Forest fire smoke in west coast cities; warm balmy weather in late autumn; flooding in dense urban neighbourhoods. It’s undeniable that climate change is looming and it’s affecting our urban environments–including condominiums.
The more Canadian governments ramp up efforts to meet sustainability goals by 2030, the more apparent it is that all businesses and business operators, including condo managers and boards, should follow suit by planning and implementing a sustainability plan for 2021 and beyond.
What does a sound sustainability plan entail? Whatever your plan looks like, it needs to take into consideration all the moving parts that make up a residential building: occupants, staff, management, operations, facilities, common space and outdoor grounds.
This plan should have several goals that meet the condo’s specific needs, but overall, the outcome should be to achieve better environmental performance within the residential community. The plan should aim to include these strategies for smooth implementation:
- Foster Innovation – Innovate beyond the minimum environmental performance standards. An LED light bulb is fine, but what other solutions are out there?
- Raise the Bar – Building performance standards should look to increase current environmental performance. Where can we do better?
- Build Capacity – Build more capacity and time for your staff and occupants with more access to information. Information like building operation insights can support owners and their managers to identify, approve and implement more sustainability projects more frequently.
- Activate Upgrades – Access incentives to overcome challenges like grants or rebates; use the tools available to you.
- Empower Communities – Focus on communities to lead the way. Value their environmental performance and encourage them to choose sustainable behaviours.
Where to Start?
A green strategy can start anywhere, but a few key areas of focus can include greenhouse gas reduction, waste reduction, energy efficiency and improved access to green living. Get creative and look at how you can tackle any of the following according to what works best for a building’s individual needs.
Perhaps one condo is limited to concrete surroundings and green space isn’t as accessible, but creating welcoming common spaces with indoor greenery can be a strong alternative.
Perhaps a building already works with eco-friendly product vendors, but there are ways to reduce the frequency of orders to reduce waste. With any existing or non-existing sustainability plan, be sure to audit the current status of your building’s footprint; this sets a guideline for areas that can improve.
Communicating A Plan
Another key component to consider is communicating the plan. There’s always an opportunity to improve communication and engage residents, boards and management to work together. Getting people on track to meet sustainable goals might seem daunting – especially when other parties like staff or management may see other tasks as a priority versus fostering sustainable action.
As with any good communication, this kind of ongoing dialogue is a marathon, not a sprint. Start with easy-to-use and accessible mediums to deliver the sustainability plan. Now that the world is virtual, hold a town hall or a bi-monthly sustainability meeting through a team-meeting software. Engage building occupants early and often before rolling out the plan’s deliverables. Ask if people are willing to volunteer or participate in managing the execution of the plan.
Encourage repetitive touch points and reminders of the plan by putting up physical marketing materials around the building’s common areas, like digital notices, TV slideshows in lobbies, email or newsletter blasts. The continuity of information helps everyone, no matter who the audience, adopt and accept the plan’s existence.
Budgeting A Plan
In determining a budget for this, there are creative and cost-effective solutions to implementing a sustainable plan. Yes, going green might result in fronting some up-front capital, but over the long term, that investment will result in significant financial savings, ultimately translating into being less expensive. A sustainability plan and budget should be made with the mindset of plan and prevent, instead of react and pivot.
Understandably, with the ongoing challenge of a global pandemic, condos have seen an uptick in expenses, such as more cleaning costs, higher utility bills and increased minimum wage to pay staff. With any strategic plan, the budget should be taken into consideration. Implementing sustainable action in 2021 is not exclusive to saving money; in many ways, both concepts intersect in ways which result in more cost savings because the plan should look to increase cost efficiency through operations, utilities and staffing.
Adoption and deployment of new technologies in your building can often accomplish multiple objectives. On the energy use side, tools that may initially seem like an expense will actually lower your utility bills by minimizing the total amount of energy your building uses, the savings from which can be reinvested back into your condos reserve budget to offset increased costs elsewhere or even fund more sustainable projects. At the very least, they’ll be a major factor in reducing your condo’s carbon footprint, while injecting capital back into your corporation.
In sum, sustainability planning for 2021 should be forward thinking. Much like we had to pivot in 2020 to innovate beyond our normally scheduled programming, we now understand, more than ever, the importance of being prepared for the unexpected.
Much like our planet, our buildings can’t afford to wait to become more sustainable later. It’s imperative that boards, managers, staff and occupants implement environmental action in 2021 to maintain sustainable wellness within condos and the communities that live within them.
Brad Pilgrim is the CEO and co-founder of Parity Inc. Over the past three years, Brad has led the company to develop and deploy an AI-powered energy management platform for multi-residential buildings in order to eliminate energy waste in buildings and cultivate more sustainable urban environments.