Creating Site Environmental Sustainability Plans
Q As the manager of several tax credit sites, I’ve been asked to lead an effort to create an environmental sustainability plan for one of our sites, as a pilot plan for our portfolio of sites. I’ve heard of these plans, but don’t know much about them. What is a sustainability plan, what information should I put in the plan, and are there any specific LIHTC requirements for these plans?
A Tax credit sites aren’t required to create environmental sustainability plans, but state housing agencies and HUD take environmental sustainability and energy efficiency seriously by requiring and rewarding many energy-efficiency and other conservation practices. HUD and the Department of Energy have recently partnered with owners of tax credit sites, as well as other assisted and multifamily sites to reach an overall goal of reducing energy consumption by at least 20 percent during the next 10 years (for example, see “HUD Launches Multifamily Energy-Efficiency Program”).
Sustainability plans help sites comply with and take advantage of environmental incentive programs by helping them create a snapshot of their current energy and other resource consumption and creating a roadmap for improving their physical condition, operations, and policies, often over a period of five to 10 years. Sustainability plans set goals, steps, and annual benchmarks, for measuring your progress toward becoming a “greener” and healthier place for your residents, says Susan Peterson, green initiatives director at Foundation Communities in Austin, Texas. Sustainability plans:
• Increase the value and quality of the site;
• Reduce operating costs;
• Conserve energy and environmental resources;
• Improve resident and employee well-being; and
• Lower utility costs to residents (at sites where residents pay utilities, sites can potentially lower resident utility allowances and increase net rents).
These plans don’t just help the site save money. A well-implemented sustainability plan also helps low-income residents succeed by helping them save money and become healthier, through sustainable site practices like community gardens that increase their access to healthy food, and green cleaning policies and training that reduce their exposure to chemicals in their units and the site’s common areas, says Bethany Bender, sustainability coordinator at Project H.O.M.E. in Philadelphia, Pa.
Sustainability Plan Basics
Sustainability plans set goals for reducing the sites’ overall energy usage and costs (including by helping residents reduce their own energy usage and costs) and for improving the sites’ environmental impact and quality of life in areas like air quality, water usage, and overall health of residents. Plans also include steps for achieving the goals and standards (also called indicators) for each goal to measure what success looks like once you put the plan in motion.
Good sustainability plans don’t stop once you’ve implemented them, says Bender. It’s important to include plans for how you will regularly evaluate your progress along the whole timeline and steps for revising or adjusting your plan, as changes in circumstances require, she adds.
Sustainability plans can cover a range of site operations where you can focus on environmental conservation. Several important categories for conservation goals and steps to create include:
Energy and water usage. You can set goals for reducing your sites’ overall energy and water usage—for example, by 20 percent in four years or by setting individual goals for each type of utility, says Bender. Then spell out steps to meet these goals, such as conducting energy audits and tracking energy usage, purchasing renewable energy, using EnergyStar appliances, installing low-flow toilets, and retrofitting existing sites with solar panels or HVAC upgrades.
Transportation and fuel. You can set goals for increasing energy efficiency and reducing the use of cars, vans, and other vehicles by staff and residents by encouraging walking, biking, and use of public transportation, carpooling, and car-share.
Green maintenance and product purchasing. You can set goals for creating a green maintenance program and a sustainable product purchasing program. Steps include landscaping without chemical pesticides or fertilizers, using native plants to conserve water, buying locally sourced food and other products for meals, and using cleaning and other site supplies that contain recycled materials or have GreenSeal or other sustainability certification, says Peterson.
Waste management. You can set goals for: (1) reducing or preventing waste; (2) reusing materials when possible; (3) recycling materials that can be made into other useful materials; (4) handling E-waste and hazardous materials; and (4) composting food waste so it doesn’t end up in a landfill, says Peterson.
Food security and access. You can set goals for increasing access to healthy foods and beverages for residents and community members. Then spell out steps, such as adding more fruits and vegetables in meals programs; creating community gardens; hosting farmers markets; offering nutrition education, wellness, and cooking programs; and incubating resident food enterprise.
Resident participation and engagement. You can set goals for resident participation and take steps to engage residents in site sustainability planning and programming by including residents on sustainability leadership committees and creating awareness through green activities and programs, branding, and educational information in newsletters and blog posts.
Editor’s Note: In a future issue of the Insider, we’ll give you tips for writing an effective and ambitious sustainability plan. We’ll explain how to draft achievable energy conservation and other site sustainability goals, spell out steps for achieving those goals, create standards to measure and evaluate your progress, and stay on track toward reaching your goals.
Bethany Bender: Environmental Sustainability Coordinator, Project H.O.M.E., 1515 Fairmount Ave., Ste. 1428, Philadelphia, PA 19130; www.projecthome.org.
Susan Peterson: Green Initiatives Director, Foundation Communities, 3036 S. 1st St., Austin, TX 78704; http://foundcom.org.