Green by Committee Making Your Condo More Eco-Friendly

Green by Committee

 Green truly is the new black in New England. As more and more condos and HOAs  look to save money as expenses rise, more and more boards and unit owners are  exploring ways to incorporate “greening” into their building community.  

 Green homes are expected to grow between 29 percent to 38 percent of the  residential construction market by the year 2016, which is equal to $87 billion  to $114 billion of that market, according to a 2012 McGraw Hill Construction  study.  

 According to the U.S. Green Building Council, whose Leadership in Energy and  Environmental Design program is the gold standard, the residential market—from multi- to single-family, from market rate to affordable housing, is reaping  the benefits of using green building techniques. Since the launch of LEED for  Homes in 2008, more than 30,000 homes have received LEED for Homes  certification and nearly 93,000 are registered for certification. Over half of  all LEED-certified homes are in the affordable housing category, the USGBC  says.  

 According to the USGBC, in the United States alone, buildings account for: 65% of electricity consumption, 36% of energy use, 30% of greenhouse gas  emissions, 30% of raw materials use, 30% of waste output (136 million tons  annually), and 12% of potable water consumption. Not only do green buildings  enhance and protect ecosystems and biodiversity, improve air and water quality,  but they reduce solid waste and reduce operating costs as well. Additionally,  living in a green building is more comfortable and healthier and more  satisfying for residents, and going green optimizes the life-cycle performance  of a building’s operating systems and its infrastructure. The air, thermal heating and acoustical environments in the building are also  improved.  

 An Emerging Trend

 Instead of sitting back and letting the opportunity slide by, property manager  David J. Levy of Sterling Services in Holliston, Massachusetts, has taken the  lead in encouraging his properties to go the green route.  

 As for the level of interest, Levy said it is high. “Yes, everyone is interested, yet so far, except for recycling, mostly there has  been more talk than action by the volunteers. Therefore, in my case, I have  led. In one of our properties, a 12-story building, 10 story residential and  two stories for parking, with 100 condos, we have lowered the utility costs by  $80,000 a year,” he says. That achievement, he adds, led to the New England chapter of Community  Associations Institute (CAI-NE) voting his condo association as property of the  year in 2011.  

 Interest in green building is also trending nationally, says Suzanne B. Cook,  who heads the Green Building Coalition in Florida. Cook notes that there is  interest in green, “mainly because of the cost reductions that green building offers, whether it is  with water conservation or energy conservation. Those are the two big issues  that people relate to green building, although green building has a much  broader range than just energy and water. It’s about the health issues,” she says, adding that green buildings are known for having cleaner air and  using more environmentally-sound materials.  

 There are multiple benefits and residents want to live in green buildings  because they’re healthier, more energy-efficient, and have greater resale value. Some of the  high-profile LEED-certified projects in Boston include the Macallen Building  and the Clarendon Back Bay.  

 The Macallen Building, completed in 2007, earned a LEED Gold certification and  was the first residential building in Boston to do so. Consisting of 140 units  with high-end finishes and amenities, the condo is very eco-friendly, having  been constructed of recycled and non-toxic materials and all of the fixtures,  appliances, and building systems are Energy Star rated. It features a green  roof system that facilitates rain water collection.  

 The Clarendon, a 33-story luxury residential tower designed by noted architect  Robert A.M. Stern and built by Related Companies, is registered with the USGBC, and has received LEED Silver certification. Some of its green features include  low VOC paint, Energy Star appliances, high efficiency HVAC units, and use of a  landscaped roof top to minimize heat gain and absorb storm water.  

 Real estate broker Joe Baglio, who markets the Clarendon and the 256-unit  Millennium Place in downtown Boston with Back Bay Residential, said green  construction is all the rage. It is a major marketing component and has proven  resale value to buy into and live in a green building. It’s the “attraction of being a green property. Especially when they’re starting out at $800 grand and go up to $4 or $5 million bucks, there’s no question that that’s going to be a major marketing component to the residential end of it. People  absolutely love it.”  

 “It sits well with a lot of wealthy buyers, the construction component. It’s state-of-the-art, they’ve got the best amenities and efficiencies, and people realize it and go for it,” he says.  

 Levy has helped a number of his properties go green. Lakeshore Condominiums, a  luxury property with a pool, health club, underground parking, and a private  dock, in Worcester, Massachusetts, is situated on Lake Quinsigamond. A major  effort was made in 2009 to green the condo as 41 percent of its budget  ($236,000) was tied into utilities. The goal was to get those utility costs to  under 30 percent by 2012.  

 Not only did they reach that goal, (they achieved a 28 percent reduction) but  they are projecting to get those costs down to $155,000, (a 26 percent  reduction) in 2013. This is over an $80,000 cost savings, Levy notes. Plus, the  condo did not increase fees in 2010 and 2011, had a small increase in 2012 and  expects to have no increase in 2013.  

