Green by Committee Making Your Condo More Eco-Friendly

Green by Committee

 Green truly is the new black in South Florida. As more and more condos and HOAs  look to save money as expenses rise, more and more boards and unit owners are  exploring ways to incorporate “greening” into their building community.  

 Green homes are expected to grow between 29 percent to 38 percent of the  residential construction market by the year 2016, which is equal to $87 billion  to $114 billion of that market, according to a 2012 McGraw Hill Construction  study.  

 According to the U.S. Green Building Council, whose Leadership in Energy and  Environmental Design program is the gold standard, the residential market—from multi- to single-family, from market rate to affordable housing, is reaping  the benefits of using green building techniques. Since the launch of LEED for  Homes in 2008, more than 30,000 homes have received LEED for Homes  certification and nearly 93,000 are registered for certification. Over half of  all LEED-certified homes are in the affordable housing category, the USGBC  says.  

 And cities and towns are getting on board, too. There are 44 certified and 58  registered Florida Green Building Coalition Local Government-designated cities  and counties in the Sunshine State, according to Suzanne B. Cook, the FGBC  executive director.  

 As of the fall 2012, 201 homes in Florida are LEED-certified. Cook says more and  more communities are trending towards green alternatives. She says there is  interest in green, “mainly because of the cost reductions that green building offers, whether it is  with water conservation or energy conservation. Those are the two big issues  that people relate to green building, although green building has a much  broader range than just energy and water. It’s about the health issues. Maybe a homeowner could specify low VOC paint or that  type of thing.”  

 Green buildings are known for having cleaner air and using more  environmentally-sound materials.  

 Emerging in South Florida

 Although slow to adopt and having no green-certified buildings until 2009, South  Florida has jumped on the green bandwagon and now has 200 LEED-certified  buildings.  

 One area that has gotten a little greener these days is Miami, according to  Sandra Dominguez, a licensed real estate agent with Rutenberg Realty, which has  offices in New York City.  

 “Miami is making great strides in going greener with the Miami Green Committee  and the Miami Green Lab,” says Dominguez. “Consumers are demanding the lifestyle and developers and property managers are  paying attention. Residential buildings are moving towards that, but single-family homes are  really leading the way in LEED design. New developments are also going green with them incorporating LED lighting,  recycling requirements and windows that retain cooling. Brickell is the neighborhood leading the green way with a strong movement in the  residential and commercial market to go green. I’m also seeing buildings competing to be LEED certified,” she says.  

 There are multiple benefits and residents want to live in green buildings  because they’re healthier, more energy-efficient, and have greater resale value. “It is a great benefit,” says Dominguez. “Going green is a definite plus to the wallet on the front end and the back end  of an investment. I have over 20 years of experience in the real estate market  and in South Florida a single family home will sell 10-15 percent higher if it  has energy saving amenities such as solar panels, energy efficient windows and  doors, toilets, etc. and this has crossed over to the commercial, residential  condo, and rental market.” Dominguez believes the attraction will continue. LEED-certified buildings with  lower operating costs and better indoor environmental quality are more  attractive to a growing group of corporate, public and individual buyers, she  says. High performing building features increasingly enter into tenants'  decisions about leasing space and into buyers' decisions about purchasing  properties and homes. There is a definite increase in occupancy, she adds.  

 It is also a valuable option for both cost savings and resident satisfaction,  Dominguez says. “LEED-certified buildings provide immediate and measurable results for building  managers and occupants. Controlling energy and water use is a critical tactic  that is saving companies millions of dollars, year over year, simply by  reducing costs through saved energy, water and other resources.  

 “The greening of an existing or new building can reduce operating and maintenance  costs, optimize capital expenditures, increase efficiency, extend the life of  buildings and building systems and minimize negative impacts on the environment  in terms of energy and water use, consumption of natural resources, and  pollution. Lower operating costs and easy maintenance of green buildings can also  contribute to lower vacancy rates and higher property values.”  

