‘The Green Picture’ with Erika Schnitzer: Bringing Sexy Back … to Green

At a two-day brainstorming session about sustainability, it became clear that our industry could be more innovative.

I’ve just returned from a two-day sustainability brainstorming session hosted by Interface, where I had the pleasure of meeting some of the industry’s most intriguing people. Though my mind is overwhelmed with trying to synthesize everything we discussed into just one thought, what I can say is that our industry needs to become more innovative.

Now before you shoot off an angry email, let me explain. The multifamily industry, as a whole, seems to be—unfortunately—known for its sluggishness to adopt new technologies. But the problem (well, maybe not a problem, per se) is that the need for multifamily housing is never going to disappear; in fact, it will only continue to grow as both our millennial population moves into the workforce and out of mom and dad’s and our baby boomer generation begins to downsize and acknowledge that the urban center is where they want to be. And these renters are not going to tolerate apartments of the past.

What’s the solution? Well, I’d love to say that after 48 hours chewing on this problem (and others that I’ll explore later), we came up with the answer. But alas, we only scratched the surface. As one member of this gathering pointed out, though, green needs to be “sexy” to the consumer; it needs to be easy, affordable and cool. Despite our best intentions, perhaps the green factor should not be the differentiator; rather, the product, the apartment, whatever you’re selling, needs to have a unique story to tell besides the fact that it’s green. That’s the way most people will get on board. Maybe green is almost beside the point.

One of the groups’ brainstorming led them to create a modular, intergenerational city (constructed with art materials provided). Both the city components and the housing units could be interchanged, with the end result being a community where residents aren’t constantly turning over.

We closed our meeting trying to stretch our imaginations for the future. What will truly be innovative? We broke into groups to figure this out, and the group I was a part of decided to take modular housing to the next step. What if an entire mixed-use development was modular and intergenerational? Rather than an apartment being a stepping-stone, why not make it a permanent home that grows (and shrinks) with you and your family? Incorporate all amenities necessary for children, in-laws and empty nesters within the community.

Now this such example was just one group’s idea, but it was an idea that sprang from instructions not to limit ourselves. If the industry stops imposing such limits on itself, what could we come up with next? (I understand financing plays a tremendous role in this, but please bear with me.) I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter. Leave a comment here or email me at [email protected].

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