The Challenge in Greening Your Rental Property

rental_property1By Janine Kubert

We’ve heard it all before: retrofitting our buildings to be more green can save us money, cut greenhouse gas emissions, and even create jobs. So why are so many property managers, even those who say they want to go green, resistant when it comes down to making the final decision? It’s the bottom line, pure and simple.

As Matt Macko of Environmental Building Strategies and Jose Guevara of Cushman & Wakefield of California, explained to eager attendees at the West Coast Green conference in San Francisco last week, payback is king for these decision makers.

By focusing on payback–the period of time required for the return on an investment to repay the total initial investment–property managers can keep monthly and annual operating costs down and remain more competitive to their clients, the building owners. This short-term focus of property management is often in conflict with the long-term ROI of green building investments. Macko pointed out that the savings from retrofits keep coming for years after payback has been met, calling green building investments the “gift that keeps on giving.” If building owners were to consider the lifetime performance of green building investments, they would see that property managers’ focus on monthly operating costs could end up costing them money in the long term. Until this shift in thinking occurs, property managers will be most interested in low and no-cost opportunities to implement green building strategies.

In the near term, Guevara is energized about educating property managers about how to get started with little or no investment, pointing out that “going green doesn’t have to start with replacing chillers, HVAC, or cooling towers. You don’t need twenty or thirty thousand dollars. You can start by changing processes, which costs nothing. You will immediately start saving money and can then invest those savings in other green retrofits.”

One of the easiest and most lucrative processes to change is waste diversion. Through better education of tenants and janitorial staff, Guevara says that waste costs can be reduced by 20 to 30 percent. Other low-cost strategies include adjusting air dampers and controls on HVAC units and water pumps, installing aerators on all faucets, purchasing reusable microfiber dust mops and rags, and, for folks in the Bay Area, bringing in PG&E to perform a free energy audit and identify rebate opportunities. He also recommends contacting Golden Gate Disposal and Recycling and SF Environment to find out about rebate and incentive programs that subsidize the cost of new purchases of trash bins, compacters, and cardboard balers, as well as contacting your local water utility for a free water audit.

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