Help Wanted: Careers in Sustainability

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8 minute read

Sustainability practices within property management have created a growing opportunity for apartment industry professionals.

Minimizing waste in building construction and operations are key concerns for owners and operators. Sustainability related initiatives lessen the industry’s environmental impact and improve companies’ bottom lines. Given new developments in technology and the growing popularity of financing options for green-based operations through Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), there is no shortage of examples of how a focus on sustainability can be beneficial.

For many established management firms within the industry, this is a significant task. Erin Hatcher, Vice President of Sustainability with AMLI Residential, and Peter Zadoretzky, Director of Sustainability with Bozzuto Management, have successfully led their respective companies’ sustainability programs during the past few years. AMLI Residential boasts the most LEED and ENERGY STAR certifications and is a GRESB participant. In addition to being the first third-party management company to achieve ENERGY STAR Partner of the Year, Bozzuto Management cut energy costs by 6 percent throughout its portfolio last year.

To give NAA members perspective and ideas for future career development, Hatcher and Zadoretzky sat down with units Magazine to explain their approaches. They address sustainability’s growth in the apartment industry and the corresponding work they have done to be part of these forward-thinking changes.

Q: What was your career before moving into sustainability?

EH: My career began in design and construction rather than property management. I was a consultant for new construction projects pursuing LEED certifications and other sustainability efforts. I began learning how sustainability went beyond interiors. In my current job, I engage with architects, engineers, contractors and building operations. It’s rewarding to see how I can impact properties at many levels.

PZ: I began my career in landscape architecture and urban planning. After a few years, I wanted to focus more on real estate development and management. I earned my MBA for real estate development from George Washington University. While in graduate school, I began working for a local DC/Baltimore firm as an asset manager, then as a development manager on affordable apartment communities. Because I also worked in construction prior to Bozzuto, I have a pretty well-rounded background in the built environment.

Q: What skills have you acquired since taking this position?

EH: I focused on gaining a better understanding of HVAC systems and associated building standards, but also relationship building. Communicating, coordinating and inspiring design or operation teams is a crucial to achieve sustainability goals. We often ask teams to go beyond what is required when it comes to sustainability, so being able to simply and clearly explain the benefits of the additional work aligns a company for success. Also, many efforts require bringing various teams together to help make change more achievable.

PZ: I learned a lot of hard and soft skills. Early on, I pursued my LEED Green Associate’s exam because LEED is the most prevalent green building certification in our portfolio. I learned a lot about the “guts” of our buildings — mechanical systems, lighting, pumps and motors, building envelope and roofing systems. It took a lot of reading, site visits and conversations with our maintenance teams and others. There are many different property types and a lot to explore. Salesmanship is another thing I learned. As a third-party manager, we are influencers more than ultimate decision makers, so being able to articulate the how’s and why’s of pursuing various projects to different audiences is important.

Q: What value do you think the sustainability program adds to your company?

EH: AMLI is adding real value to every community we build and manage by lowering operating costs and constructing a top-quality product. We offer a healthy living space to our residents by incorporating sustainability into our apartment communities. Additionally, we see many of our FAMLI teams (AMLI’s onsite employees) take pride in raising the bar when providing a sustainable living environment for our residents.

PZ: The environmental impact of the work we do is critically important to our clients, our residents and our colleagues. Our clients have a partner committed to helping them achieve their sustainability goals — with communities managed excellently and thoughtfully. By focusing on efficiency and eliminating waste, we also help them save a lot of money. At the end of the day, we are a for-profit entity and the work my team does directly impact profitability. Achieving ENERGY STAR Partner of the Year in April is also a great feather in our cap, and I’m excited about the internal dialogue this achievement has spurred.

Q: What is the most challenging part of your job?

EH: Because sustainability is not effective if it works in a silo, managing sustainability can often pull you in multiple directions, resulting in partnerships with many different departments. Balancing workloads and expectations, and understanding the various departments you are partnered with, can be challenging, but it is also a great opportunity.

