cleaning products [to ensure air quality]. Our international staff have expectations based on where they come from, for example, staff from northern Europe expect an office with good natural light, operable windows and good air quality.”

To deliver better air quality, in addition to environmentally friendly cleaning products, low VOC-paints and carpets have been used throughout all the IMF buildings, and the FM division has ensured there is a larger proportion of fresh air coming into the buildings.

“The IMF’s asset is its people and their expertise, so we believe in finding the most productive environment for staff,” Sakach says.

“When you ask an economist what they need in their office space to be comfortable, they will tell you they need light, air, control of temperature and humidity, and ergonomic furniture – all of our workspace furniture has both sitting and standing capability.

“From our point of view, the sustainability of the people is part and parcel of sustainability – if your workplace is not refreshing your people, it’s not sustainable.”

Sakach believes the IMF’s emphasis on the human element can be traced to the organisation being part of the United Nations system.

“We are making sure we look at that [human element] as well as looking at natural resources. It is an element of the triple bottom line not usually seen [to the same degree] in the private sector,” he says.

Facilities managers – we’re looking at you

Because the facilities management “patch” of all mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems accounts for about 40 per cent of all the energy used in the built environment, Sakach says the sector has a real opportunity to impact sustainability. One of the key barriers is, however, some of the preconceptions which exist both on the part of facilities managers and those in the boardroom who approve – or don’t – budgets for upgrades and efficiency measures.

Far too many facilities managers believe that to be sustainable

you have to do something out of the ordinary

or make a massive capital spend – Sakach

“Far too many facilities managers believe that to be sustainable you have to do something out of the ordinary or make a massive capital spend,” Sakach says.

“But incremental improvements in how you operate buildings yields quite an impressive result; and if you cut energy costs by between five and 10 per cent, you have a real influence in the world.”

Low or no cost methods exist which work for any size of building, such as turning things off and undertaking proper maintenance so equipment runs at optimum efficiency can make a significant difference. As can leaving lights off in spaces such as data centres which are seldom entered, and either turning them on only when entering, or installing occupant-sensing lighting.

And what about the water?

It is not just about energy, with Sakach pointing out that water is, “possibly the most difficult resource in the world.”

Making savings in water use can also be achieved for low or no cost, with tactics like installing low-flow aerators on taps, or retrofitting toilet flushing. Even where there is no budget at all, simply adding a brick to the cistern – and as Sakach points out, “you can probably easily get the bricks from somewhere for free.”

“Facilities management is based on the vision going forward. We have been fortunate, as the IMF gives our FM division enough money. But in a previous life, I have been in places that didn’t have that flexibility, so you find lower or no cost opportunities to deliver the return. This then builds credibility with management, so you can ask for some budget to do some more things, and they deliver a return, and then you can start bundling the initiatives which have returns in with the ones which don’t have returns as such.”

It’s about the personal

“Sustainability is something we initiated from the bottom up,” Sakach says, giving the organisation’s deskside composting system as an example of harnessing the power of the people in an organisation so they become advocates for sustainability initiatives. The FM team had to decide whether it would be more effective to have one bin, and then contract someone to take the contents of the bins offsite for sorting and recycling, or if it would work better to ask staff to separate their own waste.

It’s a paradox – we got better results

if we asked staff to separate

it because they became committed [to recycling].

“It’s a paradox – we got better results if we asked staff to separate it because they became committed [to recycling]. They now have four bins – trash, paper, other recyclables and compost – and that got more cooperation and involvement in the program, which is kind of counter-intuitive,” Sakach says.

“The individual and personal commitment of IMF staff to sustainability is quite high.”

The placement of bins in public, and what order the different categories were put in, also made a difference in the success of waste separation, with the FM team trialing various arrangements and making observations of how people disposed of their waste before deciding on the optimum arrangement.

Data becomes a powerhouse for sustainability

The FM department has installed a substantial number of sub-metering and monitoring systems, and this has paid dividends, with staff able to see exactly what is going on in terms of humidity, temperature and airflow.

This has been an important aspect of improving the performance of the pre-refurbishment HQ1, which was essentially an ageing office building, which had not had any substantial upgrades to the HVAC systems.

An in-house developed IBM Cognos-based data warehouse tool was developed, which brings together all the detail of the building systems and the influences on them. The system, called Data$mart, is the largest data warehouse used at the IMF.

“[It] pulls 15 minute utility sub-metering data, building automation system equipment data, temperature and humidity data from al over the buildings, work order data (client requests [and] complaints like too hot/too cold, as well as repair and Preventive maintenance tickets), weather data from the national weather service, and room scheduling data (principally event schedules),” Sakach explained.

“Initial implementation focused on regular analysis of energy and equipment efficiency, but we also use the data to investigate and quantify the impact of operating changes like supplying more air at a higher temperature rather than less air at a lower temperature.”

The variation in air supply is an innovative approach, and the reverse of the usual practice for delivering airconditioning, which is to decrease the temperature of water in the chillers, and reduce the air supply so workers aren’t being blasted with cold air.

By increasing the chiller temperature and increasing air supply, energy is saved, and better comfort levels achieved.

Sensors and monitors can sometimes totally

change the philosophy a building operates on

Because the IMF building systems are a mélange of old and new plant and equipment, the Data$mart system enables the FM team to rapidly respond to changes in how the buildings are being used, in terms of who is doing what where and at what times of day. It also enables a continuous re-commissioning process, for example, when a change in one part of the systems impacts others.

“Sensors and monitors can sometimes totally change the philosophy a building operates on,” Sakach says.

The management of the IMF’s data centres has also undergone a transformation. Previously, they followed the traditional approach of “cooling the box”. Now, after a $4.1 million renovation to the old data centre, chilled water in-rack cooling is being used.

The FM team also discovered that data centres can be run at much higher temperatures than popular wisdom suggests, up to 80 degrees Fahrenheit (or 26.67 degrees Celsius), as long as there is sufficient redundancy in the system that it can cope with equipment failure, as without sufficient operational HVAC a data centre can heat up quickly.

Unstoppable sustainability is not a program

Having seen what can be achieved, Sakach firmly believes FM managers are in a position to show leadership in improving an organisation’s sustainability. In the IMF FM division, it boils down to a simple motto: “We don’t have a sustainability program, it’s what we do in everything we do.”

“Sustainability has given a focus to FM that didn’t exist before – [it used to be] we were just a cost to be managed. Now, because sustainability saves money, having it embedded in the organisation gives us a way to improve the whole organisation,” Sakach says.

“I have been fortunate enough with the IMF that it has a value for them to understand how different parts of the world do my job. I’ve been to conferences on every continent, except Australia, which will change next week [when he speaks at Total Facilities Expo in Melbourne].

“Everyone [world-wide] has something to add [to sustainability]. The developing world is in some ways more effective, given what they can get done with what they have. And there is a real paradox in China, where they have some buildings with better systems than we have here [in the US].

“You don’t have to be in a rich country, or a rich corporation, or have new buildings [to be more sustainable]. Just be wherever you are and do whatever you do, so long as you make it a part of what you do – and everything you do – and have that personal commitment.

“[I want to tell people], don’t just focus on the big expensive things like electric cars and enormous wind turbines, a lot of small things can make a big difference.”

Steve Sakach will be a keynote speakers at Total Facilities Expo in Melbourne, details