I remember walking through Tomorrowland at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom when I was a child and marveling over the Carousel of Progress. If my memory serves me right not too much has materialized other than the robotic vacuum – that one is awesome!
But progress has been made when it comes to the evolution of the Senior Living Community. In honor of Earth Day on April 22, I decided to take a look at how the senior living industry is going green in the way communities are planned, constructed, maintained and operated. LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design stood out as the preferred standard for reaching environmental excellence. Matt Winsryg, West Development Planning Director at Atria Senior Living shared with me the fact that LEED-certified buildings are extremely resource efficient. They use less water and energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. As an added bonus, they save money in lower energy costs. To achieve certification under LEED, a community must meet the criteria for all pre-requisites and enough credits to achieve a minimum of points within their rating system. So why would a senior living organization like Atria spend money going above and beyond on green initiatives?
Clean and healthy environment for residents and staff
LEED certification can be an important factor when looking at senior living options for a loved one. It ensures that a building provides a clean and healthy environment. Emmalyn Riley is an Energy Engineer for the Cyclone Energy Group. Emmalyn says, “Poor air quality—whether it stems from poorly filtered outside air, high CO2 concentrations from not bringing in enough outside air, or even the presence of mold—can make anyone feel unhealthy. In a facility where people’s health and comfort are paramount, I think it’s especially important to have good indoor air quality.”
Matt adds, “The basics of LEED certification is to allow for a much cleaner and healthier environment. For Atria, it allows us to provide cleaner water and less volatile compounds in the products we install. It also helps us analyze our approach to lighting and air-conditioning.”
Reduced costs pay back investments
Another reason a senior living community might want to try to earn an environmental certification really comes down to cost savings. Though getting certified has associated up-front costs, the building should then realize persistent energy savings as a result and is also eligible for tax credits and rebates. “Using LED lights and electricity is a lot cheaper” says Matt. “And by using these efficient systems on a purely operational standpoint it results in significant cost reductions over the lifetime of the project.”
According to Emmalyn, “If you are considering for example, a lighting retrofit or installing lighting occupancy sensors, many times those can have really short paybacks of three years or less. For bigger capital projects, like installing a high efficiency condensing boiler, the payback is typically longer—10 years or more. But it’s always important to consider the incremental payback too. If you have old equipment that needs to be replaced anyway, the increased cost vs. increased energy savings potential can look a lot more favorable for getting high efficiency equipment.”
Delivering on expectations
In a recent conversation with Kirk Brooks, Executive Director of Atria at Foster Square, we talked about the impact their LEED certification has on their community. Kirk explained, “For our residents and staff, it’s about being a conscientious member of the community at large. For the older adults who live at Atria Foster Square, there’s an expectation that the place they call home reflects their commitment to sustainability and future generations.”
Implementing environmentally friendly practices in senior living communities can be a great way to integrate into the greater community that surrounds it. “In California, there is an expectation for smart and sustainable action. When we talk to families, we find they both expect and appreciate the fact that we operate in ways that have a minimum impact on the environment. From using motion-activated LED lighting to save on energy costs to landscaping with water efficient, drought tolerant plants native to the area, we’re exercising sensitivity to the environment throughout the community’s design” says Kirk.
Earth Day is a perfect time to reflect on what we can do to be more conscientious of how our actions impact the health and planet as a whole. Remember even though there may be challenges to implement an environmental certification program at a new or existing building, the overall beneficial impact of doing our part will collectively make a huge difference to us and the next generation in senior living. The Earth needs our help. Plant a tree. Change your light bulbs. Rethink how your senior living community is impacting the climate. Just like the Fantasyland ride, “It’s a small world after all.”
Susan Ruff has been with APFM since April 2006 and has held many roles, including Eldercare Advisor, Regional Manager, Regional Manager Trainer, and National Accounts Manager. She joined the Partner Services Team in 2012 and, since then, her assigned accounts have included Atria Senior Living and many others. Susan lives in Dayton, OH with her husband and four children.