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The Race is on to Go Green: How to Give Residents the Sustainable Housing They Want

Industry Insights

From tainted water to warming temps, environmental crises keep making headlines — and changing minds. As people grow more and more concerned about local pollutants and global warming, the race is on for multifamily executives to give residents what they want: sustainable housing.

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Remember when the story was as simple as “asbestos”? In decades past, it’s what came to mind for most renters and owners when they heard the phrase “toxic substance.” We can all picture the uncomfortable routine: a property manager captivating a couple and then pausing to share the unfortunate truth, mid-tour, about the levels of asbestos on site.

While it was certainly necessary for journalists and lawmakers to raise awareness about this silent killer, the conversation around asbestos often overshadowed other risks to residents. But in a digital age, people are asking questions and provoking debate: about the long-term effects of chemicals found in food, used in cleaning supplies, or mixed in building materials.

Communities across the country are also thinking big-picture, unable to ignore issues like coastal flooding and dwindling habitat linked to climate change. As residents strive for greener lifestyles, multifamily apartment operators are under growing pressure to respond (both for people’s health and the planet’s!). Here’s an overview of sustainability trends — and the best ways you can win the multifamily race to go green.

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Data tells the story: people are pushing for a future that’s green.

shopper eyeing cleaner

The push for organic products was once only made from the sidelines. Now, the desire for natural goods is truly going mainstream. Between 2007 and 2016, sales of organic products increased from around $20 billion annually to more than $40 billion. After a growing number of studies linked certain chemicals in beauty products to breast cancer and other health concerns, natural skincare solutions evolved into a $13 billion industry.

Millennial parents are proving especially eco-conscious, making up the biggest group of organic buyers in the U.S. in 2016. Data suggests they even value ethical production over cheaper prices; a global Nielsen study of consumer attitudes found that three-quarters of millennials say they’re willing to pay extra for “sustainable offerings”. Generation Z respondents were close behind, with 72 percent reporting they would pay extra. Importantly, the drive to go organic seems to stem from all income brackets. A 2011 Thomson Reuters survey suggests it’s not just the wealthy who prioritize eco-friendly products and a clean environment.

The multifamily sector is taking note. In 2018, a study by multifamily developer AMLI found that 83 percent of residents think living in a green community is good for their health. Fifty-nine percent would pay more to live in one. Last March, real estate services company JLL reported quite a sea change to this end: financing for green projects from just one lender, Fannie Mae, increased from $3.7 billion in 2016 to more than $27 billion in 2017.

Thus, data tells the story: residents want green communities and now is the time to invest. From carpets to trees, here’s how to make it happen.

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Start with sustainable: choosing carpets, floors, and more.

baby on carpet

1989 marked the year asbestos was finally banned in new construction. But a range of other risks remain in the housing industry. Residents face dangers from off-gassing when carpets are installed or paint is applied; they’re also vulnerable when exposed to PCBs used in older construction materials. Meanwhile, our planet suffers the consequences when toxic materials are used extensively in housing or commercial construction.

From design through construction, here’s how you can start making green choices:

— Avoid toxic carpets: While the new car smell is a source of envy, the new carpet smell can be truly dangerous. Scientists have linked carcinogens like benzene, ethylene glycol, and formaldehyde to certain carpets and home furnishings. Make the switch to something safe: install certified low-emission carpeting and adhesives the next time you replace flooring.

— Check the history of your hardwood floors: While images of logging and deforestation can make it seem like wood is the enemy, hardwood flooring can actually be more environmentally-friendly than carpeting. In fact, the Forest Stewardship Council can verify whether your chosen lumber stems from a sustainably-operated forest. In these FSC-certified forests, biodiversity is carefully preserved and air and water quality are properly maintained.

— Choose Energy Star appliances: Energy Star has been one of the top environmental advocates in the housing industry. Its appliances are more energy-efficient and less wasteful of water than non-certified counterparts, and consumers are drawn to the difference. By 2016, 45 percent of U.S. households reported purchasing an Energy Star appliance in the past 12 months. The EPA estimates that “if every appliance purchased in the United States this year were Energy Star certified, we would prevent greenhouse gas emissions equal to those from 215,000 cars — and save $360 million in annual energy costs.” Looking for the Energy Star sticker during your next search for appliances is a simply way to put a dent in climate change.