 The energy saving ideas consisted of installing controllers for temperature  adjustments in units, the common areas and hallways; negotiating a lower price  on electricity (going from 13 cents to 8 cents) per the contract; using spot  market to lower prices on natural gas; installing additional insulation and  putting in new elevator motors and controllers.  

 Benefits of Going Green

 While it’s common for buildings or associations of any size to have designated committees  in place to help boards and management handle aesthetic, social and other  community concerns, ‘green’ committees are emerging as a more recent trend throughout New England and  across the country as environmental consciousness is raised.  

 Green committees are similar to any other building committee in the sense that  they’re typically a group of residents who are voted into the committee to help with  a common goal. In the green committee’s case, the goal is creating an eco-friendly building environment that can  influence everything from the paint choices they use when painting the common  areas to creating, installing and maintaining a green roof for the building.  

 A 2003 California study on sustainable development in that state analyzed  specific cost benefits for going green. The study said, “The financial benefits of green buildings include lower energy, waste disposal,  and water costs, lower environmental and emissions costs, lower operations and  maintenance costs, and savings from increased productivity and health. These  benefits range from being fairly predictable (energy, waste, and water savings)  to relatively uncertain (productivity/health benefits). Energy and water  savings can be predicted with reasonable precision, measured, and monitored  over time. In contrast, productivity and health gains are much less precisely  understood and far harder to predict with accuracy.”  

 What You Can Do

 Recycling, energy and water conservation, composting and improving landscaping  techniques and methods are just a few of the things green committees may devote  themselves to working on—and often, there are local and state-sponsored organizations and resources to  help them achieve their goals.  

 Residents can get involved with their community in a positive way by starting a  stand-alone green committee and also help the planet at the same time. One of  the first—and easiest—ways that the green committees encourage residents to get involved is through  your city or statewide recycling program.  

 The first step, according to Andy Padian, the vice board chair of the Northeast  Sustainable Energy Association (NESEA), is to conduct a comprehensive energy  audit to analyze how much energy your building community is actually using.  

 Often residents get scared off when you start talking about greening their condo  or HOA because they think it means “they’re going to have to slap solar panels on their building or buy a window.” That’s not it at all, he says. “I think what we want to encourage people about is that by making your building  more sustainable is making it have significantly better cash flow.”  

 “I always say to owners in buildings—cash is green. Owners don’t look at fuel usage in their buildings, and their accountants don’t and their managing agents don’t,” says Padian. “NESEA as a group wants people to start counting. How much oil do you use? How  much gas do you use? How much electricity do you use? And how does that compare  to another building? What is your biggest bill? I’ve been coming into more and more buildings in New England and in New York City  that their biggest bill is their water bill. And people are saying they can’t do anything about that.  

 “You can’t change aerators or showerheads or toilets? That’s easy stuff. We’ve had buildings where we’ve done that and we got 24 percent savings overnight,” Padian says. “It’s cheap and easy and fast.”  

 So a start is to “quantify everything.” Look at your oil, your electricity and your gas usage. Boilers, heaters, air  conditioners, for example, all use a lot of energy. The average building,  especially in the Northeast, spends 40 percent on utilities and water usage, he  says.  

 Of course, recycling is a popular initiative but unit owners, boards and  management groups have latched on to other eco-friendly measures and  cost-saving strategies as well.  

 There are many things boards and residents can do on their own. Some ideas  include installing high-efficiency heating and cooling equipment: well-designed  high-efficiency furnaces, boilers, and air conditioners (and distribution  systems) not only save the building occupants money, but also produce less  pollution during operation. Secondly, you can install high-efficiency lights  and appliances: LEED Lighting, fluorescent lighting has improved dramatically  in recent years and is now suitable for homes as well as office buildings.  High-efficiency appliances offer both economic and environmental advantages  over their conventional counterparts.  

 Get the Board on Board

 While residents may take the lead, it’s up to management and the board to be as supportive as possible of green  initiatives.  

 Padian says he believes it’s best to establish a separate committee or a subcommittee outside of the board.  The green committee should perhaps include an architect, an engineer, scientist  or building professional, along with residents, to do the proper research and  then make a recommendation that could be brought formally before the board.  

 A green committee works just like any other, says Levy. “The process is the same as any other owner initiative … they go to the board, give a quick recap, the board then blesses (or denies)  the idea. That idea is put into a flyer / newsletter article, and the process  flows along. Then a committee is created, resident input solicited, and then a  proposal to the board to take some type of action,” he says. “Typically the work flows to one high-energy person who has a passion for the  specific idea, yet in an upscale property, with many retired resident owners,  especially if there is a clubhouse, then a classical committee structure can  occur.”  

