IPCC Fifth Assessment Report on Climate Change 2013: Does the lack of media interest indicate that this group have cried ‘wolf’ once too often?

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  IPCC Fifth Assessment Report on Climate Change 2013: Does the lack of media interest indicate that this group have cried ‘wolf’ once too often?

The 5th Assessment Report on Climate Change was published last week, but did anyone notice? Where were the media? Scant reference in the visual and radio media, and very little in the printed press – the London Evening Standard, having the lead over the daily newspapers, had all of 2 column inches on page 4. Have these climate change disciples cried ‘wolf’ once too often, and no-one believes them anymore?

Intrigued by this lack of obvious interest, even by the serious news stations, I waded through the 36 page report summary, and the press release, over the weekend to see what it had to say – the full report is a real tome. The striking feature throughout this report is the obvious desperation to convince the reader that this time they have it right. They have better observation techniques, better data, blah, blah, blah. However, without boring the pants of one and all, the essence is that mankind is a major contributor to global warming (around 50% – compared with the 99%+ stated in 1999) with a 90% degree of confidence. It also indicates that some 9,000 scientists around the World agree with the findings of this report. So what does this really tell us?

Many moons ago in another life, when I started my training as a scientist at the Atomic Energy Research Establishment, we were given a number of books that we should treat as lifelong companions in our pursuit of truth. One of these was called ‘The Use and Abuse of Statistics’ and was intended as a constant reminder that the data must paint the picture, and not used or abused to create the picture that one would like the data to paint (e.g. in order to receive continued funding). I still have this somewhat battered book as I found it very useful when studying the data presented by the ultimate protagonists of such abuse – Politicians. Obviously this book defines how data can be presented to fit the required message, and the difference between relative levels of ‘confidence’ and ‘certainty’ as there is a big difference between confidence and certainty. You need to have a very clear idea of these classifications in order to make any sense of this IPCC report. I also know how frustrating it is when there is an unexplained hole in the data when you are under pressure to present your findings. Do you mention the hole, or assume it of little relevance and ignore it.

Let us consider a typical statement in this report: “The atmospheric concentrations of the greenhouse gases carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), and nitrous oxide (N2O) have all increased since 1750 due to human activity.” The first part of this statement is probably a true and accurate – even an objective statement. But then the integrity is shattered by the second part of the statement i.e. “due to human activity” which indicates a level of certainty which can only be interpreted as desperate arrogance – it needed a qualification such as ‘probably, primarily, likely’ to be acceptable without absolute proof to the contrary. The remainder of this paragraph does not support the indicated certainty.

Just as a comparison on a Universe basis (as in climate change) I asked an astrophysics friend who had worked on the Mars Voyager mission if they would have launched Voyager with only a 90% degree of confidence in their calculations that Voyager would reach Mars – absolutely not. They needed to be better than 99% degree of certainty subject only to cosmic collisions that could destroy Voyager.

Let me be clear in that I fully accept climate change. Indeed the climate is constantly changing, and we are familiar with the climate change over the past 10,000 years since the last ice-age since when we are told that sea levels have risen some 110m and thus cities that were once on dry land are now beneath the sea. We are also told that there is evidence that sea levels have been some 10m higher than they are today in past history so our climate is a continually evolving system. My reservations are to what extent mankind influences changes in climate versus natural change as the earth continues to evolve. Leaving mankind to one side for a moment we are told that changes in the activity of the sun will render earth uninhabitable by humans in some 140,000 years’ time in any event. If science revealed with substantial levels of certainty that the behaviour of mankind was impacting climate change by, say 30%, then I think that mankind needs to be creative and resolve this influence. What I do not accept is that the arrogance of mankind can suggest that the full force of mother nature is a known and fully understood process, and that man has the capacity to change it, even unwittingly – something akin to King Canute standing before a tsunami.

Why did this report need to state that some 9,000 scientists agree with the content of this report? Do we know how many scientists disagree with this report, or even if some 9,000 scientists is a representative group in the global scientific community. Do we remember that when Copernicus (1473 – 1543) developed his treatise on a heliocentric model of the universe with the sun at its centre he was so afraid to publish that the first copy was placed into his hands on his death bed. When Galileo (1564 – 1642) assumed the mantle on behalf of Copernicus, and added description of the orbits of other planets such as Venus and Neptune he was branded a heretic and committed to house arrest for the remaining 9 years of his life. In the 15th century Christopher Columbus found it difficult to find a crew for his historic voyage of discovery because the general belief was that the earth was flat and thus he would sail over the edge into iniquity. History shows that the view of mankind, based on lack of real knowledge over arrogance, can lead to serious misunderstandings. This is where I see the claims of mankind’s influence over climate change today.

What this IPCC report really indicates is that, since their first report in 1999, there has been a number of step changes in thinking and understanding of the complexity of the problem – but without enough understanding to define a universally accepted solution. This is progress, but the contra argument is that we are still in an embryonic stage at the front-end of the curve of discovery. But the frenzy caused from the imposition of such imperfect science has reaped havoc in energy policy throughout the World, and thus my reference to crying wolf.

Using the UN to put their weight behind emotive propaganda regarding climate change has provoked responses from the environmental lobby that has delayed political decisions regarding replacement of current energy generation stock. Surely the UN has enough problems dealing with the issues relating to the essence of its being. Furthermore the people are being taxed to fund clean energy policies for which, to date, there is no proven argument as to the urgency. Blue skies science has traditionally been funded by benefactors, philanthropists, etc and so should climate change science until such time as the evidence is irrefutable. Public funds should not be invested in such embryonic science or technology. I have absolutely no problem with development of new energy technologies as this would be against my fundamental scientist instinct. However, as shown by our wind power investment, there is no payback in any respect to the people whose taxes, in whatever form, are used to develop such technologies so they get a double whammy with also trying to manage their lives in this period of austerity.

As for the IPCC report predicting what will be in 100 years from now I can only comment that had we asked the most eminent progressive thinkers of their time 100 years ago (before World War I) what the World would look like today, how wrong would they have been? My concern, and should be the concern of every one of these 9,000 scientists, is what do we need to do today in whatever reliable form to ensure that we can provide the required energy capacity needed in 10 years’ time to safeguard the momentum of mankind. What we do not need is energy starvation with the ensuing likely chaos and anarchy – even from those banging the drum about clean energy today. And please let us stop kidding ourselves that wind and solar can play any primary part in such delivery.

The irony of energy policy delay in much needed high capacity base load energy generation (as I will argue in a blog already in progress) is that the beneficiaries of these delays will be none other than the fossil fuel production companies – home goal for the environmental lobby.