PZ: Our portfolio grows all the time. This means we have to find a balance in staying on top of our current projects while launching new ones. We can always do more, and we always want to do more, but we have to be careful about continuing to meet and exceed expectations in a highly dynamic environment. I view this perpetually through the lens of opportunity, challenging myself and my team on ways we can manage what we’ve already taken on as well as continue to expand and innovate ourselves.

Q: What is the most interesting “teaching” aspects of your job to fellow employees and supervisors?

EH: Many sustainability efforts are technical and complex so one of the biggest challenges is simplifying the effort without losing the substance. Additionally, sustainability is sometimes a sensitive topic because it has direct ties to health and politics. Keeping everyone focused on creating value for the business can sometimes be a challenge. On the other hand, the emotional connections to sustainability often allow AMLI to capitalize on passionate employees who become teachers for their colleagues. This is so important since one-on-one teaching efforts are often not possible and we have properties and offices in nine regions. Champions in each market help keep sustainability education and efforts going strong.

PZ: Everyone who comes to his or her role in the company brings a wide array of backgrounds, beliefs and attitudes. Some care greatly about sustainability and everything it represents. Others need guidance about how the work my team does connects to budgets, daily operations, resident satisfaction and even asset valuation. It is deeply rewarding to work with so many talented people and to discuss openly how sustainability is important and critical to the success of our clients and our company.

Q: What is the greatest public misconception about sustainability best practices?

EH: The greatest misconception is that achieving and managing sustainability costs more. Regardless if you are talking about sustainability for new construction, operations, or even the less discussed social topics — such as community engagement — when done thoughtfully, sustainability actually adds value on many levels.

PZ: There are certain misconceptions that sustainability, or “green,” means weird or expensive, or otherwise out of touch with modern society. I am actively working to move the conversation away from “green” to “higHperformance operations” and “smart design and management.” By shifting the conversation, we can have a more meaningful dialogue about what this field actually means and what it can achieve.

Q: What part of sustainable operations has the most potential?

EH: Resident engagement is the next step toward dramatically reducing energy and water use as well as overall waste generated at apartment communities. A challenge in achieving optimized performance in rental housing is that the majority of our energy, water and waste tracking lies in the hands of our residents. AMLI is working hard to address this piece.

PZ: Education! It’s about highlighting to everyone at our company how day-to-day tasks influence our sustainability goals and overall environmental impact. What many people don’t realize is that sustainability has a direct effect on the bottom line. For instance, if we can get more maintenance managers focusing not just on the lowest cost bid for a project, but also on the environmental impacts of the project, ongoing operational considerations around energy consumption and lifecycle cost analysis, the greater the impact we’ll have collectively. We are getting into some really cool stuff with our resident engagement too. This is an untapped opportunity in our industry, at least from a sustainability perspective.

Q: Do you see a lot of growth in this field? Do you see new trends emerging?

EH: Where I see the most growth as a sustainability professional is pairing it with another skillset. An architect, asset manager, service manager or property manager has a great opportunity to use sustainability as a tool for success. Collaboration with sustainability professionals in other industries is also key. As for emerging trends, operations data is becoming more readily available and the industry needs professionals who can understand, evaluate and implement it. This is great for job growth in sustainability but also is a missing link in defining the true value of investing in sustainability.

PZ: More and more, the business community and local governments are stepping up their presence in this space. The importance of this field has never been greater. One of the biggest trends to follow is how financial markets are increasingly focused on sustainability. With the growth of SASB, GRI, PRI (and others), mandatory jurisdictional benchmarking and performance-based financing from the likes of HUD, Fannie and Freddie, higHperformance development and operations may no longer be a choice but an imperative.

Sustainability Glossary

  • Global Real Estate Sustainability Benchmark (GRESB) was developed by several large pension fund to assess Environmental, Social and Governance performance for real estate assets. 
  • Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) was developed in part to assist investors in obtaining a comprehensive view of company performance. SASB evaluates long-term value around sustainability alongside financial fundamentals. 
  • Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) provides standards on sustainability reporting and disclosure, enabling businesses, governments, civil society and citizens to include sustainability considerations in investment decisions. 
  • Principles of Responsible Investing (PRI), born out of the UN in 2005, addresses the investment implications of ESG factors and supports its international network of investor signatories in incorporating these factors into their investment and ownership decisions.