 The key in whatever they do is to create programs the green committee and the  board are committed to implementing. Then create programs that can be easily  incorporated into the daily lives of the homeowners, provide support for  questions and educate the importance and the impact everyone can make.  

 Once one or two people decide to form a green committee, they can turn to the  state to see if any incentives are available to help.  

 If your green committee is looking for a more holistic approach or a green  building certification, then they can get help from the three most popular  building certifications: LEED with the U.S. Green Building Council, Green  Globes or Energy Star. Currently, Energy Star does not have a multi-residential  certification, but is expected to have one in 2013. Energy Star is also focused  on energy only, rather than complete sustainability. LEED and Green Globes look  at all building components in addition to other eco-friendly moves such as air  quality and landscaping.  

 Less is More

 Another way condo boards and residents can help the environment is by greatly  reducing their paper and waste streams. A new online-based service called “My Green” can help in that regard, according to co-founder and business development  manager Ranjan Sankarasivam. The New Jersey-based company is targeting  homeowner and condo associations around the country and internationally to help  boards, managers and residents become greener citizens.  

 The company’s vision, he says, is to “create a distinct online global residential platform that brings together  residents (owner/tenant), property management, board members, vendors and  associations while reducing operating costs, increasing transparency, enabling  flawless communication, eliminating manual/paper processing and promoting a  green environment.”  

 The way we look at it, there are many ways one board member or board members can  contribute to green, he says. One example is solar power, or green waste  management, or you can help by eliminating paper, that’s where we focus on, he says.  

 “In establishing a committee, a committee obviously will look at ways for  greening. But what I can talk about is eliminating paper, because paper is a  big, big part of keeping green in any community,” Sankarasivam says.  

 Both boards and property managers handle a lot of paper on a daily basis,  whether it is leases or contracts, work requests or order forms, bylaw  amendments or house rules, he says. Property managers are constantly sending  out faxes, collection notices, work order requests, notices about landscaping  or ongoing painting projects, and more. “There are a lot of papers that get circulated.”  

 Sankarasivam says his business can help with that. “So what we do is that we have 40 different functionalities in our online  application. For property management, that will help eliminate completely every  paper within the building and also every property management operation  associated with the building. We offer things like e-fax, e-signatures, sell  tickets or collect money online. We offer Microsoft Share Point that allows  board members and committees and vendors working on electronic documents to  manage them in electronic form, and provide links that can be used to share  with people in email.”  

 Sankarasivam says, “This obviously promotes green and there are many subsequent benefits attached to  it. Three main benefits: One of them is a substantial cost savings. One of it  is no more paper, memos, contracts, faxes, that saves you money—a paper reduction, no fax machine, no filed paperwork or storage. You don’t have to keep files.”  

 But not everyone has access to computers, email, or is conversant with computer  lingo, especially older residents, he notes. To encourage adoption of online  resources, he recommends that boards provide the access themselves. “In today’s day and age, every place will have an Internet connection. The challenge is  always, what type of community? In some of the elderly communities, what we always do is encourage every  building who is our client to put a computer in the common areas of the  building. And then you have everybody walking by and come into the common area  and they sign in with a user name and a password. That’s really worked well. You have a selection of people who can’t do this and the board can make a decision to do paper-based mailings  specifically for them,” he says.  

 “The idea of automation that always gets shuts down is that there are people out  there that can’t use it. It’s a different mindset. That’s where we actually can make a difference. We can show that there’s a cost savings for doing this.”  

 Sankarasivam said this service also promotes continuity, as all the community  documents, whether they are bylaws/house rules, administrative operations,  management forms, residential leases, etc., can be stored digitally, and will  be there for future generations. Board members change, management companies  change, unit owners change, but the building’s institutional memory and recordkeeping will remain intact, he says.  MyGreenCondo, Inc., which was founded in 2011, will do a case study and provide  a cost benefits analysis to any condo community or HOA looking to automate  their building operations.  

 “When we go to an association, we prove to them that our cost is minimal to the  comparison that the cost savings they are going to achieve,” he says.  

 It Just Takes One

 So while you may not have your own green committee, you can always encourage  recycling when the board is speaking about garbage choices; ask about energy  efficient light bulbs the next time someone runs to Home Depot to replace the  current light bulbs; and before grabbing a bottle of Windex to clean the tables  in the lobby, you can ask the board to switch to a more eco-friendly, natural  cleaning solution.  

 It only takes one or two or a handful of residents per building to form a green  committee but doing so can make real changes to your homes, the planet and your  community’s bottom line.   

 Danielle Braff is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to New England  Condominium. Executive Editor Debra A. Estock contributed to this article.  


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