Archive for the ‘Green Living’ Category

9 Hacks and Swaps for Fancy and Green Seniors

Hacks and Swaps for Fancy and Green SeniorsYou want to be greener. But you don’t want to give up your creature comforts. Rest easy—with some small hacks and swaps, you can lead a more sustainable life.

Now sing with me. I’m so fancy, you already know. I’m a senior just trying to green my home. I’m so fancy and I can reach this goal, if I up my green game. Let’s go-o-o-o-o-o-o-o.

1. Inspect Your Home

Have a professional assess your insulation level. Many people unknowingly pay good money to heat the outdoors or cool their garage. Owners of older homes should schedule an insulation and energy audit. The original builder should be able to provide basic information for new homes.

2. Be a Greener Cleaner

Run only full loads of dishes or laundry (not together). Now, let them air dry. Remember to use cold water. Double down on green and go old school with sustainable cleaning products. Feel free to buy your supplies from leading stores or create your own at home. Baking soda, lemon juice, oils, borax and the Internet are your best friends.

While you’re at it: homemade soap bars make amazing gifts that your friends will love.

3. Let Your Lights Shine, Not Warm

Replace old bulbs with energy efficient LED bulbs. They are bright and beautiful without wasting energy on releasing heat. This hack is so simple it’s “like you’re giving lessons in physics.”

4. Impress Your Friends with Smart Technology

Convert your appliances to smart appliances. The fancy side of you will love that you can turn your lights on and off from a remote application on your phone. The green side of you knows that your smart house can do the green work for you. From the lighting to the temperature, everything adjusts just how you like it. It will feel “so good getting what you want.”

5. Use Reusables

Paper or plastic? Opt out of both by bringing your own cloth bags to the store. For storage and transport, use reusable crates instead of cardboard boxes.

6. Change Your Driving

Keep your car in tip-top condition. Drive slower and inflate your tires. Reduce the junk in your trunk for better gas mileage “from L.A. to Tokyo.”

7. Switch Into the Fast Lane

Splurge on a new hybrid or electric car for some serious swagger. From the Prius and the i3 to the Leaf, Tesla and the Chevy Spark, you will find a car that fits your lifestyle. Your friends will ask “Who that, who that?” as you drive by.

8. Purge Your Paper

Unsubscribe from junk mail. Switch to electronic versions of your favorite magazines and newspapers. Scan your old files and receipts and recycle the originals. Try applications like Evernote and OneReceipt. You can make your electronic copies more organized than the paper versions ever were.

9. Do a Digital Diet

When leaving your home, unplug your appliances and electronics. This reduces phantom loads—energy use from idle electronics. Use power strips to turn everything off with a single button. Look for smart strips that turn off the power flow when the appliances are off. You don’t “ever have to turn down nothing.” Take the next step and go screen-free for a day. Then try it for a week.

Luxury and comfort, meet sustainability. You’ll get “the whole world asking how I does that.”

Tracy Layden is a Certified Aging in Place Specialist. Born and raised in Silicon Valley, Tracy leads the marketing efforts at Alert-1, a personal safety technology and consulting firm dedicated to helping seniors live safely and independently. Tracy holds a degree in mathematics from Scripps College and is an accomplished ballroom dancer and equestrian.

Senior Living Communities Rely on On-Campus and Locally Grown Produce to Promote Health

Seniors enjoying locally grown produceThere’s a “growing” trend among senior living communities (pun intended): More senior living communities are reaping the benefits of locally grown produce. Some communities opt to source produce directly from outside sources, while others are taking it a step further and growing their own produce on-campus.

Rooftop gardens bring sustainability to urban living

The Chicago Tribune reported of one such community in December 2014. Seniors at Concord Place Retirement & Assisted Living Community in suburban Northlake, Illinois (just west of Chicago) took sustainable living into their own hands by designing and maintaining a rooftop garden, which they named Harvest Rooftop Garden. It’s a hydroponic garden created in collaboration with the community’s production manager, Samantha Lewerenz, and gardening consulting firm, Topiarius. Lewerenz aided in designing and getting the system up and running and also trained residents on proper planting and harvesting techniques, as well as how to increase production.