Perhaps a glowing example from history from which we should learn is the story of the Mayan civilisation from around 2000BC – AD250. The mathematical and astronomy skills of this ancient civilisation are well known, and form part of our calendar today. There are many theories as to how this highly advanced civilisation suddenly collapsed. Their scholars spent most of their time observing the universe, and even lived high in the trees or on platforms never really taking much notice of life on the ground. The popular view to their demise is that their population exceeded the carry capacity of their environment, exhausting agricultural capacity, over-hunting, and converting their forests into cropland thus reducing evapotranspiration and thus rainfall leading to a lack of water. Are we focussing on the wrong end of the universe? Should we take our heads out of the clouds and look to how we manage the fundamentals of life such as food, water, energy, etc. Certainly the research needs a watching brief on the impact of human activity but do we really need to continue with the massive costs of this climate change circus when there are more pressing matters right under our noses?

 

NUCLEAR REACTORS – Are the new generation worthy of our trust?

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NUCLEAR REACTORS – Are the new generation worthy of our trust?

Why should people put their trust in nuclear energy production in light of recent accidents and the problems of dangerous, long half-life hazardous radio-isotopes that have to be stored in underground bunkers for many years? Having referred to ‘new generation reactors’ in my blog ‘ENERGY – What does the future hold?’ I have been challenged to explain my view that nuclear is the cleanest safe form of base load energy generation.

Firstly there are two basic forms of nuclear reactor – ‘fission’ and ‘fusion’.

Nuclear fission, generally known as a chain reaction, is a process in which neutrons released in fission from an unstable heavy isotope such as uranium causes additional fissions in at least one further nucleus. This nucleus in turn produces neutrons which then go on to cause further fissions. This process can be controlled (nuclear power) by absorbing some of the neutrons thus preventing them causing further fission, or uncontrolled (nuclear weapons). The nuclear chain reaction releases several million times more energy per reaction than any known chemical reaction. This is the process used in current nuclear reactors.

Nuclear fusion is a nuclear reaction in which two or more atomic nuclei are rammed together at a very high speed to form a new atomic nucleus. During this process, matter is not preserved because some of the mass of the fusing nuclei is converted to photons (enormous amounts of energy at incredibly high temperatures). The energy that the sun emits into space is produced by nuclear fusion reactions that happen in its core due to the collision of hydrogen nuclei forming helium nuclei. The problem to be overcome by the Ifer project is the containment of this vast energy to allow it to be harvested. I cannot comment further on this subject other that suggest a look at the Ted lecture by Taylor Wilson (link at end of blog).

The current types of nuclear fission reactors use specific fissile isotopes to make energy. The 3 most practical ones are:

  • Uranium-235, purified from mined uranium. Most nuclear power to date has been generated this way.
  • Plutonium-239, transmutated from Uranium-238, refined from mined uranium. Plutonium is also used for nuclear weapons.
  • Uranium-233, transmutated from Thorium-232, refined from mined thorium.

The new generation reactors are the generation III uranium-235 and plutonium-239 fuelled reactors which incorporate evolutionary improvements in design developed during the lifetime of the generation II reactor designs. These include improved fuel technology, superior thermal efficiency, longer life (60+ years), passive safety systems (they close down themselves, if necessary), and standardized design for reduced maintenance and capital costs. The first Generation III reactor built was at Kashiwazaki in 1996.

By way of example the contrast between the 1188 MWe Westinghouse reactor at Sizewell B in the UK (generation II) and the generation III AP1000 of similar-power illustrates the evolution from 1970-80 types. First, the AP1000 footprint is very much smaller – about one quarter the size, secondly the concrete and steel requirements are less by a factor of five, and thirdly it has modular construction. These modules comprise one third of all construction and can be built off site in parallel with the on-site construction.

However these reactors still produce long lasting, albeit less, hazardous radioactive waste.

The International Atomic Energy Agency claims that the world currently has 442 nuclear reactors. They generate 372 gigawatts of power, providing 14pc of global electricity. They say that nuclear output must double over the next twenty years just to keep pace with the rise of the China and India. If a string of countries cancel or cut back future reactors, let alone follow Germany’s Angela Merkel in shutting some down, they will most certainly shift the strain onto gas, oil, and coal. Since the West is also cutting solar and wind subsidies, we can hardly expect these industries to plug the gap – even in the unlikely event that they could.

What is more, nuclear power generation is under intense scrutiny due to the recent Japanese disaster (see my thoughts on this in my ‘ENERGY – What does the future hold?’ blog). Nuclear programs across the world are re-evaluating regarding their future power source with politicians hiding behind citing safety concerns. Solving the real and perceived dangers of nuclear power is critical to future investment. However perspective would argue that, setting aside what may emerge from the Fukushima disaster, (as yet none of some 15,000 deaths are linked to nuclear failure) there has never been a verified death from nuclear power in the West in half a century.

The exciting new development, however, is the Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors (LFTRs) – albeit work started in the 1960’s – 1970’s primary at the Oak Ridge National Lab’s (ORNL) in the USA, but abandoned because it does not produce weapons-grade plutonium. LFTRs have distinct safety, environmental, and economic advantages over uranium-based and solid-fuel nuclear power. It has a higher neutron yield than uranium, a better fission rating, longer fuel cycles, far safer, substantially lower construction costs, and does not require the extra cost of isotope separation. As a happy bonus, it can burn up plutonium and toxic waste from old reactors, reducing radio-toxicity, and acting as an eco-cleaner.

Over the past decade Oak Ridge National Lab’s (ORNL) LFTR research from the 1960s–1970s has been revived in various global programs. A private Japanese company is seeking funding for a LFTR called FUJI. Canada is researching a fast-breeder LFTR design in their current CANDU research. Thermal LFTRs are part of the generation IV reactor research in France. China announced a LFTR development program in February 2011. At the U.S. federal level, Senators Harry Reid and Orrin Hatch support providing $250 million in federal research funds to revive the ORNL research and draft specific resolutions. This has all passed unnoticed – except by a small of band of thorium enthusiasts – but it may mark the passage of strategic leadership in energy policy from a potentially inert and status-quo West to a rising technological power (China) willing to break the mould.

