FM collaborates on scope 3 emission framework

A research project run by the Sustainable Facilities Management Index aims to develop guidance for facilities managers to measure carbon associated with building operations in a consistent way


  • Sunil Shah

27 October 2023

Photo of commercial buildings

Whole-building carbon assessments often overlook emissions associated with facilities management (FM) – which leads to incomplete evaluations of environmental impact and limits the improvements that can be made to operational efficiency at the design stage. 

The Sustainable Facilities Management Index (SFMI) recognises the need to calculate the built environment's carbon emissions correctly, given the significant contribution these make to the UK's total emissions, thus aligning the facilities management or built environment sector with global decarbonisation goals. 

It therefore launched a research project into emissions under scope 3 of the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Protocol, which encompass all indirect emissions throughout the FM value chain. The project aims to develop guidance for the consistent measurement of carbon data from building operations.

Research focuses on need for accurate energy data

The market view of energy consumption in buildings is defined primarily at the design stage by reference to:

Regarded this way, operational energy is therefore a theoretical estimate. But the UK government's Building Performance Evaluation programme shows that such estimates can be incorrect by factors of anything between four and 11, so actual energy consumption is rarely reflected accurately at the design stage. 

The cleaning, catering and maintenance of buildings is also not generally documented correctly. This lacuna in the relevant data has been a key part of the scope 3 research project.

A better understanding of operational emissions would help decarbonisation strategies, and also be useful throughout a building's life cycle to inform design and construction. The aim is to develop a robust methodology to calculate carbon emissions in the built environment accurately, aligning with UK and global decarbonisation ambitions.

FM providers Skanska, Bouygues, Optima and the scope 3 research project founding partner BAM FM, as well as professional bodies such as RICS, the Institute of Workplace and Facilities Management (IWFM) and the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment (IEMA), are collaborators on the project, reflecting the need for broader industry engagement. 

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RICS involvement

It has been important to include the thoughts and experiences of professional membership bodies such as RICS in this significant piece of research, especially given how vital it is to consider operational emissions when designing buildings.

Paul Bagust, head of property practice at RICS, says: 'We all know that buildings are a significant contributor to carbon emissions. For these to be reduced, we need to be able to measure and benchmark in a consistent way to ensure we see real and significant change. The FM industry has made great strides in many respects and RICS is pleased to be part of this initiative which will build on and extend this crucial work going forward.'

Draft framework put to the test

The research project involves the following stages:

  • partnering with BAM FM during the first stage of the project to create a desktop-based approach for measuring emissions against the GHG Protocol
  • testing the methodology in live scenarios, collecting live data and refining the framework based on insights from FM companies
  • collating data from up to 200 projects to develop emissions factors associated with FM – e.g. catering and cleaning which can be used as more accurate data reporting – enhance the sector's profile and engage with governmental and regulatory bodies
  • developing the framework into guidance, for which professional bodies such as RICS, IWFM and IEMA would be responsible, and preparing a decarbonisation strategy for the sector.

After the draft scope 3 FM framework was successfully defined in stage 1, stage 2 involved live testing the methodology for measuring supply-chain emissions. The FM companies involved in the project submitted their data, and these findings helped shape the draft framework.

With stage 2 nearly complete, the framework has been shared with IWFM members, anyone who attended the five webinars held by IWFM and IEMA, all SFMI partners and individuals interested in the research programme, including RICS members. The next stage will involve collating their feedback and updating the document before it is published.

Difficulties make data collection uneven

The first challenge our partners faced was engaging suppliers and contractors to obtain accurate data. The diverse nature of suppliers, at various stages of their reporting journeys, made it difficult to collect comparable data. 

However, we have recognised that improved upfront engagement with suppliers and effective collaboration with procurement teams yield better outcomes. Smaller suppliers would benefit from clear messaging explaining the project's objectives and the advantages of data collection for their own company's sales and governance.

While data collection varied across the different categories required to report against for scope 3 – e.g. fuel, purchased goods and services – gathering data about utilities such as electricity and natural gas was relatively straightforward and consistent. 

Company vehicle fleet emissions were also reported in different but valid ways, allowing for meaningful comparisons. However, collecting data on other fuel types proved challenging.

On a positive note, purchased goods and services data was generally gathered without issue, and estimates of commuting distances were successfully recorded. In addition, business travel data was often accurately documented.

Transport data emerged as a common obstacle for all participants, though, highlighting the need for further support in this area. 

Business and company mileage was captured and reported, but the quality of data can be improved. For FMs this amount can be significant and therefore improving data quality – including gathering better and more accurate carbon data – is important.

Subcontractors also require particular attention due to the recognised difficulties they present. 

FMs may also sub-contract out some of their services, which makes it even more difficult to gather data.

Data collection from tier 2 and tier 3 contractors is also required; however, typically they are smaller companies and need tier 1 support.

Understanding what the contractors are doing, items being purchased and disentangling information across a range of contracts and properties will help hugely in improving data quality.

The importance of reporting energy consumption and emissions has gained recognition, making it easier to obtain this data from suppliers. Similarly, the process for gathering purchased goods and services data may become more streamlined, given as it is already a requirement for accounting and tax purposes.

'The importance of reporting energy consumption and emissions has gained recognition, making it easier to obtain this data from suppliers'

Framework will push FM to fulfil potential

The SFMI has verified and produced individual scope 3 emission reports for the facilities managers that gathered data that was then used to develop the scope 3 guidance. Bouygues Energies and Services UK has also verified the calculations using its own data.

While the project has made good progress, challenges persist in specific areas, such as the data collection difficulties already outlined, underscoring the need to refine the guidance and methodology for conducting comprehensive carbon assessments in the built environment. 

But the research into scope 3 emissions showcases the potential of FMs to play a key role in decarbonisation. 

The final framework, incorporating feedback, is set to be published in early November, marking a milestone in sustainability practices in FM. 

As the SFMI expands its research to the wider market, increased automation could play a vital role in improving measurement and reporting of scope 3 emissions. 

Phase 3 will involve collecting data from more contracts globally to allow for better data analytics and calculation of the emissions factors.

RICS members and their clients should keep an eye out for invitations to participate in this important initiative. Together, we can build a more sustainable future for the FM sector and the entire built environment.



Sunil Shah is managing director of Acclaro Advisory 

Contact Sunil: Email

Related competencies include: Property management, Sustainability

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