Are the Residents Onboard With Greening Apartment Communities?

Their buy-in is critical to the success of any apartment community's sustainable initiatives

With the green movement moving closer to the mainstream every day, it should be fairly easy to get apartment renters onboard with sustainability in their communities. But not everyone has signed on to the cause just yet.

“You will get people who don’t believe, or don’t want to be bothered or may make life difficult,” asserts Kimberly Madrigal, CSBA (Certified Sustainable Building Advisor), LEED Green Associate, property management consultant and founder of While it might be tough, or even impossible, to change your residents’ world views, though, it’s crucial to “give everyone a voice—and respect that voice,” says Madrigal.

Getting younger renters on board might be a fairly easier feat, points out Doug Walker, senior vice president-transactions of UDR, who oversees the company’s green initiatives. Of UDR’s target demographic—renters between the ages 23 and 35—92 percent of those surveyed believe it’s important to live in a community that has a recycling program, and 67 percent believe it’s important to live where the landlord is environmentally responsible, Walker reports. “They grew up with it; [they are] more in tune with it, so from that perspective, their green train has left the station. …They feel entitled to [live in a] green environment.”

And while statistics show that people do care about global warming and about doing their part to make their world more sustainable, Madrigal notes, “there’s such an avalanche of information that [people] don’t know what to do first.”

This is precisely why resident education is essential, particularly since individual lifestyles can greatly impact just how green an apartment is. “It’s not just the equipment; it’s how you use the equipment and how you live in the unit to get the highest efficiency,” Walker points out.

Compounding the issue is the difficulty of putting these seemingly abstract concepts into terms that are meaningful to renters. To overcome this challenge, Madrigal suggests having residents “visualize carbon,” that is, explain that one pound of carbon is approximately the size of one large exercise ball, and a coffee pot left on during the day produces the amount of electricity in one pound of carbon.

Madrigal also suggests asking residents for their ideas and input at community meetings, where it is crucial to discuss the property’s initiatives. “Management may have already decided that they are going ahead [with an initiative], but get some feedback to reduce complaints and get some ideas,” she says. “You may find people who will be on your team and help you through the process.” She also recommends involving the local utility to help push the message forward—and as a bonus, the utility may provide free items, such as CFLs, to residents.

No matter your approach, though, it’s key to get resident buy-in, because, as Madrigal notes, “When you ask [whether] residents can increase the sustainability of a community, the answer is an emphatic yes; your residents must be part of the solution.”

Riding the green train

Perhaps one of the biggest mistakes many property management companies make is that they don’t show residents how the green features both in a community and in individual units work and how using them can help save money and resources. “It’s one thing to say, ‘I put in a CFL,’” points out Madrigal. “It’s another to say, ‘It will enable you to reduce your carbon emissions by x.’”

Leases can state up-front what’s required, including what types of products renters can and cannot use in their apartments. There might even be requirements for specific light bulbs, for example. Madrigal also recommends including a clause in the lease that allows on-site staff to enter units to check for leaks and to ensure that units are being properly maintained to ensure their efficiency.

Submetering is one area where managers can demonstrate to their residents just how much energy they are consuming—and, ultimately, saving— after green features are implemented. Managers can communicate directly with residents to show them “before and after” energy bills. Madrigal points out, however, that managers need to also play a role in reducing their buildings’ common-area consumption. “If you’re asking them to do something, you need to be doing it, too,” she notes.

Prospective renters should have a way to compare the real costs of living in various apartment communities; if they are given the information regarding the cost to run particular appliances, they would be able to make more informed decisions, for example. And, apartments with green features that may seem more expensive at first glance could prove otherwise. “Your property will stand out,” Madrigal says. “How about if you had a fridge that costs less per year, and [the prospects] know it?”

UDR is currently working on implementing green features in occupied units. Residents who renew their leases on a PDA receive a popup option that allows them to choose green upgrades, including CFL lighting, low-flow faucets, aerators and programmable thermostats, for an additional $10 dollars per month. Thus far, the option has been well-received, reports Walker, though he admits the option so far has only been provided to a very specific market. However, at just $150 per apartment for the upgrades, the feedback has indicated that “there may be some revenue of going green,” and UDR plans to expand this option both to those who aren’t renewing online and to new renters.

Even if units don’t have green features, managers can still get residents onboard with living a sustainable lifestyle. Communicate with residents about the roles they can take to help the environment, suggests Madrigal. “People want to feel like they’re making a contribution,” she points out.

At UDR’s communities, for example, residents receive “Living Current” newsletters on their resident portals, which provides tips and ideas about living a greener lifestyle. “Residents like being able to do something,” Walker observes. “It allows them to participate in the green movement without being a homeowner; they felt left out in
the past.”

To comment, e-mail Erika Schnitzer at