How to Sell Sustainability

June 19, 2018 |

Updated August 4, 2021

3 minutes

Whether it’s an executive or resident, you have to tailor your sustainability to the person you’re talking to.

If you are a sustainability advocate in an apartment company, it might be easy to feel like you are on your own little island. 

Executives above you may balk at the cost and return on sustainable initiatives. Onsite, the leasing team may not be as focused on selling sustainable features as they are extravagant pet spas or high-tech gyms. And, there are even questions about how much residents will pay for green features. 

Sustainability can be a complex subject. The key, according to the “Selling Sustainability Internally & Externally from Residents to the CSuite” session at NAA’s Better Buildings Roundtable, is knowing exactly what to share. 

“I tell everyone what they need to know. If I take the same message to everyone, it’s not effective,” says Juliette Apicella, Director of Sustainability Gables Residential.

Each of these groups are stakeholders and have different priorities and needs.

“It’s important to deliver a succinct message in a context your stakeholder group will understand,” Apicella says. “People also want to have things broken down into smaller steps, they can wrap their head around.”

For senior leadership painting a picture of how sustainability improves NOI is useful. 

Peter Zadoretzky, Director of Sustainability at Bozzuto Management Company at Bozzuto Management, implemented energy benchmarking several years ago as a matter of standard practice and a way to illustrate to its clients and internal teams that it cares about sustainability. In 2016 Bozzuto established an annual portfolio energy reduction goal of three percent year-over-year. It has beaten that figure two years in a row. 

“Just by demonstrating what energy benchmarking can do is helpful,” he says. “I think there’s a growing understanding that this can be a competitive advantage if you market it and back it up.”

The education process is not always convincing executives about the necessity of sustainability. Sometimes, it is helping to highlight what’s really important, such as what green certifications really matter in a new building.

“If you pursue too many certifications, developers will feel like all they’re doing is chasing certifications,” says Joyce Mihalik, Vice President Design and Sustainable Development at ‎Forest City. “When designing and building, we should be going after the certification that suits the project goals, meets local or state green building goals, and offers corporate investors a method for third party verification by a well-vetted certifying organization.”

Sustainability can also be a valuable tool for property managers and leasing agents, but they need to be given the right information that supports their role, whether it be facility maintenance or leasing. For instance, if there is high water usage in a building, energy usage data can help pinpoint the culprit, such as improper irrigation.

Or a leasing agent should understand high-level sustainability features in a building, but don’t necessarily need to know the intricacies of a building automation system. 

“We do a two pager for leasing agents that they can include in the tour script,” Mihalik says. “They can mention the sustainable features as they are passing by an amenity space, for instance.”

Channeling energy usage information down to the site level can pay off in other ways, helping property managers to prepare their annual capital requests. 

Sharing energy data can be another way to engage residents. “We are trying to crack the code on the best way to engage and educate residents about their energy consumption in market-rate apartments,” Zadoretzky says. “Residents’ apartments can count for 60 to 80 percent of the energy consumption in your typical community. That is where the real savings may lie.”