— Use LED bulbs: Incandescent bulbs are finally a thing of the past, but their modern alternatives can vary quite a bit. While fluorescent and LED bulbs use about 75 percent less electricity than comparable incandescents, halogen bulbs are only about 10-20 percent more efficient. As for outdoor lighting, LED options are very bright, making these bulbs an ideal option to keep residents safe early in the morning or late at night.

— Plant more trees: Besides being beautiful, trees absorb greenhouse gas carbon dioxide and emit oxygen, essentially cleaning our atmosphere as we walk on by. But recent research suggests the presence of trees may also boost our health — and happiness. In July 2018, NPR ran a story on a group of researchers who found that replacing vacant lots with green spaces in poor neighborhoods reduced the rates of depression among nearby residents by 27.5 percent. This finding backs previous research linking green spaces to better health. NPR reports. By planting more trees in your community, you can quickly reap the benefits of resident satisfaction.

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Add a green twist to maintenance: from products to pests.

pest inspector

— Scrub and treat surfaces with natural cleaners: People aren’t just tossing big-name cleaners into their shopping carts anymore. Thirty-six percent of consumers say it’s important that their cleaning products do not contain “harsh chemicals.” That number should inspire you to change course if you haven’t already. There is typically a minimal difference between the effectiveness of natural vs. manmade chemicals, so you’re wise to make the switch and put eco-conscious residents at ease.

— Hire pest control companies that use non-toxic chemicals: Scientific research paints a bleak picture when it comes to pesticides: the chemicals used to kill rats or bugs can be a liability for people, too — even in microdoses. Thankfully, non-toxic pest control services have popped up all around the country. Instead of spraying rat poison where a resident could accidently ingest it, these companies use natural products and physical mechanisms to manage pests.

— Test regularly for water quality, indoor pollutants, and mold: Water and airborne toxins can spark a range of health risks (some quite serious). Just last month, New Castle News reported that a blocked duct flooded a Pennsylvania apartment complex with carbon monoxide, forcing 60 residents to evacuate. As every property managers knows: it’s critical to keep residents safe from threats that escape the human eye. Diligent inspections can prevent these concerns.

— Drop paper for a mobile inspection platform: One of the simplest ways to lead the charge in multifamily sustainability? Drop paper forms for a seamless mobile inspection platform. You can start inspecting for water and air quality by simply adding a few items to digital forms. With Happy Inspector, any changes you make to an inspection form are immediately pushed out to all users. This brings an end to the era of wasting sheet after sheet of paper to make simple corrections. Additionally, Happy Inspector’s “required fields” setting ensures something as important as a mold test is marked “complete” before an inspection can be generated. The data from all of your inspections will also be saved and accessible in HappyCo’s web app, Happy Manage, allowing for complete visibility and rock-solid documentation in case of a crisis.



Going green isn’t a trend — it’s a must.

As headlines increasingly link human behavior to global warming, more and more people are going to start pulling their weight and changing their habits. From composting wasted food to avoiding toxic cleaners, we’ll see a genuine shift toward sustainable living. In other words, going green isn’t a trend — it’s a must. From design through maintenance, now is the time to transform your multifamily properties into green communities residents will be (even) prouder to call home.


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Make the switch to sustainability with Happy Inspector!
Going green has never been easier with Happy Inspector. Keep your eco-friendly residents loyal through diligent inspections: monitor air quality, check for mold, and rate energy-efficient appliances while saving time and money.


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About the author

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Glennis Markison
Content & Webinar Producer

Glennis is a writer/producer from San Francisco. Taking the city’s trains and buses with riders of all ages and backgrounds inspired Glennis to go into journalism and share people’s stories for a living. After graduating from Johns Hopkins University in 2013, she worked at CBS San Francisco as a program coordinator, public affairs producer, and ultimately full-time news writer for the KPIX 5 Morning News. She’s excited to enter the bustling startup world and tell HappyCo’s stories across channels.

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