The greatest advantage of LFTRs is that there is very low chance of a catastrophic, explosive meltdown like Chernobyl, or a partial meltdown like Japan’s Fukushima-Daiichi or Three-mile Island in Pennsylvania. In the event of an earthquake or other disruptive event, a simple freeze drain plug would melt, allowing the fissile material to flow into a containment chamber where the system could be air-cooled. Electricity and active controls are not required for this process. LFTRs operate near atmospheric pressure with little possibility of a containment breech or explosion. By using air cooling, instead of pressurized water, hydrogen gas, which caused the explosions at the Fukushima-Daiichi site, cannot be produced. The liquid fuel allows for online removal of gaseous fission products, such as Xenon, for processing, thereby these decay products would not be spread in a disaster. Furthermore, fissile products are chemically bonded to the fluoride-salt, including iodine, caesium, and strontium, capturing the radiation and preventing the spread of radioactive material to the environment. Former NASA scientist and thorium expert Kirk Sorensen (see link to his Ted lecture below) notes that because LFTRs operate at atmospheric pressure, hydrogen explosions as happened in Fukushima, Japan in 2011, are not possible. “One of these reactors would have come through the tsunami just fine. There would have been no radiation release.”  Meltdown is impossible, since nuclear chain reactions cannot be sustained, and fission stops by default in case of accident.

Just as an illustration that there is no perfect safety the Didcot Power Station (coal fired) was being built whilst I was at AERE, Harwell. The ground upon which the 500MW turbines were being installed was not the firmest. Thus we computed the likely impact should one end of the turbine casing drop 2cm causing the turbine to leave its mounts whilst at full load. We computed that it would cut a channel all the way to Cornwall (around 100 miles or 160km) before coming to rest.

Professor Robert Cywinksi from Huddersfield University said thorium must be bombarded with neutrons to drive the fission process. “There is no chain reaction. Fission dies the moment you switch off the photon beam. There are not enough neutrons for it continue of its own accord,” he said. Professor Cywinski, who anchors a UK-wide thorium team, said the residual heat left behind in a crisis would be “orders of magnitude less” than in a uranium reactor.

The earth’s crust is estimated to hold some 80 years of uranium at expected usage rates. But thorium is as common as lead. America has buried tons as a by-product of rare earth metals mining. Norway has so much that Oslo is planning a post-oil era where thorium might drive the country’s next great phase of wealth. Even Britain has seams in Wales and in the granite cliffs of Cornwall. Almost all the mineral is usable as fuel, compared to 0.7% of uranium. There is enough to power civilization for thousands of years.

It is nearly impossible to make a practical nuclear bomb from a thorium reactor’s by-products and thus of no interest to rogue Governments or terrorists. According to Alvin Radkowsky, designer of the world’s first full-scale atomic electric power plant, “a thorium reactor’s plutonium production rate would be less than 2% of that of a standard reactor, and the plutonium’s isotopic content would make it unsuitable for a nuclear detonation.

The quantity of construction materials is reduced because large cooling towers and containment structures that handle high pressures are not needed. LFTRs operate at high temperatures allowing use of higher-efficiency Brayton nitrogen generators rather than steam generators, raising thermal efficiency from 35% to ~50%.

At the end-of-use phase, significantly fewer radioactive materials remain. LFTRs produce one ton of spent radioactive fuel per GW year. The volume of waste products from a LFTR is approximately 300 times less than that of a uranium reactor. The fissile waste is 83% spent within 10 years and below background levels in approximately 300 years. Conventional nuclear reactors take thousands of years to decay. LFTRs therefore eliminate the need for a multibillion dollar containment facility.

China’s Academy of Sciences said it had chosen to develop a thorium-based molten salt reactor system not least because the system is inherently less prone to disaster, and the hazardous waste will be a thousand times less than with uranium. So the Chinese will soon lead on thorium technology, as well as molten-salts. They are doing mankind a favour.

It has come as a surprise to most to learn that such an alternative has been available to us since World War II, but not pursued because it lacked weapons applications. Others, including Kirk Sorensen, agree that “thorium was the alternative path that was not taken”. According to Sorensen, during a documentary interview, he states that if the U.S. had not discontinued its research in 1974 it could have “probably achieved energy independence by around 2000”.

Summarizing, thorium can provide a clean and effectively limitless source of power whilst allaying all public concern—weapons proliferation, radioactive pollution, toxic waste, and fuel (uranium and plutonium) that is both costly and complicated to process. Nobel laureate Carlo Rubbia of CERN, (European Organization for Nuclear Research), estimates that one ton of thorium can produce as much energy as 200 tons of uranium, or 3,500,000 tons of coal. Coal, as the world’s largest source of carbon dioxide emissions, makes up 42% of U.S. electrical power generation and 65% in China.

From an economics viewpoint, U.K. business editor Ambrose Evans-Pritchard writes that “Obama could kill fossil fuels overnight with a nuclear dash for thorium,” suggesting a “new Manhattan Project“, and adding, “If it works, Manhattan II could restore American optimism and strategic leadership at a stroke”.

So where should our trust lie, in technology that can answer most of the problems, or politicians who have ignored this technology firstly because it could not produce weapons-grade plutonium, and then to win favour (votes) with the environmental lobby. I am reminded of the ending dialogue in the film ‘Three Days of the Condor’; a film about securing energy resources for the USA, and starring Robert Redford. The essence of the conversation is what would happen if the lights went out and the fuel pumps ran dry. The CIA chief stated, quite correctly in my opinion, that the people would look to the government to restore power and fill the gas stations quickly, and they would not care how it was done. I asked an ecology activist what she would expect to happen if we did not have enough reliable base load capacity. Her reply was that people would have to learn to use less energy. I think the CIA chief was much closer to reality, and thus we must trust the technology – it is probably safer than self-serving politicians.

Links:

Taylor Wilson: Yup, I built a nuclear fusion reactor

http://www.ted.com/talks/taylor_wilson_yup_i_built_a_nuclear_fusion_reactor.html

Kirk Sorensen: Thorium, an alternative nuclear fuel

http://www.ted.com/talks/kirk_sorensen_thorium_an_alternative_nuclear_fuel.html

ENERGY – What does the future hold?

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ENERGY – What does the future hold?

There is much debate today about energy, whether it be renewables versus fossil fuels, nuclear, or the Armageddon view that by 2020 the lights will go out. I find these debates emotionally charged, and far from any form of reality.

Having been invited to express my views on the future for energy as someone engaged in energy in one form or another all of my working life I would like to expand these arguments and attempt to present a more sober and objective view of the energy requirements of the future, and how mankind, in its perpetual thirst for discovery, will most certainly overcome, and indeed it will be our contempt of the forces of ‘mother earth’ that are likely to prove the more formidable than anything that the consumptive excesses of mankind can create. So let me move away from the typical discussion about energy and take a more controversial, or as someone remarked, a ‘Clarkson approach’ to the future of energy.

Let us start with a short trip back into the 18th century to the start of the industrial revolution. Prior to this time wood had been the main source of energy in Britain, used for fuel in homes and small industries. But as the population grew, so did the demand for timber. As forests were cut down, wood had to be carried further to reach the towns. It was bulky and difficult to transport and therefore expensive.

