Green building initiatives began about 20 years ago, with the goal to create more sustainable buildings, companies and organizations that reduce toxic carbon emissions. In recent years, senior living has taken up the cause with many communities transitioning to green energy or building new communities with sustainability at the forefront. The easy access to sustainability we have today stemming from years of advances in renewable energy have created a new standard for the senior living industry as a whole. There’s no doubt now that green senior living communities provide healthier, more engaged lifestyles for residents – but transitioning to green energy can also help the success and longevity of communities themselves.
How Communities are Going Green
Senior living communities across the country are actively moving toward reducing their carbon footprint in a variety of ways – both in infrastructure and practice. Many communities are transitioning from traditional fossil fuel sourced energy to renewable energy. Solar energy is a perfect example of how green energy is becoming more accessible, affordable, and efficient. Several companies like SolarCity are investing millions of dollars in making solar panel installation a sensible alternative to traditional electricity. Geothermal energy, usually used to replace electric heating systems, is also becoming easier to implement on a commercial scale.
From rainwater harvesting systems to low-flow water fixtures to high-efficiency light fixtures and more, most communities are making the transition to green energy bit by bit. Some are even building on a green foundation, using recycled construction materials for new builds and renovations where possible. Most traditional retirement communities, however, are taking small steps like adding a recycling program or offering a community garden with a focus on organic sustainability.
Perhaps the most influential things any community can do is education residents and team members about how to incorporate green practices in their daily lives. A good place to start learning about green energy is a set of courses developed by the Leadership in Environmental Design organization, also known as LEED. This program was established by the U.S. Green Building Council to create healthier, more energy-efficient buildings domestically and internationally. LEED certifications have four ascending levels, certified, siler, gold and platinum that designate how energy efficient a building is. According to a New York Times article about the rise of green design, most green senior living communities are silver certified due to the current limited accessibility, affordability, and efficiency of emerging sustainable technologies. But more and more communities with a head start on green initiatives are already at, or close to, LEED gold certification.
Green Living Benefits Senior Living Residents
Green senior living communities aren’t just about reducing carbon footprint. They’re also living environments that are highly beneficial to the people who live in them. There’s a direct, proven connection between green communities, environmental wellness and the mental and physical health of senior residents. In a comprehensive Harvard study, cognitive scores were 61% higher for people in green building conditions than those that weren’t, and 101% higher in enhanced green building conditions. The study reports that, “CO2, VOCs and ventilation rate all had significant, independent impacts on cognitive function.” Additionally, there are studies that point to green communities providing seniors with greater fulfillment, a higher sense of purpose, and improved mental health. Retirement communities that offer residents green spaces like community gardens or green initiatives like a recycling program result in stronger social relationships and less instances of depression. With more green senior living communities on the rise, we can expect even more positive outcomes for residents who actively participate in the transition to green living.
Community Organization Impact
Resident benefits aside, green communities can have a tremendous effect on the bottom line of the senior living industry. Reducing waste can directly impact the profitability of senior living communities. In one example, Brookdale Senior Living was among the first communities in the country to participate in the ENERGY STAR green living program, in which communities fully converted their appliances and electric grid to more energy efficient methods. In Brookdale’s first annual sustainability report in 2016, the community gained approximately $7 million in energy savings. Though just one example, Brookdale’s success may lead the way for more communities to focus more time and money on sustainability.
In addition to savings on actual energy usage, green communities may be qualified for substantial tax credits. Federal tax credits for green technology have been available for some time now, and with the rising green energy market, they’re expected to expand. The current tax deduction for commercial buildings is up to $1.80 per square foot for commercial buildings or systems that demonstrate a 50% reduction in green energy usage.
Beyond a dollar amount, green senior living appears to be a trend that isn’t slowing down, and one boomers and future generations alike are paying more attention to. It’s clear that in the near future, senior living communities will need to adapt to meet the demand for sustainability as it becomes increasingly important to the public at large. The sooner communities can make the shift to green living, the more desirable they’ll become to future generations of aging adults.
Green communities aren’t just a trend. Senior living communities across the country are making the shift to provide healthier futures for both retirees and the whole world. To find a community that perfectly fits your lifestyle and values, visit our Find a Community page.
Where You Live Matters is powered by the American Seniors Housing Association (ASHA), a respected voice in the senior housing industry. ASHA primarily focuses on legislative and regulatory advocacy, research, and educational opportunities and networking for senior living executives, so they can better understand the needs of older adults across the country.