Going green in the apartment industry no longer means simply separating recyclables from the trash.
Whether it’s deploying technology to maximize energy efficiency, moving on from printed products and plastic pet waste bags, or strategically designing communities with sustainability and environmentally responsible practices in mind, the industry is embracing the green movement on an unprecedented level. We reached out in recent weeks to some of the leaders in multifamily’s collective effort to go green to learn about their objectives, initiatives, and successes, and this is what we learned:
“With all the prerequisites that must be met, pursuing a LEED certification requires a predetermined commitment early in the design process. Setting green building goals at the start of the project is the most cost-effective way to add value to the future community. Our sustainability efforts at communities like Modera Broadway, which is in line for a Silver LEED certification, is a good example of the ability to surpass local and state energy codes in order to provide sustainable living in the Seattle area.”—Meredith Holzemer, Mill Creek Residential’s managing director for the Seattle market
“We recently conducted an energy audit for one of our properties that helped lead us to meaningful improvements in terms of energy savings. Some steps we have taken are as simple as resetting the boiler cycle to operate more efficiently. On the other end of the spectrum, we’ve reprogrammed daylighting and minimum dim levels to reduce electricity consumption, and reprogrammed corridor and common area thermostats to reduce our energy use. At one community, the combination of those efforts resulted in a 21.5% decrease in electricity usage over a six-month span.”—Amy Bui, vice president of operations for LMC
“Replacing paper property maps, guest cards, and pricing lists with explorable touchscreens is both an environmentally responsible and modernizing step for leasing teams. At Bainbridge, we want to make the process as seamless as possible for our residents—and our partnership with TouchTour and SightMap has allowed us to build on our current strategy to do just that. Residents want a custom, visual experience, and now more than ever before they expect their community to demonstrate sustainable business practices.”—Farrah Muller, leasing specialist for The Bainbridge Cos.
“The Pacific Northwest was one of the first regions of the country to truly embrace green building initiatives, and we take our position at the forefront of that movement very seriously. It’s gratifying to see an increasing number of developers choose to incorporate green features, but the economic dedication to environmental stewardship that is required to pursue a certification—whether it’s LEED, BuiltGreen, or BuiltSmart—is on an entirely separate level. We’re incredibly proud of our communities that have been formally certified for their energy-efficient designs, and we will continue to build responsibly moving forward whether with formal third-party certification or adherence to and exceedance of stringent local energy and sustainability codes and initiatives.”
—Sean G. Hyatt, Mill Creek Residential’s senior managing director for the Pacific Northwest division
“It’s not an option to pay with paper, and it’s not an option to sign a paper lease with us. We acquired a community that was paper dependent and transitioned them to be paperless. We pretty much screwed the drop box shut so the team would be forced to see how easy the Entrata system was. Within 24 hours, we had wiped away their dependence on paper.”—Daniel Osborne, vice president for PHILLIPS Management
“We’re trying to steer ourselves away from traditional printed materials wherever we can, and instead promote the online resources that we have available to residents. In lieu of the multipage brochures that we used to distribute at every tour, we now provide a single-sheet reference page that includes only critical information, as well as links to specific sections of the website for further details. Renters largely rely on digital information already, and we want our leasing offices to be as paperless as possible.”—Kristen Mete Kingi, LMC’s marketing director, West
“Today’s renters are looking for smart home technologies and modern conveniences. Retrofitting our properties with smart home technologies like thermostats from Vivint Smart Home only adds to the green initiatives we have been implementing at our communities for some time now—including EV charging stations, LED lighting, and recycling. One of the biggest changes we have seen because of modern conveniences comes from the tremendous amount of packages that arrive at our communities every single day. To help meet up the influx, we have partnered with a valet trash supplier to mitigate the trash and recycling. This wasn’t something we needed to be concerned with even a year ago, but it is of vital importance now. While there is an additional fee to bring in this service, we felt it was a positive move to ensure our recycling efforts remain intact.”—Emily McCann, vice president of marketing for WestCorp.
“Our communities offer branded travel mugs at move-in as part of our welcome package, which also helps reduce the need for paper coffee cups at our coffee stations. If we can get new residents thinking green from day one, we can really start to establish responsible, sustainable practices as a community.” —Megan Mahoney, LMC’s marketing director, East
While individual efforts easily get lost in the widescale environmental picture, sometimes it’s the little things that add up to make a significant difference for multifamily communities. Resident events centered around tree or foliage planting programs are gaining popularity, as are children’s activities where they can get their hands dirty planting flowers or assist with the construction of patio gardens. Operators are finding that resident involvement in green practices, and a hands-on investment in the community, can go a long way toward resident buy-in and participation in larger sustainability efforts.
Community management teams also have started sending out emails promoting an eco-friendly lifestyle through the use of reusable shopping bags, reusable coffee mugs, and emailed receipts. Others have requested that residents compile items in their Amazon shopping carts and order monthly to cut down on shipping materials, delivery costs, and the environmental impact for that delivery. Some communities have even taken steps to revamp traditional recycling programs and restock the plastic bags at pet waste stations with biodegradable alternatives.
If the avenue exists to introduce or accommodate environmentally responsible practices, it is actively being sought out. And the future of the multifamily industry is brighter, and greener, as a result.
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