Coal was the fuel which kick-started the Industrial Revolution – and Britain was very fortunate to have plenty that could be easily mined. Coal is a much more potent form of power, providing up to three times more energy than wood. Political, economic and intellectual conditions would all contribute, but at the heart of the industrial revolution was our use of this new and abundant energy source. Throw in the thoughts of Isaac Newton for good measure and we have the transformation to make the world in which we live today. Indeed coal is still in use today, some 250 years later, and there are still vast reserves throughout the world.

Since then we have developed oil and gas as energy sources, and yet again, and contrary to the view of the doomsayers, there are still substantial reserves of both. Experts in the USA are now stating that fracking for oil and gas in the USA will make the USA self-sufficient for at least another 100 years, and energy prices in the USA are already reduced by some 20%. It would appear that fracking will realise substantial supplies of oil & gas in the United Kingdom and many other countries.

So what are the issues that will determine the energy requirements of the future?

  • The impact of the continued use of fossil fuels
  • The development of renewable/clean energy generation
  • The (increasing) demand for energy
  • The Malthusian controversy (population increase)
  • New technologies

We are told that carbon emissions resulting from the use of fossil fuels are causing global warming and/or adverse climate change. As a nuclear physicist by training at the Atomic Energy Authority at Harwell, and working on such projects as fission control in fuel element tubes in nuclear reactors, flow dynamics of oil and gas throw pipelines in different climatic conditions, and nuclear geophysics techniques for the in-field analysis of boreholes in the search for minerals, oil and gas I am used to public outcry at new technologies – my first University degree course had to be renamed Physical Electronics to avoid the onslaught from Michael Foot and his ‘Ban the Bomb’ movement.

One project that I was aware of in those days, and still persists in the shadows, is the attempts by scientists to alter our weather. We are all aware of the use of cloud seeding by the Russians in the Communist era to prevent rain on their May Day parades, and even by the Chinese during the 2008 Olympics. The story is far bigger. The first such experiments were an attempt to change the fierce weather patterns in the Bay of Biscay because of the continued loss of shipping – indeed I vaguely remember that Lloyds of London may have been a sponsor. Later the computer simulations moved to a reliable irrigation of sub-Sahara – the common view of recent heavy snowfall in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia is that it is not the result of climate change from greenhouse gasses. Then we have the urgent desire in Australia to irrigate the mineral rich outback of Australia so that these massive reserves can be exploited – could this explain the recent severe flooding in regions of Australia.

The earth’s climate has been significantly affected by the planet’s magnetic field that could challenge the notion that human emissions are responsible for global warming. “Our results show a strong correlation between the strength of the earth’s magnetic field and the amount of precipitation in the tropics,” claim the two Danish geophysicists behind the study, Mads Faurschou Knudsen and his colleague Peter Riisager of the geology department at Aarhus University in western Denmark.

Actually changing weather conditions is well within the power of man as this involves disturbing the earth’s magnetic field in the depths of the oceans where weather patterns are determined. However the vast array of variables in the equations have to be reduced to a manageable level of primary, secondary and tertiary impact, discounting the lesser impact variables, as decided by man, to facilitate ‘solutions’ that should work – or maybe not. All of this experimentation is undertaken with good intention, but……………..

Then we have the problem of the ‘eminent’ climate change scientific community, and one particular group who I refuse to give them editorial credit because of their celebrity over fact status, who wrote a critically acclaimed book in 1999 stating that the earth’s contribution (volcanic activity, etc.) was only around 1% of current greenhouse gas emissions, and have since had to revise this significant upwards over 3 subsequent revisions, and I now hear that there has been a gross miscalculation of deep sea geothermal activity contribution plus the release of once frozen methane gases from the ocean bed (as was witnessed during the recent BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico). I often wonder if the climate change scientific community are aware of the experiments described above, or even alive to the reality of the impacts due to the natural progression of ‘mother earth’.

Whilst I am prepared to accept that man is playing a part in so-called global warming I consider it disingenuous to ‘mother earth’ to think that mankind has control of their destiny on this planet. For example lurking beneath Yellowstone National Park in the USA is a massive underground reservoir of magma, capped by the park’s famous caldera, a huge reservoir of superhot liquid rock and poison which could blow at any time. USGS geologist Jake Lowenstern, scientist-in-charge of the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory, suggests that most damage would come from “cold ash” and pumice borne on the wind, and considers it “disasterous” when enough ash rains down that it creates a layer of 10cm or more on the ground poisoning land and waterways – and this would happen in a radius of 500 miles or so. The gasses released would have a global effect on temperatures. “Any big eruption causes a cooling of the atmosphere, especially with that much ash” claims Lowenstern. In 1812 the Mount Tambora super volcano eruption in Indonesia lowered global temperatures, and a caldera-forming eruption in Yellowstone Park would be bigger, so climate change would almost certainly follow, albeit would possibly only last for a few years.

The so-called Thera eruption of Santorini in the Aegean Sea, circa 1630 BC, left a large caldera surrounded by volcanic ash deposits tens of metres deep (compare depth of ash with the above view of Lowerstern) and may have led indirectly to the collapse of the Minoan civilization on the island of Crete, 110 km (68 mi) to the south, as a result of a gigantic tsunami. A popular theory holds that the Thera eruption was such a devastating event felt thousands of miles away that is the source of the legend of the demise of Atlantis. Plato quotes Critias’ account of the legend, as told to Solon by one of the Egyptian priests:

 “Now in this island of Atlantis there was a great and wonderful empire which had rule over the whole island and several others, and over parts of the continent . . . But, there occurred violent earthquakes and floods, and in a single day and night of misfortune. . . the island of Atlantis . . .disappeared in the depths of the sea.”

The effect on the climate of the Northern hemisphere of the Thera eruption is being detected in tree rings as far north as the UK. Although the eruption of Santorini is recognized as one of the most explosive volcanic eruptions in historic times, the event is only a single eruption in a continuum of eruptive activity associated with subduction. The island group exhibits on-going seismic activity, and both fumaroles and hydrothermal springs are common features around these islands. It seems clear that we can expect another eruption, and we cannot rule out the possibility of another catastrophic eruption reminiscent of ~1630 BC.

Do the Earth’s volcanoes emit more CO2 than human activities? Probably not, but when a large eruption occurs the results are instant and devastating. The ecologists are speaking of a 2oC rise in temperature by 2100 from man-made global warming, but a major eruption can reduce the earth’s temperature by this much in a few weeks.