Not only is the Harvest Rooftop Garden easily accessible to residents, but it allows the community to take another step in its commitment to sustainable living and utilizing locally sourced produce for healthy eating. Concord Place residents, who are strongly supportive of the sustainability movement, can take an active role in their own health while participating in enjoyable activities. Residents and staff grow fruits, vegetables, and even herbs in the Harvest Rooftop Garden—contributing to lower food costs and nurturing a sense of empowerment among residents.

On-site gardens and gardening clubs a growing trend

An article from Atria Senior Living points out that while the agriculture, farming, and gardening trend is getting a lot of media buzz as of late, it’s a practice that Atria Penfield residents have been participating in for years. Atria Penfield residents have had the opportunity to join the community’s gardening club since 2011 and participate in producing vegetables and herbs that the kitchen staff then incorporates into the community’s menu selections. Additionally, Atria Penfield residents can take advantage of their own on-site gardens, including both indoor and outdoor beds.

Atria Senior Living points out the many benefits of growing produce on-campus, including nourishment, mental and physical engagement, cost efficiency, the opportunity for residents to learn new skills or make use of their green thumbs, and, of course, the sense of accomplishment that comes with contributing to a larger sustainability movement among the community.

Farm-to-Table programs gain acceptance at senior living communities

Even senior living communities who don’t grow all or some of their own produce on-campus can still take advantage of the locally grown trends taking the world by storm. Senior Living Residences, a company that operates 12 senior living communities, is also championing the local food movement. “Through some unique food purveyors and some creative local relationships, every Senior Living Residences’ community  can say that a significant portion of their every day menu offerings is coming from local farms and producers, or ‘Farm-to-Table,'” according to an article on the company’s website.

A commitment to serving high-quality, nutritious food led Senior Living Residences to create its Brain Healthy Cooking program, which is based on the Mediterranean diet and relies on ready access to fresh vegetables, fruits, and fish. From this, the company’s commitment to sourcing produce locally was born. Rather than grow and harvest their own through on-campus gardening, however, Senior Living Residences partnered with a local, family-owned company that could provide locally farmed foods in the volume required while also adhering to industry food safety regulations through its relationships with dozens of local farms. In doing so, Senior Living Residences is helping to support local farm sustainability—something every resident can be proud of.

Companies aim to aid senior living communities in implementing on-campus gardening programs

There are now third-party companies who offer programs to help senior living communities initiate their own on-campus efforts. Green City Growers, for example, offers a professional team of farmers who visit the campus weekly or bi-weekly to teach participants the skills and knowledge needed to create and nurture a successful vegetable garden. For senior living communities, the company installs adaptive raised beds that sit three feet off the ground for easier access.

Both on-campus gardening programs and initiatives for communities to source produce locally offer numerous benefits for residents, and the trend toward locally sourced and on-campus grown produce shows no signs of slowing in the near future. Which will be welcome for seniors who don’t want to forgo the joy of gardening or eating fresh produce when moving to a senior living community.



Ingleside at King Farm – A Senior Living Community Designed with Sustainability in Mind

Today it’s not uncommon for a senior living community to achieve LEED© certification, but back in 2009, it wasn’t just uncommon, it was unheard of. And with the return on investment of becoming LEED© certified not being realized until seven years later, who could fault developers for deciding not to pursue certification. Yet that wasn’t the decision Ingleside made when building the brand-new Ingleside at King Farm community in 2009.  According to Executive Director Marilyn Leist, “a deliberate decision was made by the board members to become LEED© certified when the building was being designed,” and because of that decision, the community became the second senior living community in the nation to achieve LEED© certification.

