Capitalize on Your Investment by Engaging On-Site Parties

Chicago--Continuous education is key in engaging both residents and on-site staff, according to panelists at the 2010 Greenbuild International Conference and Expo.

Chicago–Continuous education is key in engaging both residents and on-site staff, according to panelists at the 2010 Greenbuild International Conference and Expo. The session, titled “Capitalizing on Your Investment: Engaging Multifamily Residents and Staff,” discussed the importance of getting buy-in from all parties involved.

Scott Anderson, senior director of asset management at TIAA-CREF, also pointed to the importance of marketing programs to engage residents about on-site sustainable practices. One such strategy that TIAA-CREF implemented is informing prospects of the difference in utility bill costs associated with the green community, compared to a traditional, non-green community.

With a goal of reducing portfolio-wide energy use by 15 percent by the end of 2011, TIAA-CREF, for example, has approached its sustainability initiatives from a financial point of view. Anderson discussed the firm’s approach of encouraging proactive energy management, giving on-site managers what he called “true empowerment.”

Similarly, UDR developed sustainable guidelines by which all parties—from associates and residents to budgeting and purchasing departments, as well as consultants and vendors—are meant to abide. A top-down approach such as this demonstrates to on-site staff and residents the company’s sustainable commitment, pointed out Doug Walker, senior vice president of transactions for UDR.

Explaining to all on-site parties the scope of a community’s sustainable strategies, as well as benefits and advantages to such tactics, is key to ensuring that the community is, in fact, as environmentally responsible as it claims, according to the panelists. Getting buy-in from all parties is the only way to attain these goals, added Walker.

Suggestions for getting this message across included keeping the language easy to understand, particularly when trying to get residents on board, as they may not be familiar with industry terms. UDR, for example, publishes short green-living tips on its resident portal.

For staff, Walker suggested providing incentives. To create enthusiasm and motivation, it is important to compare staff to their counterparts at other communities, for example.

One of the greatest challenges in engaging on-site staff and residents, however, is the frequency of turnover. (According to an industry report, annual turnover for leasing consultants is 65.3 percent, 33.3 percent for community managers and 50 percent for maintenance technicians.) And, pointed out Walker, the cost of one on-site turnover is equivalent to five months of rent.

As a result, any message needs to be repeated frequently, and materials should be prequalified, suggests David Borchardt, chief sustainability officer at The Tower Cos. (Don’t assume that what you bought a year ago is still compliant, he cautioned, as qualifications do change.) He also suggested holding biweekly staff meetings and educating leasing consultants about a company’s sustainable message to ensure everyone is on the same page.

Other ways to engage residents include:

  • Posting green tips on Facebook, Twitter and the company blog—but make sure to check your sources; watch for greenwashing.
  • Holding recycling events for residents to donate their old furniture.
  • Installing a mixed-paper recycling bin in the mail room for junk mail.
  • Including an option to “upgrade” to a green unit at renewal for an additional rent charge per month.
  • Asking residents to try energy-efficient fixtures, such as CFLs, for a certain number of days, with the promise that you’ll change them out if the resident is unsatisfied.