As property owners, operators, and managers, we may often think that every green / sustainable idea out there that can be implemented has already been implemented.
After all, in the late 1800s there was a common belief that everything that could be invented had already been invented. Or, perhaps we get caught up in thinking that new green technologies are just far too cost-prohibitive for our communities.
If this sounds like your current state of mind, think again! With some out-of-the-box thinking and some keen observation skills, we can find inspiration and new ideas in our everyday lives!
Take, for example, your day today. What did you do? On your way to work, you stopped at a drive-through and got breakfast, then parked your car and headed into your office building. During your lunch break, you made plans for your upcoming vacation. And on your way home you stopped by the grocery store to grab a few items for tonight’s dinner. Nothing exciting here, right? Wrong!
In each of these interactions, you experienced opportunities to observe the technologies that other industries are using to control expenses, conserve energy, and be more sustainable.
Behind the scenes at the restaurant, occupancy sensors were controlling ovens and cooktops, ensuring the optimum amount of energy use based on the current customer load. You might not have noticed, but the manager was receiving a text alert that a walk-in refrigerator door had been left open, and a sensor on the drive-through window was pulling it tightly closed, helping to cut down on unnecessary energy use.
In your parking garage, you might not have noticed the solar panel on the roof and the electric vehicle charging station in the corner, or realized the garage is utilizing building system commissioning to gauge the amount of energy the mechanical equipment is using and ensure all systems are running as efficiently as intended.
When you booked your hotel for that long-awaited vacation, you probably didn’t realize that the hotel has a team dedicated to sustainability efforts, that it’s undergoing a large-scale recycling upgrade, or that the staff uniforms are laundered in a way that maximizes water conservation.
And after work, as you headed in to the grocery store, you might or might not have noticed that sensors in the freezer case trigger the display light only when a shopper walks by. You might not have thought about the comprehensive refrigeration preventive maintenance program in place, the energy audit being conducted, or the recent multimillion-dollar investment in ENERGY STAR-labeled equipment.
So what is the point of listing all these behind-the-scenes energy conservation efforts that you unknowingly encountered? It’s to encourage you to be on the lookout for sustainable ideas being used in other industries that could potentially be applied to the apartment industry.
When you interact with other industries (which we all do constantly if you really stop to think about it), take time to observe what technologies are in place and how those might translate to our industry.
In the above example with the freezer lights at the grocery store, would you believe that one of our colleagues translated this concept into a similar system that was applied to a multifamily parking garage? It happened, and the results have been amazing. All because someone took inspiration from the grocer’s technology.
As you are interacting with other industries, if you don’t see any apparent technologies that are green or sustainable, ask! By simply taking a few minutes to chat informally with the staff, you could learn a lot. Most people are excited about their organization’s conservation efforts and are more than willing to give you a sneak peek of what they are working on behind the scenes. It’s a great conversation starter and you just might make a new friend! Restaurants, hotels, retail outlets, commercial buildings… any industry could inspire you or hold the key to a great new idea.
Another terrific source of ideas for new technologies is others in our industry. By speaking with your peers outside of your organization and even your geographical area, you are able to ask what new technologies they are using. Joining committees designed to focus on conservation and cost savings is a great way to initiate this type of dialogue.
A simple Internet search for “ideas for making apartments more sustainable” yielded several interesting results. There were so many suggestions out there that I had never heard of! I ended up on an Australian site called greenstrata.com.au, where I found a huge listing of sustainable topics combined with dozens of case studies. Who knew sustainability efforts were so on point down under?!
Another site, greenhotels.com, has an idea board and several more case studies, along with tons of information on green ideas for both hotels and apartment buildings. Clearly, regulations will vary from country to country, and not all technologies or ideas that work in the hotel industry will work in the apartment industry, but the goal is to make an effort to seek new ideas and not pigeonhole yourself into just looking to your existing portfolio or nearby comp set for new technologies. Get out there and explore. Ask questions. Observe. You might just find the next big technological idea for our industry on your drive to work tomorrow! And how cool will it be to discover it?