Another aspect of greenhouse gas emissions I feel worthy of note is the current debate about all automotive vehicles being compelled to use headlights during the day. If we take an average light wattage of 180 watts per car, with an average population of 4 million cars on the road throughout the day the consumption is equivalent to 720MW – a fairly large power station. Where does this energy come from – the car’s engine (burning fossil fuels). I have occasion to make trips to Switzerland and Italy by car. My preferred travel time is through the night, but returns are typically through the day. My fuel consumption increase through the night versus the day has been measured on a number of occasions and ranges between 5% – 8% of additional fuel to travel through the night. This is the additional energy requirement to power my lights. So this proposed policy not only will increase consumed fuel costs by between 5% – 8%, it also creates additional CO2 emissions equivalent to a large power station burning fossil fuels. Truly a contradictory policy.

Thus I have a cynical view of the man-made greenhouse gas/climate change argument. Indeed had I written this essay some 10,500 years ago I would have been sitting on some 30m of ice which has been melting ever since, mainly as a result of natural climate change.

Of course we must not forget the Malthusian controversy, especially if we reach the estimated planet population of some 10 billion people by 2050. Ironically I do not see this as an energy problem as far greater impacts will be the need for potable water, and the devastation to the animal kingdom.

What of future demands for energy? Propaganda suggests that energy demand will triple by 2050. I have attempted to rationalise where this multiple comes from. 20 years ago we had 100w incandescent lamps to provide lighting. This was replaced by 50w halogen lamps. Today the equivalent is an 8w LED. Think of the old cathode ray tube TV sets consuming around 400w now replaced with 60w LED TVs. When computers were first used in commercial applications in the 1970’s they required many kiloWatts to run them. Today you can have the same computer power using milliwatts of power. Thus the trend is far more function for significantly less power.

Of course there are people whose consumption of energy can only be described as blatant excess, but behaviour change is not possible with these people so ‘save energy’ propaganda or taxation will not achieve anything with such people. I know people from the most ignorant to very intelligent, but all having the common denominator of financially comfortable, and to whom there is no price/elasticity for energy. If you tripled the cost they may moan for 10 minutes, and then continue as before. But their consumption is a microcosm against total energy requirement.

What annoys me is that, in pursuit of political favour from noisy eco-voters, our politicians have allowed energy companies to extract essentially a duty from all people for so-called ‘new energy’ development. The payment of this duty includes the people struggling to pay for the energy they actually need to support their families. Instead of the Government using a more reasonable proportional taxation process they cause unnecessary hardship to many to win votes by satisfying the eco-lobby and claiming that they are not raising taxes.

So what of the future? We see a major political push in the development of so-called renewables such as wind power and solar with people seriously believing that these can be anything more than secondary or more likely tertiary energy sources. In 2012 I was asked to analyse 4 such projects for financing purposes; in the USA a 100MW solar thermal, a 60MW vertical axis wind, and a biomass still in development, and in Italy a 18MW biomass plant that had already been built, but was now for sale.

In the case of the 100MW solar thermal proposal operating cost was $56 per MWh including State ‘green’ grants, with then base load off-takes around $72 per MWh (they expected to achieve a PPA at $98 per MWh). Fracking results bought base load off-takes below $50 so no possibility of finance.

The vertical axis turbine project was interesting because it offered substantial advantages over conventional propeller-style wind turbines.  Functionality, ease of maintenance and operation, lack of electronic interference, no ground resonance, a more acceptable profile, capable of tolerating a wider range of wind speeds, quieter in operation than propeller-style turbines, and no bird or bat kills in over 12 years of turbine operations. But again this project relied on State ‘green’ grants to make it commercially viable (I am reliably informed that there are no Federal grants for ‘green’ energy in the USA). Again fracking results caused cessation of the State grants.

The biomass plant relied on an energy conversion process that had only been proven on a small scale in a university laboratory thus needed technology transfer finance. However it was clear that this technique relied on so many cost variables that no-one was interested to engage. It is also worth mentioning that I came across a number of bankrupt ethanol plants during this process.

I was invited to analyse the biomass plant in Italy as due diligence just as the investor was about to purchase it. It was already working having received grants from both the EU and the local Municipality. However the operator had taken all of the capital value out of the project, including the carbon credits, and was trying to unload the project on some unsuspecting pension fund at around an 8% yield – but only achievable if the energy subsidies on the feed-in tariffs from the Government were maintained – very unlikely. The owner realised that there was no commercial future for this plant, especially if energy prices stagnated, or reduced. The investor walked away as a result of my analysis.

I have yet to examine any such projects that are commercially viable without subsidies. The exception is waste to energy plants which, if the dioxins and heavy metal issues are properly addressed, can be a very effective use of waste.

Obviously there are a number of other fuels and technologies in the process of research and development, and I am aware of at least one energy source that has been suppressed because it provided direct competition to the majors in that it would be a cheaper fuel than petrol or diesel. This is a fuel developed by the Germans during the war, but they could not stabilise it. A group of scientists found the notes relating to this fuel in a bunker and developed a way to stabilise it such that they could use it in a conventional car engine. The waste product is water, so completely clean, and can be produced in most countries. Unfortunately all 3 of the scientist mysteriously died within 3 months of each other.

If the ecologists can win the argument then nuclear, (and hydro where possible), are the only existing sources of reliable base load clean energy. But why have we not built the reactors that we so desperately need? The anti-nuclear lobby have jumped on the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant disaster as an argument to delay the development of new generation reactors. This argument is invalid because the Japanese Government was informed by the IAEA over 10 years ago that these reactors should be de-commissioned. The Japanese economy was in dire straits so the various politicians, since the warning, criminally gambled with the lives of many through wanton negligence. Even when the tsunami triggered the incident they failed to raise the alarm in the international community to seek help that could have avoided many of the problems that subsequently occurred. Don’t blame the reactors, look to the politicians who abused the technology constraints. Those reactors worked well for years fuelling the Japanese economy. Until we have new reactors fossil fuels will reign, regardless of the environmental lobby.

The real future is in fusion. The international nuclear fusion project – known as ‘Iter’, meaning “the way” in Latin – is designed to demonstrate a new kind of nuclear reactor capable of producing unlimited supplies of cheap, clean, safe and sustainable electricity from atomic fusion. The claims are that if Iter demonstrates that it is possible to build commercially-viable fusion reactors then it could become the experiment that saves the world in a century threatened by climate change and an estimated three-fold increase in global energy demand. Of course this statement assumes much in terms of global warming and demand, but there is no doubt that this technology, once perfected, will open completely new horizons in wholesale clean energy generation.