 Benefits of Going Green

 While it’s common for buildings or associations of any size to have designated committees  in place to help boards and management handle aesthetic, social and other  community concerns, ‘green’ committees are emerging as a more recent trend throughout South Florida and  across the country as environmental consciousness is raised.  

 Green committees are similar to any other building committee in the sense that  they’re typically a group of residents who are voted into the committee to help with  a common goal. In the green committee’s case, the goal is creating an eco-friendly building environment that can  influence everything from the paint choices they use when painting the common  areas to creating, installing and maintaining a green roof for the building.  

 A 2003 California study on sustainable development in that state analyzed  specific cost benefits for going green. The study said, “The financial benefits of green buildings include lower energy, waste disposal,  and water costs, lower environmental and emissions costs, lower operations and  maintenance costs, and savings from increased productivity and health. These  benefits range from being fairly predictable (energy, waste, and water savings)  to relatively uncertain (productivity/health benefits). Energy and water  savings can be predicted with reasonable precision, measured, and monitored  over time. In contrast, productivity and health gains are much less precisely  understood and far harder to predict with accuracy.”  

 What You Can Do

 Recycling, energy and water conservation, composting and improving landscaping  techniques and methods are just a few of the things green committees may devote  themselves to working on—and often, there are local and state-sponsored organizations and resources to  help them achieve their goals.  

 “It’s important for homeowner associations to prioritize with a green committee  because minor tweaks to a building can greatly improve its performance,” says Grace Lunsford, owner and managing director of Green Dream Group, an  organization based in Chicago that strives to make buildings more eco-friendly.  

 Residents can get involved with their community in a positive way by starting a  stand-alone green committee and also help the planet at the same time. One of  the first—and easiest—ways that the green committees encourage residents to get involved is through  your city or statewide recycling program.  

 A 75 percent recycling goal throughout the state has been mandated by the  Energy, Climate Change, and Economic Security Act of 2008 (House Bill 7135)  that was signed into law by former Governor Charlie Crist. The deadline for  achieving this goal is the year 2020. Under the law, recyclable materials shall  include, but are not limited to, metals, paper, glass, plastic, textile, rubber  materials and mulch.  

 It’s not only recycling however. Unit owners, boards and management groups have  found that many of these eco-friendly measures are also cost-saving strategies  as well.  

 Dominguez says there are many things boards and residents can do on their own.  Some ideas include installing high-efficiency heating and cooling equipment:  Well-designed high-efficiency furnaces, boilers, and air conditioners (and  distribution systems) not only save the building occupants money, but also  produce less pollution during operation, she notes. Secondly, you can install  high-efficiency lights and appliances: LEED Lighting, fluorescent lighting has  improved dramatically in recent years and is now suitable for homes as well as  office buildings. High-efficiency appliances offer both economic and environmental advantages over  their conventional counterparts.  

 Other options, Dominguez adds, are to install water-efficient equipment:  Water-conserving toilets, showerheads, and faucet aerators not only reduce  water use, they also reduce demand on septic systems or sewage treatment  plants. Reducing hot water use also saves energy. Mechanical ventilation  equipment that is installed will also ensure safe, healthy indoor air.  

 Residents as environmentally-conscious to live in a green building will also be  early adopters of recycling waste, says Dominguez. “Make it easy for occupants to recycle waste. Install automated recycling  disposal within trash chutes. Make provisions for storage and processing of  recyclables for all residents and employees.”  

 Get the Board on Board

 While residents may take the lead, it’s up to management and the board to be as supportive as possible of green  initiatives.  

 The key in whatever they do is to create programs the green committee and the  board are committed to implementing. Then create programs that can be easily  incorporated into the daily lives of the homeowners, provide support for  questions and educate the importance and the impact everyone can make.  

 Once one or two people decide to form a green committee, they can turn to the  state to see if any incentives are available to help.  

 If your green committee is looking for a more holistic approach or a green  building certification, then they can get help from the three most popular  building certifications: LEED with the U.S. Green Building Council, Green  Globes or Energy Star. Currently, Energy Star does not have a multi-residential  certification, but is expected to have one in 2013. Energy Star is also focused  on energy only, rather than complete sustainability. LEED and Green Globes look  at all building components in addition to other eco-friendly moves such as air  quality and landscaping.  

