It’s hard to believe I took my LEED AP exam over 13 years ago. It was my first time using sustainability to push my personal knowledge and career beyond typical college and industry expectations. Coincidentally, 2006 was also the same year that AMLI Residential established a commitment to achieving LEED Silver for any new apartment developments.
In these early years, we spent hours hassling manufacturers to provide recycling information, collecting VOC data and introducing industry professionals to sustainability harvested wood, but it laid a great foundation for resetting multifamily developer expectations and preparing for challenges ahead. We knew sustainability would become more and more important over the years, but we did not foresee terms like environmental, social and governance (ESG) or resilience being regular topics with investors. My sustainability career and AMLI’s sustainability commitment have been running parallel paths ever since we officially coordinated in 2012, when I joined the "fAMLI." And it all started with LEED.
What have we learned?
Integrating sustainability into any organization is not easy. Even with senior leadership support, change is hard, and the collaborative nature of sustainability often pushes organizations to break down silos between departments and improve goal alignment. [In the] long term, this has benefits beyond sustainability, but is not typical practice. Communication and clear metrics are the most important tools to help overcome these barriers.
We continue working to collect and create data sets with hard numbers for energy, water and waste. But we also have to consider elements that are subjective, like the health and happiness of our residents. Programs including Arc and many other data platforms are making it easier to report reductions and show progress and ROI on sustainability projects.
There is a business case for sustainability, but you have to commit to establishing goals, commit to continued progress and track the real results with quality data. We’ve also found that surveying residents gives AMLI perspective on less tangible subjects and participating in investor benchmarking, including GRESB, provides us with valuable market insights. Sharing this information within your organization creates conversations that lead to collaboration and impact.
Closing the gap. AMLI is extremely proud to achieve a 50% LEED-certified portfolio in 2019. We are using our experience to expand sustainability initiatives across our entire portfolio, certified or not. This “all in” approach involves aggressively tacking any remaining low-hanging fruit at a property level, [and] also strategizing at a portfolio level and using our certification success as fuel to expand our impact.
Both personally and professionally, I believe residential developers and building managers have a great responsibility to our residents and the greater public. Our industry, collectively, has a huge impact on the greater environment, and our individual buildings have a direct impact on the occupants calling this space home.
Let’s reflect on the early year’s successes with pride, but know that our job is not done after a certification or goal is achieved. Our ongoing commitment to continuous improvement is what makes sustainability like no other industry. Let’s keep expanding beyond typical expectations.