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Facility executives looking to outsource a facility function or two, but still continue with green goals can now have their cake and eat it, too. That's because many outsourcing providers have realized the growing demand for green and have tailored their services to help green-focused facility executives. Still, it's important to carefully evaluate the providers and their services to ensure facility executives are getting what they want and what they're paying for.
"Green shouldn't just be energy and chemicals," says Michel Theriault, a principal with Strategic Advisor. "It should include everything that touches the environment, including procedures and processes. Is there proactive training? What do they do when there is a problem?"
Before facility executives can begin evaluating a provider's green credentials, however, they need to know what credentials to look for.
"There are more than two dozen credentialing, certifying, or inspecting authorities, and I think to some extent they're all credible if you clearly understand the mission of each," says Vince Elliott, founder and chief executive officer of Elliott Affiliates, Ltd. "Every organization has its own way of certifying and you need to know what that way is."
One such organization is Green Seal, an independent, non-profit organization that says it uses science-based environmental certification standards to help facility executives, manufacturers and others make choices about the products they use. The organization has environmental standards, including 37, 41, 42 and 43, for various products used in facilities. GS 43, for example, is the standard for recycled-content interior and exterior latex paint.
Facility executives need to make sure that the certified products a provider uses work not just in a lab where they've been tested, but in buildings that are occupied day in and day out, Elliott says. For example, the quality of water varies from one region of the country to another, with some having hard (high mineral content) water and others having soft water. "So every product won't work the same everywhere," he says. "Just having certification doesn't mean it will work all of the time."
Facility executives should understand that if they require certification from Green Seal or another organization, it could significantly reduce the pool of otherwise-qualified providers and possibly raise prices, says Stephen Ashkin, founder of the Ashkin Group, LLC. "They need to be sensitive about their market," he adds. "In some cases, they may want to use certification as a Ônice to have' instead of a Ômust have.' "
Facility executives should also know what they are willing to commit to in terms of green services, or the time and energy put into the evaluation process will be moot. "Know what you want and what you can do because some measures will require time and energy and possibly capital," Theriault says. "You may prioritize and start with those that are low cost, low effort and work your way up the ladder."
Once facility executives know what a provider's green credentials are and who provided them, they can evaluate the credentials. In addition to speaking with trade associations, Joe Havey, president of Havey Real Estate Consultants, recommends talking with other facility executives about which providers they've used and whether they've been happy with the work. Taking these steps acts as a "prequalification," he says, which is particularly helpful if a provider comes in with a low bid. That way, facility executives have some perspective on why the bid may have been so low.
Havey also suggests that facility executives design a matrix and assign a weighting to each of the criteria. For example, on a scale of 1 to 10, having a LEED Accredited Professional credential may be worth three or four points, while being a certified energy manager may be worth 10 points. Once the points are tallied for each provider, facility executives have a good indication of which provider is the most qualified.
"Green is the big thing and some providers have much more experience than others," Havey says. "I'd be looking at some of those that have been doing this for four, five, six years."
Internal expertise is crucial and that's partly related to the size of the organization, says Theriault. A provider that has in-house expertise is likely a better choice than a provider that doesn't because, in part, the knowledge level will be "solid" and can be accessed at any time, he says.
How the expertise is applied is also important and should be spelled out in the contract with the provider, Theriault says. "That expertise costs money and if you're not specific in your request for proposal, you may not get it," he says. "Ask specifically for those services so that every bidder will give you what you want."
It's also vital to get proof of exactly what a provider has done, Theriault says. Ask the provider if there are existing procedures that will be applied to the building and then ask for the results of those procedures when they were applied to a similar portfolio of buildings, he says. "Get the data that shows it's worth replacing the lighting system and which shows the payback," Theriault says. "You're evaluating their performance rather than just evaluating what they say they'll do."
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