As part of the LEED© certification process, buildings are rated as to whether they fulfill certain objectives. For example, under the Suitable Sites category, criteria include Heat island effect – non-roof or Stormwater design – quantity and quality control. If a building fulfills these objectives, they earn a number of points within that category. Ingleside at King Farm earned a scoring of 27/69, with a score of 8 out of 14 in Sustainable Sites, 5 out of 5 in Innovation and 6 out of 15 in Indoor Environmental Quality. Incorporating these objectives into the community’s design has resulted in positive and tangible impacts upon the residents’ lives. The community’s proximity to resources, public transportation and availability of bicycle storage (three criteria within the Sustainable Sites category) allows residents to take the bus or walk instead of having to drive. And by maximizing the open space around the community during the planning process (another criteria within Sustainable Sites), residents live surrounded by protected habitat.

Apart from the community’s design, sustainability is a part of the lifestyle found at Ingleside at King Farm. “At our community we have easy access to the outdoors” and offer outdoor activities, says Mark Scoffield, director of construction management. “Our residents are conscious of the need to recycle,” and we work with a very active resident recycling group, Leist adds. Following apartment turnovers, items are donated. Other sustainable practices include using recycling products in the dining program, such as compostable coffee cups, and Leist says the only concern the residents have about this practice is having the price be reasonable.

Even though residents may not understand what being LEED© certified entails, they do understand its conservation benefits, Scoffield says, because they see its benefits in energy management, which means lower utility bills. Having a very active resident group which promotes energy conservation and makes sure neighbors are on board “lends a very strong atmosphere of being mindful of what you do and how you do it,” he explains. Because of the residents’ efforts, the community received the Multi-Family Property Excellence in Recycling from Montgomery County in 2010, 2011 and 2013.

With a possible expansion in the works, Scoffield says that while they will not pursue LEED© certification, they will incorporate many LEED requirements because “the payback makes sense to follow LEED© requirements for certification.” The City of Rockville also has 35 sustainable requirements that have to be incorporated into the new construction. What this means for current and future residents of Ingleside of King Farm is that they can expect even a higher standard of living.

Joan’s Journey: Conservation and Change Describe Senior Living

On a beautiful Sunday afternoon at Holiday Villa East (HVE) in Santa Monica, three lovely ladies donated belongings for the neighborhood Goodwill Industries Thrift Shop. Between the daily activities of bingo and Scrabble, these HVE residents paused to place pants, a shirt and a beloved cape into the artful Earth Day donations box handmade by Activities Director Brenda Martinez.

Before placing her attractive brown cape in the box, thoughtful Rose asked if her friends would like to have it. Rose commented that the cape was warm, comfortable and in good condition. She had worn it for many years and was ready to give away the garment. The residents thanked her, but agreed that the cape should go to a new, perhaps needy, owner.

Wise women. Senior living requires downsizing and spring cleaning renews the effort to downsize and get rid of unwanted items wherever one lives. The theme for this year’s Earth Day is It’s Our Time To Lead and served as the impetus for the donation campaign at HVE.

Learn about the other eco-friendly practices that Joan discovered at her community in Joan’s Journey, Part 29. Announces a One-Stop-Place for Green Senior Living Communities

Oak Crest Village Certified Wildlife Habitat

Oak Crest Village Certified Wildlife Habitat

Whether searching for a senior living community for yourself or an assisted living facility for an aging parent, you likely have a list of amenities that the community should have so it meets your lifestyle requirements. Does the community allow pets? Check. Does it value spirituality? Check. Does it have a swimming pool? Check. Now there is another amenity you can add to the list:  Does the community incorporate sustainability practices into its operations? Sustainable practices result in the saving of energy and water usage, which means lower utility bills, and can also create a more scenic community, in case of having wildlife-friendly habitat.

