Green Communities Have a Long History in Industry

Earth-friendly techniques can save money and please residents.

By Rudy Trebels

Environmental sustainability has become one of the enduring “movements” of our age. 

The baby boomer generation has not emerged, after all, as the always-reliable liberal voting block that was expected after the social upheavals of the 1960s and 1970s. 

Longer lives and unpredictable economics over the past few decades have tended to increase, not decrease, conservative values among this population. 

But one reform movement, born during that tumultuous period, has shown enduring popularity among the boomers and the generations that followed: environmentalism and “green living.” 

Living green has also become a global value. The World Health Organization, a specialized wing of the United Nations, now tracks age-friendly communities around the world, and that survey puts a high value on green spaces and sustainability practices.

Perhaps it’s time our seniors housing developers and investors in the U.S. also put those now core American values at the very center of construction and operational plans, and not wait for green building and sustainability standards to be mandated by local or state authorities. 

Meeting the standards

LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is the dominant voluntary green building certification system. Study after study has shown that, by using LEED, thousands of public and private buildings are immediately affordable and continue to save money in the operational long run. Projects demonstrating LEED values also attract long-term global investors and help create local high-tech building trades.

What many do not appreciate is that leadership in building senior living facilities that are aggressively green has a surprisingly long history, and includes some traditional socially conscious actors. 

In the vanguard of continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs) featuring greener living is Pennswood, a Quaker facility in Newton, Pennsylvania, which was founded almost 40 years ago in 1980. 

One of its assisted living facilities now has LEED Gold certification, the second highest rating for green building construction issued by the U.S. Green Building Council. 

Pennswood is also known for its award-winning and innovative storm-management system that recreated a river corridor flood plain, benefitting the entire surrounding community. Other environmentally sustainable features include geothermal heating and cooling, as well as a resident-run recycling program and community gardens.

Another CCRC with eco-conscious features is Wake Robin in Shelburne, Vermont, which opened in 1993. 

Like Pennswood, Wake Robin uses geothermal heating and has its own recycling program and community garden.

Making maple syrup and tending beehives to produce honey are some of the earth-friendly activities residents enjoy. Wake Robin residents also have the opportunity to revel in nature along four miles of hiking trails.

New meets old

The best new developments combine those older “green” ideas and today’s higher tech innovations. At Atria Woodbriar Place in Falmouth, Massachusetts, a much newer facility on Cape Cod, the LEED-certified buildings were built with recycled materials. Solar panels and Energy-Star rated appliances conserve energy usage. 

Timber Ridge in Issaquah, Washington, is now 10 years old. It is a resort-style retirement community that also has LEED-certified buildings, but applies older principles by incorporating water-conserving plants into landscaping.

A commitment to organic fresh produce is part of the environmental ethic at Rose Villa in Portland, Oregon. Founded more than half a century ago in 1962, the community today uses local fresh produce in its kitchen and residents grow grapes and raspberries in the gardens. Composting and recycling play a prominent role in the residents’ commitment to sustainable practices. 

Environmentally conscious senior living is also blooming in the Kendal Crosslands Communities in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. Opened back in 1973, it is another Quaker community and incorporates “living lightly on the earth” in a holistic sustainability plan. 

A unique feature of Kendal Crosslands is its focus on energy-saving methods that reduce the community’s carbon footprint. Residents use a TV display to monitor the progress of energy-saving efforts in the community. Some of these efforts include using cold water for laundry, keeping windows tightly shut and recycling.

Yet another sign of the sustainability commitment in seniors housing comes from Brookdale Senior Living, the largest owner and operator of senior living communities across the United States, founded 40 years ago in 1978. In 2016 Brookdale began to publish its own Annual Sustainability Report. 

Brookdale’s annual report includes its older and newer technological solutions to energy use, greenhouse gas emissions, water use and waste-to-landfill use.

Brookdale encourages “Resident Green Teams” to pursue their own traditional environmental initiatives, such as banning the use of Styrofoam carryout containers in the dining rooms and educating other residents about sustainability through posters and newsletter articles.

Don’t ignore the green wave

It’s inescapable: Green technologies and LEED design techniques are providing long-term cost savings for new seniors housing construction. Today’s senior living developers should always be on the hunt for the best green solutions and builders available. 

Once a new community is completed, baby boomers and those that follow them will expect the same healthy living, marketing and food choices that the communities they leave behind have already established. This includes safe living, accessible green spaces, farmer’s markets, farm-to-table food deliveries, and set-aside garden spaces inside residential compounds where residents can grow their own veggies and flowers. 

These are not new values, but they are values to keep and cherish.

Rudy Trebels is the CEO and a founder of Wedgewood Investment Group. Founded in 2009, the company focuses on the funding and development of senior living communities and offers a mezzanine debt and preferred equity program that concentrates on projects with energy savings.