Inside Brookdale’s Big Sustainability Push

The nation’s largest senior living provider has taken steps to make sustainability one of its top priorities and committed to a three-pronged approach.

Brookdale Senior Living (NYSE: BKD) on Tuesday released its first sustainability report, detailing its approach to sustainability across its buildings, its newly-developed sustainability leadership council and some of its recent key environmental improvements and initiatives. The report is the first of what the company says will be an annual summary of its formalized sustainability focus.

Brookdale recently created its Sustainability Leadership Council, which reports to the board of directors and meets quarterly. The council has developed a three-year roadmap to implement sustainability priorities, focusing on its people, places and the company’s performance. At the start of 2016, Brookdale owned or managed more than 1,100 communities in 47 states.

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“We are busy bees, doing lots of projects,” Marla Thalheimer, Brookdale’s director of sustainability, told Senior Housing News. “We’ve invested in some energy projects that have been really exciting. The report lays out that we’ve made our plan and some of the good things we’ve been able to do in 2015. Coming out of the report, we’ve really hit the energy projects for the next three years.”

The company aims to reduce its overall energy consumption by 15% by 2019.

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With such a large footprint across its communities—87 million square feet across its communities—Brookdale prioritized improving three environmental areas: energy, water and waste. It focused these efforts in a three-prong approach across its business, including its people, places and performance.

The first prong of its approach, people, focuses on engaging residents, associates, families and suppliers to meet sustainability goals. Starting this year, Brookdale included introductory sustainability training for its associates and leadership.

The senior living provider also created a new position, energy & utility manager, to focus specifically on water and energy reduction efforts. The company also hired a director of sustainability in 2015.

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“Brookdale was ready to make a formal commitment,” Thalheimer said. “To put it into a formalized program allows us to speak to those situations for our stakeholders, give them what they are asking for in sustainability in an organized way and demonstrate that we do care. [It shows] that this is important and here is how we are focusing on sustainability now and in the future.”

With its supplier focus, Brookdale touted its commitment to purchasing sustainable products or increasing its suitability attributes of its procurement.

Since 2013, the company has focused on purchasing Ideally Green products and WaterSense certified products, which are all focused on reducing and managing waste. WaterSense, in a partnership with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), offers products and services that are certified to be at least 20% more efficient, helping save billions of gallons of water. In 2015, Brookdale increased its spending 81% since 2013 on Ideally Green products. Additionally, 51% of shower heads and 79% of toilets the company purchased in 2015 were WaterSense certified, according to the report.

The company also reported that in collaboration with its coffee supplier, a pack size standardization project eliminated more than 3 million feet of packaging film that would have ended up in a landfill.

More Improvements Ahead

Beyond its 2015 improvements, Brookdale is looking to make major sustainability changes across a big portion of its communities. With a team of four focused on these projects, the company is making sustainability a priority.

“We’re doing retro-commissioning in 215 communities, and looking at all opportunities for energy saving,” Thalheimer said. “It’s a large project that is happening right now.”

Of these communities, 125 are former Emeritus-owned communities, according to Brookdale.

Brookdale has also assessed its communities to benchmark in Energy Star Portfolio Manager, an online tool that measures and helps manage energy and water consumption. In 2016, 100% of communities will be benchmarked this way. They will also engage in no-cost changes, including the “Turn It Off Challenge,” to encourage energy-saving behaviors.

“We got residents involved and associates involved in the Turn It Off program, finding creative ways to turn those lights off,” Thalheimer said. “I’m a firm believer that the little things add up.”

Brookdale also plans more LED lighting retrofits, as well as bigger investments to reduce energy. LED retrofitting in 80 communities in 2015 reduced electricity costs that year by 21.8%.

“The lighting is dramatically better: warmer, brighter, safer, much more pleasing,” said Mark Forest, executive director of Brookdale Eddy Pond West in central Massachusetts. “Our residents are finding the new lighting to be truly remarkable. …We are also reducing environmental impact by lowering our energy consumption 25%—as well as reducing our costs.”

To reduce water consumption, Brookdale engaged smart irrigation technology pilot tests over the past 12 months across three communities, and used 26% less irrigation water for savings of more than 580,000 gallons of water per community. In response to the drought in California, Brookdale reduced its water consumption by 72 million gallons during the last eight months of 2015 compared to the previous year, or 18%.

“I think it sets the stage nicely for some of the things we have done, but also where we are going,” Thalheimer said of the pilots.

Written by Amy Baxter

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