The goods news is that senior living communities are supporting their residents’ efforts to implement sustainability practices, such as by adopting a community-wide recycling program or adding raised beds to grow flowers and vegetables. If eco-friendly senior living is important to you, be sure to check out our list of green senior living communities which we created in recognition of Earth Day. These communities have adopted sustainable practices, whether by becoming ENERGY STAR©certified or incorporating wildlife-friendly habitat practices into their landscaping.  We expect this list to grow as more communities adopt these practices, not only because of the anticipated cost savings, but because it makes business sense since consumers are expecting businesses to be good stewards of the environment.


What We’re Writing About at This Month

Welcome to April! It’s difficult to realize that spring is already here, but after the wintery weather that most of the country has experienced, I’m sure everyone is looking forward to the milder temperatures and the promise of summer that spring brings. Many assisted living facilities have dedicated gardening areas

This month is covering variety of topics in our forthcoming blog posts. Continuing our theme on the inevitable physical losses that accompany age, we will highlight the loss of mobility and when it’s time to discuss relinquishing your parent’s car keys. Fortunately for seniors still living at home, there are other transportation opportunities available, which we will also highlight.

Shayne Fitz-Coy will highlight other senior-friendly DIY projects if the spring cleaning urge strikes you, and in her The Last Stop column, Margery Friedstein discusses single living at her retirement community.

In recognition of Earth Day on April 22, we will have a series of posts highlighting sustainable senior living. Joan Journey’s will discuss the green practices at her retirement community. For seniors who would prefer joining a retirement community that practices sustainability, later this month we will unveil a list of communities to aid in this search.

To start off the month, we’ll dust off a few earlier articles we wrote on senior living going green:

A Trend Toward Living Green in Retirement

Atria Senior Living’s Going Green Practices

Sunrise Senior Living: Growing Green Practices at Communities

Promoting Wildlife-Friendly Habitat at Retirement Communities

In the coming months, we will also discuss the caregiver/care-receiver relationship and just in time for summer, how seniors can safely enjoy the sunny weather. If there is a topic you would like to see featured, please let us know in the comment field below. Until next time…

Senior Housing Assistance Group: Redefining What Affordable Senior Living Means

SHAG Columbia Gardens at Rainier Court

Columbia Gardens at Rainier Court is a new community in Rainier Valley.

The Senior Housing Assistance Group (SHAG) is more than just about being a roof over the head, according to Executive Director Jay Woolford. As the sixth largest nonprofit provider of affordable senior housing in the United States, SHAG serves a large, underserved population of seniors and is pioneering efforts to create a model of community-based partnerships that allow their residents to age in place at home.

Visually, SHAG communities challenge the stereotype of what most people think of when it comes to affordable senior housing. Their communities resemble those of market-rate communities, offering amenities such as fitness rooms, community gardens and electric car powering stations. As with market-rate communities, SHAG communities are located in urban and town centers, with shopping, restaurants and health care resources accessible within walking distance or a short bus ride.

The diversity of the over 5,000 residents who call a SHAG apartment home might also challenge misconceptions. Though communities are open to seniors 62 and older, most residents are in their 70s, with some being over 100! Like most retirement communities, single women make up a substantial portion of their residents, and seniors who are 55 and disabled comprise 15 percent of the resident population. More than half of SHAG residents have lived at a community for more than five years.

What makes SHAG communities unique is that they are built using a combination of private and public funding sources. While this helps reduce financing and development costs, it also means communities must be self-sustaining and operate primarily on collected rent. As a result, SHAG must plan strategically, balancing the need to build more affordable housing to meet demand while not exceeding their budget.

Since its first community opening in 1989, SHAG has grown to include 28 retirement communities and counting, spanning from Bellingham to Olympia. Woolford says it is not unusual for seniors to ask when a new SHAG community will open in their area. Tukwila is the next location for a SHAG community, with Tukwila Village opening in fall 2014. More communities are planned for Lynnwood, University Place, Bothell, Federal Way and Mountlake Terrace

SHAG residents watching a gameWith many senior living providers focused on building high-end retirement communities, this leaves a large segment of the population unserved. Furthermore, even those who had the luxury to prepare for retirement, one big event, such as a medical emergency, can result in near poverty. This need for affordable housing and services is the hole we are trying to fill, Woolford says.

