‘The Green Picture’ with Erika Schnitzer: It’s Not Easy Being Green…If Your Renters Don’t Know that You Are

According to McKinsey & Co.’s recent report, “Unlocking Energy Efficiency in the U.S. Economy,” investing in energy-efficient buildings now will lead to $1.2 trillion in savings, as well as reduce the nation’s energy consumption by 23 percent, by 2020.

“Green building can stimulate the economy at a level one and a half times larger than the federal stimulus bill,” says Rick Fedrizzi, president, CEO and founding chairman of the USGBC, one of the 12 sponsors of the report.  “By leveraging existing green building approaches, like LEED, which is rooted in holistic and integrated design, we have the ability and capacity now to address multiple barriers, and thus generate additional resource efficiencies and cost savings.”

The report points out the importance of “whole-building design,” which considers optimizing the building’s design for the local environment, minimizing energy consumption, pursuing holistic design and improving design and installation practices.

Many multifamily developers and architects who I have talked to recently have acknowledged these opportunities, at least to some extent. Even if their buildings aren’t certified by any particular standard, these methods are certainly considered at some point in the building process, even if it’s stemming from a financial, rather than a sustainable, motivation.

The problem with multi-housing developments, it seems, is that not all residents understand and employ green methods in their lives. While you can’t force your residents to embrace a sustainable lifestyle, you can certainly give them the tools they need to understand what this means. Because even if you build to the highest of green standards, it won’t be nearly as effective as you had hoped if the end user does not utilize these tools.

As operators, you need to educate your residents about what it means to live in a green building. (As a side note, I recently visited a LEED Silver multifamily community as a prospective renter. Not once did the leasing agent describe a single green benefit—he didn’t even mention the solar roof panels!—to me. Is this because he didn’t think I’d care or I wouldn’t deem it important to my decision?)

Why not promote your green features? (You never know who will be visiting your site and their knowledge of green building!) And when your prospect decides to choose you—maybe because of those green features you forgot to highlight—make sure you educate him about living in a green building and the role he can play in furthering your building’s, and your company’s, green initiatives. Because you’re just one piece of the green puzzle—everyone needs to be involved.

What do you think? Should green features be highlighted on a tour of your building? How much education do you provide your renters about living a green lifestyle, whether your building is certified or not? What steps are you taking to invest in energy efficiency in your buildings today?

(Erika Schnitzer is associate editor at Multi-Housing News. She can be reached at  Erika.Schnitzer@nielsen.com.)