Selling Sustainability

Kelly Vickers discusses Alliance Residential Company’s green strategy and why sustainability must be incorporated at every level of company management.

Alliance Residential Company, a Phoenix-based real estate company, has 17 regional offices divided among six regions throughout the U.S. Over the past 12 years, Alliance has become one of the largest private apartment owners and the 15th largest management company in the nation, boasting a $6.0+ billion portfolio, 50,000 units in 24 metropolitan markets and a presence in 15 states. A fully integrated ownership, development and management company, Alliance offers a dual perspective of the industry. As owners, Alliance understands the importance of property performance and return on investment. As managers, the company recognizes the value of its associates and it knows that their individual successes comprise the backbone to the success of the overall organization. As a result, Alliance focuses its efforts on superior leadership at the local level, accentuated by comprehensive training and a national support system. This approach enables Alliance associates in the field to focus on their core responsibilities: leasing apartments and taking care of customers. MHN News Editor Jessica Fiur talks to Kelly Vickers, Alliance Residential Company’s national director of sustainability, about her new role and the company’s green programs.

What sorts of things does a national director of sustainability work on?

As the national director of sustainability, I lead Alliance’s sustainability program (known as Focus Green). The job centers around developing and implementing green metrics, business practices and tools for our employees to use at our offices and communities nationwide, and involves embedding sustainability into our company culture through education and company-wide campaigns. It also involves client relations and new business development, as well as interfacing with our development and rehab teams.

Why is this position important?

The impact operating a business has on the environment is quite significant, and we have a tremendous opportunity to lessen that impact by shifting the way we do business. The importance of this position is two-fold. As a business implements sustainability initiatives, it is extremely important to have someone focused on engaging stakeholders by demonstrating that our efforts not only help lessen our impact on the environment but also positively impact the bottom line in many cases. This is necessary to propel the program and overall vision forward, as we can’t accomplish our goals without the support and joint efforts of these individuals. In addition, embedding sustainability into our company culture is key—we want it to become second nature for all associates.

Of course, changing how we operate and how we look at things (as individuals and as a company) is not an easy task, so the other facet of my job is to find creative ways to develop that shift. It’s very exciting. Overall, this position allows me to focus completely on helping Alliance achieve our sustainability goals.

How would you describe Alliance’s “7 Ways to Focus Green” program?

Our “7 Ways to Focus Green” program is our very first company-wide campaign centered around our sustainability initiatives. It was launched last spring and will continue through the remainder of the year. The intent is to spread awareness about our sustainability program, introduce each of the seven ways to Focus Green (energy efficiency, water conservation, waste management and recycling, sustainable purchasing, environmental air quality, sustainable construction and redevelopment, and education and awareness), and roll out tools and resources to help our associates implement these green business practices and begin shifting the way they do business. I like to think of the “7 Ways to Focus Green” as the target areas that help us strategically move towards achieving our sustainability goals.

Some examples of what we’ve been working on include: conducting energy, water and waste audits; retrofitting lighting with more energy-efficient bulbs; and installing low-flow devices and EV charging stations. We’ve entered our properties into Energy Star Portfolio Manager to help us track and benchmark energy and water use, and we’ve partnered with HD Supply’s IdeallyGreen team and Give Something Back Office Supplies so that we can green our purchasing.

In an effort to help divert carpet from ending up in landfills, we’ve partnered with Shaw to use its Cradle2Cradle Certified Carpets. This product can be recycled into new carpet again and again, rather than being down-cycled into another product that may eventually end up in a landfill. Alliance communities across the board are working to consistently recycle their carpet and
carpet pad.

We’ve been using low-VOC paint at our communities for some time, but we are now also pushing to use only zero-VOC paints with zero-VOC colorants to further improve our environmental air quality. We’re also working to implement recycling programs at all Alliance communities, as well as developing additional in-house training on sustainable business practices, and pursuing more LEED and NAHB Green certifications for our development projects.

What are some of the challenges you foresee as Alliance embraces green?

At this time, I am the only associate solely focused on sustainability in our company. While I receive tremendous support from our corporate departments and company executives, I can easily foresee needing additional support personnel and tools to help me continue to be as effective at my job as possible, help Alliance meet our sustainability goals and continually strive for improvement. This is due to increasing sustainability-related legislation and rising demand for green building and green business practices.

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