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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4 responses

  1. “why are so many property managers…resistant?” Maybe potential tenants are not asking for green imporvements.
    Until a property manager is asked by a potential tenant about the green features of the property, provides a blank stare in reply, and the potential tenant goes elsewhere to rent, the property manager may never see the benefits.
    So if you are in the rental market as a tenant, start asking!

  2. Property managers can go one step further in greening their properties by offering tenants green move-in options. The process of moving is very wasteful and uses a lot of resources. The average move uses over a 100 lbs of cardboard. After the move, much of this is often discarded and sent to the landfill. ZippGo has created a better way that uses 100% post consumer plastic to create a reusable moving box that can be used more than 500 times before its recycled again. Our reusable moving boxes replace conventional cardboard moving boxes to save trees and save you money. Unlike cardboard boxes, our boxes are waterproof, crush proof, and tear proof. The best part. Not only will you save the planet and have these boxes delivered to you, but you’ll also save 50% over using cardboard boxes.

    Ash Sud
    Founder of ZippGo

  3. As a life long PM / FM professional I can tell you that it is typically the bottom line. The bottom line is the driver in the area of investment grade property for sure. There are other areas, however, where it is quality of life, which can in turn equate to non-cash returns. As a PM we not only manage investment grade properties, but all types of properties. When we manage other types of properties, we are referred to as Facility Managers. Examples – Owner occupied and/or corporate properties, medical, government, public, etc. In those cases, we function as a PM, but we also get more involved with the user side of things as well. My entire passion has been where do we start. Here is an article called The Greening of Property Management.

    Also, if you know of any PM or FM that has a green roof, green wall or rooftop garden, please send them to list their project and the team associated with the project at:


    Join my group on LinkedIn –

    Great blog and thanks for listening.


  4. The easiest thing rental property owners can do is replace old washing machines. Saving electricity or gas with greatly reduced drying times, and drastically reduced water consumption, less detergent use, and gentler on wash materials. The cost recovery schedule is mixed with everything from electricity use, water use, and greater life-cycles of clothes. It may not bring immediate pay back, but it has a clear and present range of benefits that bear marketing value.

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