Sustainability is a broad practice that scales from the lifestyle choices of one person to building development, design, and or renovations implemented by large corporations. To get the jest of it, good ol’ Wikipedia explains, “Practitioners of sustainable living attempt to reduce their carbon footprint by altering methods of transportation, energy consumption, and diet.” For example, someone who practices a sustainable lifestyle likely rides their bike to work. They may have solar panels and or LED lighting, drink out of reusable coffee cups and water canteens, avoid plastic shopping bags, and have a water-efficient toilet. It’s also common for a person that practices sustainable living to maintain an edible home garden, have live plants in the house and a highly efficient air conditioner and or clean air filter.
On a commercial level, owners are implementing sustainability in their buildings to enhance the productivity of their employees and or tenants. Harvard’s 2015 study on cognitive performance compared participants in a green+ environment to a conventional one, “scores for those working in green environments were 61% higher. Measuring nine cognitive function domains, researchers found that the largest improvements occurred in the areas of: crisis response (97% higher scores in green conditions and 131% higher in green+) strategy (183% and 288% higher) information usage (172% and 299% higher) These results suggest that even modest improvements to indoor environmental quality may have a profound impact on the decision-making performance of workers.”
Just like commercial office buildings, in the multifamily market, sustainability begins by benchmarking the property. Owners use rating systems such as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), Global Real Estate Sustainability Benchmark (GRESB), or WELL Building Standard to evaluate the building’s environmental performance. According to GRESB, “Investors are asking for greater transparency about the environmental, social and governance (ESG) performance of real asset portfolios. Regulators are mandating more ESG disclosures and improvements ever. And tenants, owners, and other stakeholders are demanding sustainable, greener and healthier buildings and infrastructure.” LEED, GRESB, and WELL all offer recognition and or certifications for the buildings that successfully operate on a sustainable level.
There are many approaches to sustainability in the multifamily market. As sited in an article published by Bisnow, Sara Neff, SVP of Sustainability at Kilroy Realty, suggests implementing established sustainability programs first. Adding solar panels and changing to energy-efficient lighting should be done before getting into health and wellness initiatives. Neff commented that “Health is a lot trickier. Is it air quality, is its water quality, is it particular features or some combination? There currently is no market consensus”.
Founders of Greenleaf Capital, Dave Codrea and Josh Friedensohn, have been purchasing value-add, Class C apartment buildings and promoting sustainability via its permaculture principles. According to a recent article in NREI, their idea is to “create a sense of community and challenge the notion that apartment living is merely transitional.” To put down roots, Codrea and Friedensohn, have been adding things like raised garden beds and wash stations to their properties. They also just finished their first food forests with “nut-, fruit-, vegetable- and herb-producing trees, plants and shrubs that work in harmony with nature.”
Like single-family residences and commercial office buildings, bringing sustainability to the multifamily market won’t work unless there is follow-through. In the multifamily community, the grounds team must be on board. This means the property managers need to become ‘certified’ trainers and sustainable advocates supporting the initiative. When the team gets on board, the tenants become involved, and it becomes a group effort. A proactive grounds team that makes sure everything is up to code is truly the key to success, especially since the organizations that award the certifications also do ongoing site visits and reports that record the building’s sustainable status.
Click below for great links on getting started:
Step by step guidance on how to convert your building into a sustainable one – USGBC
Green advantage – Freddie Mac
Great tips for sustainable living – UCLA