Senior living providers are realizing the environmental benefits of going green for their communities and their residents, and they’re doing it without breaking the bank or launching large-scale design projects.
Healthy for Residents, Environment, and Bottom Line
Last year, senior living providers that implemented elements of green design into their communities saved more than $4.1 million collectively, while also preventing 12,700 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions, according to results from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) ENERGY STAR program.
The 425 providers surveyed in the EPA program also demonstrated an average energy use reduction of 3.8%, with the top communities saving more than 10%. As energy use in commercial buildings runs costs of more than $100 billion per year, according to EPA estimates, senior living providers are realizing the necessity to reduce their carbon footprints.
Retrofitting buildings with sustainable features such as water-conserving irrigation systems and eco-friendly mechanical equipment systems can have a positive economic impact on a community, says Christopher Davis, LEED AP BD+C, ND, manager of special projects for the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC).
The drawback, however, is that implementing community-wide features like these tend to have high upfront costs and, depending on the size of a community, an indeterminate waiting period for a return on investment (ROI).
But just because there isn’t a date set in stone as to when providers will begin to see returns, providers shouldn’t be discouraged from making their communities more environmentally-conscious.
“Sustainability is all about long-term thinking,” says Davis. “More often than not, sustainable measures do have a solid payback.”
With a focus on building design and construction, as well as neighborhood development under the USGBC’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system, Davis assures that senior living providers need not embark on full-scale project renovations to experience the benefits of sustainable design.
“It is possible to achieve green features without hurting the bottom line,” says Davis.
ALFA Best of the Best Award-Winning Green Community
The Orchards at Southington, an independent and assisted living community in Connecticut, knows firsthand the benefits that smaller initiatives play on its residents.
Green practices can be as simple and low-cost as using cleaning supplies with low volatile organic compounds (VOCs), according to Kathy Johnson, director of environmental services, housekeeping and laundry with The Orchards at Southington.
The first step for The Orchards’ green initiatives, according to Johnson, was a change in cleaning products used for cleaning residents’ rooms.
“The chemicals I used at the time bothered me,” says Johnson. “So I thought, that if it’s bothering me then it must be bothering my staff and the residents, too.”
The long-term effects of what such chemicals could do to a person health was another incentive to switch to eco-friendly supplies, added Johnson, especially considering the pulmonary and lung conditions of many of The Orchards’ residents.
Johnson, who was recently awarded an Employee of the Year award for her initiatives and accomplishments in making The Orchards at Southington a “green” building, also spearheads the community’s recycling program.
“One of our main goals is to recycle more than we throw out,” she says.
The Orchards community-wide efforts takes place in the building’s laundry room, where residents are encouraged to do their trash and recycling. The community even managed to raise over $2,700 from recycling bottles and exchanging them for their five-cent depositories.
That money has made its way toward the community’s Serenity Garden, a green space on campus that includes walking paths, bird baths, a Koi pond and a space used for Tai Chi where residents can go to relax or even meditate.
Certain higher cost initiatives have found their ways into The Orchards, such as new toilet systems and water-conserving faucets that use thousands of gallons less each year in the kitchen, according to Johnson, however, the community has stayed away from costly, grand-scale renovations, as “a lot” of financial backing is often required.
Going Green, One Step At a Time
Costs shouldn’t dissuade providers from taking the plunge to “go green,” especially since there are a number of measures providers can take right now without having to break the bank and bruise the bottom line.
Surveying one’s community and even having residents complete a questionnaire about their surroundings are some of the proactive steps providers can take, according to a presentation made by Davis at this year’s ALFA conference in Charlotte, N.C.
By doing this, providers can understand whether their building is comfortable for residents and take corrective action if 20% or more are dissatisfied.
Simple steps like these can make a world of difference, according to Johnson, who is baffled more senior care providers don’t do the same, given the savings and benefits offered by sustainable initiatives.
“Don’t be afraid to go for it,” says Johnson. “There’s a lot that goes into ‘going green,’ but if you do your homework one step at a time, you’ll be surprised at how much it snowballs.”
Written by Jason Oliva
This article is sponsored by the Assisted Living Federation of America (ALFA) as part of its efforts to advance excellence and explore topics impacting the future of senior living. For more information about ALFA, visit www.alfa.org. View a copy of ALFA’s Green Wave Senior Living Energy Tool Kit today.