On a final note I consider it an insult to the intelligence of our successors that people of today think that future generations will not find solutions to the problems that we face, or think we face. I appreciate that the loud retort will be ‘sustainability’ but the progress of mankind over the past 100 years has seen incredible exponential advances, and this will continue. Who is to say that some brilliant chemist will not find a digester to extract the CO2 out of the atmosphere if this proves to be a real problem. But let us first check that it is mankind who are causing the real problems, or is ‘mother nature’ relentlessly progressing through her life, and we just have to adapt.

What is this role of Facilities Manager – and is such role primarily Strategic or Tactical

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What is this role of Facilities Manager – and is such role primarily Strategic or Tactical

The term ‘Facilities Manager’ is a fairly recent addition to the corporate framework, but what is this role, why has it emerged, and what part and at what level does it serve businesses today. Having recently read a number of papers attempting to make the case for the definition and role of a Facilities Manager the only common denominator is that there is little agreement as to definition, or scope of this role. Having overseen and fulfilled this function throughout the World for a number of years under my role as Director of Global Operations for various high profile International banks I have given some thought as to what this role is about, and where it fits into the typical corporate hierarchy.

What attracts me to this subject as someone who has no vested interest in the success or failure of this new (or rebranded?) role is:

  • Why has FM attracted so much attention in academia?
  • What does this role bring to the corporate table?
  • Does the mass corporate marketplace embrace this new role?
  • Why is this role at least 20 years behind the curve of mass global corporate expansion?
  • Is there an accepted definition and relevance of FM?
  • Can FM activists find a legitimate home for this function?

In my role as Director of Global Operations I have encountered a wide variety of problems in pursuit of providing the right environment for bank operating requirements. I will summarise a few examples of some extreme cases, but all of which required time and effort with a broad skill base to resolve.

In Australia, whilst integrating the acquisition of a national bank, I found myself negotiating with a high rank military General in the Ministry of Defence for the installation of high-speed data lines to a satellite up-link to connect into our global networks. Overcoming the paranoia of the potential to export details of Australian citizens outside of their borders (we only wanted to transmit aggregated position information) was a real diplomatic and time consuming experience.

In the Middle-East I was mandated to move our office in Tehran (Iran) to a new office in Manama (Bahrain) as quickly as possible to minimise disruption to business. For anyone who has worked in the Middle-East a foreign entity trying to establish a banking business can expect a lengthy, bureaucratic process of licences and permissions which can take months of patient negotiation. The expectation on me was to have a new banking entity operationally in place, including the transfer of human resources from Tehran, in six weeks. This required a variety of skills at all levels, and I even witnessed moments of total comedy watching a procession of labourers carrying the office furniture precariously balanced above their heads through the busy streets of Manama as the only means to get it delivered on time for us to open for business.

In New York I encountered intransigent Union officials insisting on disrupting the installation of dedicated voice and data lines between our midtown Park Avenue office and our new downtown Water Street office as part of their dispute with Westinghouse, the telephone line operator. This disruption looked (and was) a lengthy affair which would seriously disrupt our business. We solved it by installing a point-to-point laser highway from the top of each building.

The common denominator in all of these cases was an intimate knowledge of the business requirement, and the knowledge and skills to surmount any potential interference with the business need.

In each office location it was common to have a person/department labelled ‘Premises’ under the Operations umbrella, and who provided local knowledge at a tactical level, an operations function in keeping the working environment in good order, and managing the implementation of any required changes in the physical working environment. At no time was this role an independent function within the corporate framework.

Fortunately in my time we were not hampered by over-regulation such as health and safety, environmental (although we took this seriously), and the primary new problem of today – security, both physical and data. Therefore there is probably an argument that a more dedicated support role is required to ensure that such matters do receive the required attention without impeding the essential role of an Operations Director, i.e. support of the income generating functions of the business. However is this just another support function under the Operations Director, a rebranding of an existing role, or a new role in its own right?

Perhaps a comparator of an existing corporate support service which can exist within the Director of Operations role, exclusive of this role, or partially exclusive – the dependency being the type of business – would be useful to construct a template for a Facilities Manager. The obvious such template is the finance function.

The finance function within any business consists of two parts. The role of the Finance Director is primarily to manage the Liabilities side of the Balance Sheet, i.e. the funding of the business. This is very much a strategic role and is fundamental to the management of the cost to do business. Then we have the Chief Accountant/Financial Controller et al, whatever term is used, and manages the Asset side of the Balance Sheet, primarily cash flow management. This is a tactical role. Whereas the Financial Director role is a very specific executive role, the accounting role can either report to the Financial Director, or to the Director of Operations whichever is the most appropriate within the business environment. In smaller businesses the roles are typically combined whereas in banks the Finance Director will typically head the central treasury function, and the accounting function resides within the logical business unit under an Operations Director. The common denominator here is a recognised professional qualification, e.g. Chartered Accountant, for both roles, i.e. the function of the role is universally understood, as is the expected knowledge base. Different countries have different accounting standards and requirements so a multinational would have a local accounting presence tied into their central corporate accounting function.

The strategic aspect of the finance function can be considered as a value added cost centre, whereas the tactical aspect is essentially a pure cost centre and thus measured as a component of the cost to do business.

Whereas the outputs and deliverables of the finance function increase dramatically with the size of the organisation the information flows and contribution are well defined.

If we are prepared to accept this finance function as a reasonable template upon which to define the Facilities Management function as a professional service to an organisation then the principal characteristics could be summarised as follows:

  • The key personnel within the facilities management function will have a clearly defined value-added expertise that is universally recognised;
  • The facilities management function can provide both strategic and tactical capability;
  • The facilities management function must be an integrated part of the business support function; and
  • The deliverables can be defined and valued as a contribution to the well-being of the organisation.

From my readings to date it appears that the facilities management function considers itself the poor relation to the more established professional property related disciplines such as architect, quantity surveyor, M&E consultants, real estate agent, et al. However it should also be apparent that they invariably have what the facilities manager does not have, i.e. a universally accepted accreditation. Before this can be achieved by the facilities manager function a clearly defined expertise must be established that is considered valuable in its own right. Such accreditation cannot be as expansive as some of the definitions that I have read because it will take too long to study, or the knowledge base so thin that it only has superficial value. On the basis that the other property related disciplines are already establish what is it that a facilities management function can bring to the table that can be demonstrated as valuable in its own right and thus worthy of professional status?

Let us also consider how the facilities management function, as it is now known, fits with the conventional Operations Director function. A facilities management function at a strategic (executive) level could be viewed as a dilution of the Operations Director function, and even be a direct conflict. A facilities management function at a tactical level could be seen as a rebranding of the Premises function albeit with an expanding regulatory, security, and compliance brief.

