Winning Favor

Getting apartment residents to think green can often be a heavy lift, since renters typically don’t have a direct financial stake in their homes.
Experts recommend reaching out to residents on sustainable practices through multiple channels. Western National Property Management’s popular green website provides hundreds of informative articles.

Experts recommend reaching out to residents on sustainable practices through multiple channels. Western National Property Management’s popular green website provides hundreds of informative articles.

Getting apartment residents to think green can often be a heavy lift, since renters typically don’t have a direct financial stake in their homes. The result? It is all too easy for residents to miss the links between what is good for the environment and good for them.

As industry veterans point out, that buy-in is crucial, since residents are the linchpin of water and energy conservation, as well as recycling efforts. A remarkably wide range of creative tools have succeeded in getting residents on board:

  • “If you can take a social event and attach a socially or environmentally conscious theme, it’s a win-win,” said Joe Greenblatt, president & CEO of Sunrise Management. The San Diego-based company entices residents by linking such green initiatives as composting programs and electronics recycling with social events—breakfast for residents, or even a wine tasting.
  • CLEAR Property Management of Austin, Texas, sends emails to residents at its properties to remind them to recycle and adopt water, energy and sewer conservation measures, according to Courtney Gaines, the company’s president.
  • Chicago-based Draper & Kramer reduced the numbers of residents making paper rent payments by more than 70 percent over a 60- to 90-day period.
  • Western National Property Management strives to keep its communities green by educating residents on eco-friendly cleaning products and basic green living steps, said Donna Gill, regional vice president of the Irvine, Calif.-based company.

Mixed reception

Even as sustainability becomes a way of life in rising numbers of communities, renters’ willingness to go green varies by region. Residents in the California portion of Sunrise’s 14,000-unit portfolio, which also includes communities in Arizona and Nevada, are particularly receptive to mixing social events with green programs. In the Lone Star State, Austin residents tend to embrace conservation more assiduously than their counterparts in Houston or Dallas, Gaines said.

Many operators believe that variations are generational as well as geographic, and that Millennials are today’s most environmentally friendly cohort, but Gill begs to differ. “We’ve observed that residents of all ages, from Millennials to Baby Boomers, want properties managed with green values,” she said. “And they are increasingly incorporating utility costs into their rental decisions.”

Managers report success with a variety of tools for educating residents in sustainable practices. CLEAR Property Management finds that promotional flyers and education during tours are particularly effective. “After they are residents, we can blanket email reminders of ‘Going Green,’” Gaines said. “The Texas Commission on Energy Quality water-wastewater allocation and submetering rules require we give residents the ‘Checklist of Water Conservation in Your Dwelling,’ which helps inform residents on how they too can make a difference.”

Draper & Kramer took a multipronged approach to its paper-saving plan for encouraging online payment. Management set a goal date for going “cold turkey” on paper payments, educated residents about the environmental upsides and offered one-on-one sessions to help them establish accounts on the building’s online portal.

But no promotional campaign works better than leading by example, Greenblatt suggested. When residents see Sunrise Management install motion sensors and energy-efficient lightbulbs, they are more likely to double down on sustainability themselves. “That’s the low-hanging fruit; it’s being an exemplar,” he said. “When you conserve energy, it gives you something to talk about, something to trumpet, a basis for outreach to residents.”

Multichannel tactics

Getting residents to go green requires not only communication but repetition through multiple channels. Sunrise targets different resident populations with the help of meetings, email reminders, posters and other methods, Greenblatt noted.

Millennials like to get information by email or text messages; Baby Boomers often like to see a notice posted on their front doors as well as an email. “The key is it’s not one and done. … You’ve got to repeat it,” Greenblatt argued. “The resident who didn’t care about it last month may be dating someone who does this month.”

Western National’s goal is to help residents “make living and thinking green so easy and intuitive it becomes second nature,” Gill notetd. The most popular tool with residents is access to hundreds of articles on the company portal that offer tips on adopting green habits.

Brian Davis, Philadelphia-based owner of 15 properties and director of education for SparkRental.com, suggests establishing baselines for water, gas and electric consumption. When a unit uses less than the threshold amount, the owner picks up the tab as an incentive. When use rises above the baseline, however, residents foot the bill.

Davis also recommends providing more bins for recyclables than for trash, or designating the trash chute for recyclables so that residents must carry trash to outdoor receptacles.

Weight watchers

Evaluating efforts to get residents on board demands attention to metrics, Greenblatt observed. He recommends tracking the weight of recycled items over time, and gauging energy and water use before and after the community implements conservation measures.

Western National uses benchmarking tools and energy-efficiency evaluations to assess energy and water use across its entire portfolio, Gill reported.

Resident feedback is crucial, and email offers a handy survey tool. “Put new lights in the laundry room, then reach out to residents to ask how they like them and publish the results in the community newsletter,” Greenblatt suggested. Positive sentiments are self-reinforcing and promote still more support from residents, he explained.

Taken together, these strategies can persuade residents that they truly have a stake in going green.

”Homeowners have the discretion to put up expensive solar or water-saving features,” Greenblatt said. “Renters don’t have that discretion. But every resident has the opportunity to vote with their dollars, choosing to live in a property owned and operated by environmentally responsible landlords.”

Originally appearing in the April 2017 issue of MHN.