 Less is More

 Another way condo boards and residents can help the environment is by greatly  reducing their paper and waste streams. A new online-based service called “My Green” can help in that regard, according to co-founder and business development  manager Ranjan Sankarasivam. The New Jersey-based company is targeting  homeowner and condo associations around the country and internationally to help  boards, managers and residents become greener citizens.  

 The company’s vision, he says, is to “create a distinct online global residential platform that brings together residents (owner/tenant), property management,  board members, vendors and associations while reducing operating costs,  increasing transparency, enabling flawless communication, eliminating  manual/paper processing and promoting a green environment.”  

 The way we look at it, there are many ways one board member or board members can  contribute to green, he says. One example is solar power, or green waste  management, or you can help by eliminating paper, that’s where we focus on, he says.  

 “In establishing a committee, a committee obviously will look at ways for  greening. But what I can talk about is eliminating paper, because paper is a  big, big part of keeping green in any community,” Sankarasivam says.  

 Both boards and property managers handle a lot of paper on a daily basis,  whether it is leases or contracts, work requests or order forms, bylaw  amendments or house rules, he says. Property managers are constantly sending  out faxes, collection notices, work order requests, notices about landscaping  or ongoing painting projects, and more. “There are a lot of papers that get circulated.”  

 Sankarasivam says his business can help with that. “So what we do is that we have 40 different functionalities in our online  application. For property management, that will help eliminate completely every  paper within the building and also every property management operation  associated with the building. We offer things like e-fax, e-signatures, sell  tickets or collect money online. We offer Microsoft Share Point, that allows  board members and committees and vendors working on electronic documents to  manage them in electronic form, and provide links that can be used to share  with people in email.”  

 Sankarasivam says, “This obviously promotes green and there are many subsequent benefits attached to  it. Three main benefits: One of them is a substantial cost savings. One of it  is no more paper, memos, contracts, faxes, that saves you money—a paper reduction, no fax machine, no filed paperwork or storage. You don’t have to keep files.”  

 But not everyone has access to computers, email, or is conversant with computer  lingo, especially older residents, he notes. To encourage adoption of online  resources, he recommends that boards provide the access themselves. “In today’s day and age, every place will have an Internet connection. The challenge is  always, what type of community? In some of the elderly communities, what we always do is encourage every  building who is our client to put a computer in the common areas of the  building. And then you have everybody walking by and come into the common area  and they sign in with a user name and a password. That’s really worked well. You have a selection of people who can’t do this and the board can make a decision to do paper-based mailings  specifically for them,” he says.  

 “The idea of automation that always gets shuts down is that there are people out  there that can’t use it. It’s a different mindset. That’s where we actually can make a difference. We can show that there’s a cost savings for doing this.”  

 Sankarasivam said this service also promotes continuity, as all the community  documents, whether they are bylaws/house rules, administrative operations,  management forms, residential leases, etc., can be stored digitally, and will  be there for future generations. Board members change, management companies  change, unit owners change, but the building’s institutional memory and recordkeeping will remain intact, he says.  MyGreenCondo, Inc., which was founded in 2011, will do a case study and provide  a cost benefits analysis to any condo community or HOA looking to automate  their building operations.  

 “When we go to an association, we prove to them that our cost is minimal to the  comparison that the cost savings they are going to achieve,” he says.  

 It Just Takes One

 So while you may not have your own green committee, you can always encourage  recycling when the board is speaking about garbage choices; ask about energy  efficient light bulbs the next time someone runs to Home Depot to replace the  current light bulbs; and before grabbing a bottle of Windex to clean the tables  in the lobby, you can ask the board to switch to a more ecofriendly, natural  cleaning solution.  

 It only takes one or two or a handful of residents per building to form a green  committee but doing so can make real changes to your homes, the planet and your  community’s bottom line.   

 Danielle Braff is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to The South  Florida Cooperator. Managing Editor Debra A. Estock contributed to this  article.  

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