Having experienced the developments in the marketplace over some 30 years I have given some thought to the major changes in corporate behaviour, and the general business environment over recent years that could influence this debate and will comment on some developments that I think are relevant to this paper.

What has developed in leaps and bounds in recent years is the concept that a building should be adapted to the needs of the corporate occupant, rather than the corporate occupant having to adapt to the existing space provided by the landlord. Landlords have been forced by market pressures to allow corporate occupants to make significant changes (even structural) to the building environment to facilitate more effective use of the space. Indeed many new office buildings today are little more than shell and core to allow the fit-out and furbishment to comply with the requirements of the intended corporate occupant. This change of approach would, in itself, require a dedicated resource with an intimate knowledge of the corporate strategy, image, and objectives to oversee the design, contracting and delivery of the required operating space. Such a resource would need to know how to effectively instruct and guide professionals such as architects and interior designers, contractors, fit-out specialists, etc, and would need to understand enough about IT considerations, UPS, back-up power supplies, HVAC requirements, etc in order to delivery an appropriate but cost effective solution. Then there is the need to project manage such external resources to ensure a fluid implementation. However such a role cannot operate in isolation as much co-ordination with other in-house resources is fundamental to success. As such this role is not so much ‘what to deliver’ (strategic) but ‘how to best deliver’ (tactical).

Another relatively new, but significant area of consideration relating to office premises is the security risk, with specific interest in civil riots and terrorism. In cities where the threat of terrorism is now ever present the issue of location changes perspective. Not only is there a need to consider whether the proposed area of location of your office environment is susceptible to attack, but also if there are other corporates in your proposed choice of building that may be the target of specific interest groups as well as terrorists, and the impact any such attack would have on your ability to function and the safety of your staff. Having created office environments in a number of ‘unstable’ places throughout the World, and thus the need for some risk analysis regarding the safety of staff outside of working hours, impact of riots, civil commotion, etc., the required considerations today are far more important in the decision process of location, what type of building, physical presence to potential targets, etc. Thus the need for a greater awareness in the planning process of such impact analysis. Is this the, or one of the anchors of this ‘new’ corporate role?

Much legislation has emerged over recent years and which directly impacts the working space and environment. We have stifling Health & Safety legislation, environment legislation affecting both energy conservation in the workplace and waste recycling. All of this legislation has to be analysed and implemented, and to add pain to existing misery, much of this legislation is still evolving.

Many companies today have a culture revolving around a clear corporate identity. I remember back to the 1990’s during which major corporates were spending fortunes with the likes of Wally Olins, the corporate identity guru, to design a corporate identity to create a specific image of the company around which a companywide ethos and corporate culture was to be embraced by all staff regardless of location. The most memorable was BP who paid millions resulting in just a change in font and a slight change in colour to give BP a ‘softer’ image. A number of corporates took this vogue to extremes ensuring that all of their offices around the world had exactly the same ‘look & feel’ as you enter their offices. Gone were the days when a corporate logo on the building, and another above the reception desk would suffice. This practice not only has survived but is on the increase. To this end a tight control is needed, especially in developing economies, to ensure that the required ‘look & feel’ is exactly correct in all locations. A new office in a new country, or the refit of an acquisition cannot be left to a local person not least because they have they have been indoctrinated into the corporate culture, nor are familiar with the corporate identity requirement. The only real input of local staff in this function is the determination as to whether any of the aspects of the corporate identity would be deemed offensive in this new location – it has never ceased to amaze me how a little, innocuous aspect can cause real offense. Therefore the implementation of the physical aspects of corporate culture and identity need to be controlled from the core of the organisation whether simply the ‘look & feel’ of the reception area, or the ‘full monty’ all the way down to the tea cups. Every aspect, in this case, from building selection, fit-out, security all the way down to stationery and tea cups needs to be managed by someone intimately familiar with the corporate requirement, thus a role for a global facilities manager.

The expansion and contraction of the corporate working space as markets change is far more dynamic today, and the technology considerations even more so. Being able to deliver changes in environment at the speed of the requirement is a necessary skill of any Operations Director who would need capable facilities management skills far beyond what could be expected of someone whose principal responsibility is to support the business flow and expansion. Thus our elevation from a secondary, if not tertiary status of our premises manager to a rebranded front-line tactical facilities manager can be justified within the corporate framework.

If we go back to the proposed model and look at the suggested requirements that would be considered necessary to define a facilities management function we will see that:

  • We have not clearly defined a value-added facilities management expertise that is universally recognised (this is necessary to create professional identity);
  • Whereas we can certainly define a facilities manager as a valuable tactical resource, we cannot make the case for recognition as a separate (from Operations) strategic resource (other than in a few special cases);
  • The case is made that a facilities manager is an integrated part of the business support function; and
  • The deliverables can be defined and valued as a contribution to the well-being of the organisation.

This would suggest that our facilities manager is a required and reasonable promotion of the previously known premises manager, and rebranded as a front-line tactical resource.

If this is the case then where do we place this role in terms of academic achievement? If we look at the underlying base knowledge regarding buildings and building management, and the requirement for an informed intimate knowledge of the needs of a corporate business, we could reasonably nestle this role between a first degree, preferably in a construction or engineering related subject, and an MBA.

Is it possible to define a specific formal qualification for a role as diverse as is necessary to be valuable in this facilities management function? Operating in a sphere already overloaded with professional accreditation, does yet another professional body bring value, or just unnecessary confusion? Let us consider an alternative tactical support role to our finance function. Probably the most important support role in an investment bank is the head of settlements. This role requires a vast range of knowledge and skills to ensure that a diverse range of transactions are properly converted into bottom-line profit, yet there is no formal qualification or even connected professional body. However their performance is fundamental to the success of the institution, and they will earn multiples of the remuneration of the chief financial officer who is required to have a formal recognised qualification and belongs to a professional body.

If we return to our finance function and examine why we have formal qualification and a professional body we essentially need to look outside of the corporate function of such professionals as they not only have a responsibility within the corporate framework, but have an equal responsibility to shareholders, revenue services, banks, investors, pension funds, et al who depend on accurate data based on a known and accepted common platform, and where they are accountable to their professional body who can revoke their licence to practice should they violate their duties to these external but directly interested parties. No such requirement exists for the facilities management function and therefore it could be argued, as with the settlements professionals, that neither a formal academic status, nor a professional body is a ‘must have’. Indeed I would suggest that should facilities managers really consider themselves the poor relation of other connected professions, they could significantly enhance their status by seeking recognition and membership of existing chartered institutions such as RICS in the UK, who are known and respected throughout the world as an institution representing excellence. A facilities manager with a FRICS after their name would certainly not be a poor relation of anyone in the property and construction sector.

I would not be surprised if RICS were to initiate a study of this role utilising the input of the very best of the facilities managers currently in situ to discuss a clear definition of the role that would be acceptable to RICS to justify accredited status, and for RICS to adopt these new professionals. Alternatively a lobby group of the best facilities managers could approach RICS with the same aim. A positive outcome would clearly quickly define the role and its professional accredited status. This would then have the impact of corporate acceptance and credibility.

For the sake of completeness of the status issue I would like to address acceptance of this role outside of the corporate structure. If we look at the task referred to earlier regarding a new office in Bahrain as an example it would not have been possible then, nor today, to gain access to the appropriate people in such countries had I not been a Director of the bank I represented, and with a full mandate to do what had to be done to achieve a result – local protocols need to be observed. It could be argued that the new-style facilities manager would be first into a new territory to explore such a task. However the skills required to secure the consents necessary to engage in any facilities process in such countries go far beyond the scope of a facilities manager, then or now, and thus would remain the executive role of the Director of Operations or equivalent. However I would expect the facilities manager to be resourceful enough to organise the small army of carriers to ensure that the office furniture arrived in time to open the office on the agreed date. Indeed I would strongly suggest that resourcefulness, especially on the global stage, is a pre-requisite requirement of a good facilities manager.

Clearly the silent assumption in much of the above argument is that we are discussing the sharp end of this profession as relates to dynamic corporates who have a growth curve, need to quickly adapt to ever changing market conditions, and typically operate internationally. But what is the population dynamic of this role in terms of both the number of people required for such roles, and the range of competence requirement from the highest to the lowest level of acceptance within the title of facilities manager. If my argument that the facilities manager is a relevant re-branding of the existing premises function for dynamic corporates then it is in the interest of these new professionals to ensure that there is a clear distinction between the role and competence of a facilities manager, and the existing premises function which, within a large number of corporate entities, is perfectly adequate for their needs. So what distinguishes a dynamic corporate from the rest? Do service providers such as large law firms, accountant/audit firms, et al need the same level of competence as banks or other trading environments? Do manufacturing companies need the same level of competence as high street retail chain stores? What type of companies can happily survive without the rebranded facilities manager?

My principal experience is with global financial institutions engaged in trading activities, with some knowledge of support organisations such as law firms, accountant/audit firms. Therefore it would be inappropriate for me to comment on other corporates other than comment on more obvious corporate structures. For example I would reasonably expect that facilities manager in a fast food franchise such as McDonalds to be an exception as the role is unusually strategic because part of the image of McDonalds is that you can walk into any McDonalds restaurant in the world and expect the same experience both in presentation and service. Thus the facilities manager is at the forefront of any new opening as well as ensuring that all existing locations maintain the required image at all times.

The only other comment that I would like to make, albeit instinctive rather than empirical, is that I do not see the argument for such a role in corporates having a normally stable environment. Most manufacturing companies come to mind unless they are managing a sizeable portfolio of properties in which case they probably have the function whether or not it is called facilities management. Therefore I see demand primarily in dynamic private corporates who need to actively respond to market demands in short order such as financial institutions, and in public services such as healthcare, police, etc.

I am sure that there are many ways to argue the case to justify the addition of this facilities management role against the more traditional premises function. However I would like to put on my hat as Director of Global Operations and apply a very simple budget criteria as a starting point. My process starts by attempting to define a job description for a tactical line manager to manage the corporate premises and associated environment (as opposed to an operations premises person) that adds real value to the business, warrants the status as a full-time position, and justifies the additional cost (I would expect the overall fixed costs of a facilities manager to be at least double that of a premises person) and this role would not replace my existing premises staff. My cost comparisons would naturally include the costs of outsourcing specific facilities functions. This is the real test of relevance of this role, and I would expect is the test that most serious corporates would adopt.

Currently the lack of an accepted definition of a facilities manager does not assist this process. Therefore I would need to add an additional parameter to my budget process along the lines of ‘are there anticipated tasks of a regular nature relating to facilities that require tactical expertise and a) would consume too much of my time, b) could not reliably be executed by existing premises staff, and c) the logistics of outsourcing versus in-house favour in-house’, i.e. outsourcing would not significantly reduce my and/or business management involvement. If this litmus test proves positive then I need this resource; but where do I find it?

Clearly my preference would be for someone who has relevant experience and has demonstrated capability in a similar arena, especially if I need this person to travel to other locations and represent me. The lack of professional accreditation does not help this search so I would need a specialist recruiter, or even go to the expense of a head hunter. As a professional manager I know when I have the right person in front of me, regardless of academic background, but educating a recruiter as to how to filter candidates will also be a task that needs some consideration. My overall experience of recruiters, with one or two glowing exceptions, is that very few show any signs of considered candidate analysis and thus possible ideal candidates will be lost in this process. This is where a RISC or equivalent accreditation would significantly help the process. Thus currently this whole process would take much time and thought, so the faster the definition and recognition of this role is established the easier it will be for corporates to engage with it.

In summary I think that I can satisfy myself that there is a case for a tactical support function called ‘facilities management’ albeit not required across the whole corporate spectrum. If my suspicion that such a role is limited to dynamic corporates and some public services then this is advantageous to establishing a definition of this tactical role which is clearly distinctive from the more usual operational premises function. Whether or not academia can provide input into this definition I think it would be very useful to attain accreditation from an established chartered institution such as RICS as this would enable corporates to embrace the role with the understanding of the associated value. Continual debate by academia is probably counterproductive in the establishment of this role.

Whether or not the mass corporate marketplace embraces this role conflicts with whether or not they need this function, or even understand it. Looking through the recruitment ads does reveal that the descriptions of this role are far too broad to recognise it as a defined profession. Some ads that I have read amount to no more than a traditional premises manager.

If the FM activists want to establish this role I would suggest that, in the UK, they encourage RICS to agree a definition of professional status for this role, and thus achieve a recognised accreditation. As in all professions the role will grow with time to its natural height, but the first step is a baseline that all interested parties can agree, and thus embrace.

If I was asked to lay down a marker for a valuable facilities manager it would be based on capable contribution to the delivery of an expanded trading function for a new product in an existing environment. The introduction of the actual capability to trade is time critical and can take no longer than 90 days including trading desks and complete environment support. At the meeting to agree such implementation I would expect a facilities manager to be able to confidently prescribe how the physical delivery of these trading desks could be managed with minimal interference to current trading activity, any safety and security issues that would need attention, and an approximate cost for budget purposes – all without reference to any third party during, or after such meeting. Thus an intimate knowledge of the business needs, and how make a valuable contribution.