Many people who could benefit from SHAG housing do not apply because of the belief that they will not qualify: people either think their income is too high or too low to qualify. This is one of the misconceptions that everyone—including legislators— have and they also do not recognize the increasing need for affordable senior housing, and SHAG works to change these perceptions, explains Rebecca Winn, SHAG’s communications coordinator. The reality is that many seniors do meet the requirements; for example, the income limit for a one person household for a SHAG community in King County is $37, 080.

Life at a SHAG community is resident driven. With residents determining the activities being offered, this makes each community unique, Woolford explains. Activities can vary from community to community. For example, the New Haven community in north Seattle offers a movie night and line dancing, Titus Court in Kent has cards and games, and Courtland Place in south Seattle offers women’s arts and culture workshops. A recent initiative at Courtland Place is developing intergenerational programs with local school groups, connecting SHAG residents to the larger community where they live, or as Woolford describes it, “find[ing] ways to break down that barrier in a good way.”

For the past five years, SHAG’s Courtland Place at Rainier Court has participated in the Rainier Valley community festival. They recently received a grant from the city of Seattle through its SouthEast Effective Development (SEED) program to sponsor a musical/art program that allows residents to share their talents with school children. Woolford sees SHAG communities playing a vital role in creating vibrant neighborhoods, with everyone, including their residents, engaged in the pursuit of this goal.

Spokes for Folks bike ride fundraiser for the SHAG Community Life Foundation Saturday Sept. 28, 2013 in Seattle.

The first-annual Spokes for Folks bike ride fundraiser for the SHAG Community Life Foundation

In 2012 SHAG formed the Community Life Foundation whose mission is to “connect seniors living in affordable housing to resources that support their independence.” Through the 2013 Spokes for Folks fundraiser—their first major fundraiser which Woolford described as having a real great energy and bringing the community together—the Community Life Foundation funded a pilot program that combined a health and wellness program with resident services coordination at The Terrace in downtown Seattle.

By partnering with existing community resources to seamlessly connect seniors with services, Woolford and his staff are working to deliver a continuum of care to their residents. This is the least expensive way to serve people,” Woolford explains, and Winn adds that SHAG wants to be on the “forefront of finding solutions for this pocket of [seniors] who are aging.” Some of the challenges faced by the foundation include obtaining funding for services, identifying providers for both health care and housekeeping, and getting residents recognize when they need assistance. Winn states that many middle class residents perceive services such as housekeeping assistance as a luxury, and not something they would consider spending money on.

Through this new pilot program, resident services coordinators are the eyes and ears at the community level. They can help identify residents whose behavior may put them at risk for eviction, whether due to mental health issues or an inability to maintain safe and sanitary living conditions resulting from failing health. Woolford describes the program as absolutely essential, but faces challenges such as maintaining adequate funding and scalability to other communities. Expanding outreach to their veteran residents is also a priority, and Woolford sees a need for SHAG to be more proactive in providing support and connecting them to resources to which they are entitled.

SHAG also offers an internship that allows college students to shadow resident services coordinators and assist with the community engagement program. Not only does this program promote the benefits of working with seniors, which is a growing need, but the residents enjoy seeing new faces. We have received lots of positive feedback about the program, Winn says.

While SHAG is pioneering these new initiatives, they aren’t losing sight of their core mission of providing affordable senior housing. In their most recent annual survey, nearly 100 percent of their 5,000 residents reported that they are “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with the physical upkeep, the management of their community, and their quality of life. With the persistent demand for more SHAG communities throughout western Washington, Woolford pledges that “we will continue to develop with partners to find ways to operate affordable housing.”

To learn more about SHAG housing, visit

Andrea Watts is a Seattle-based freelance writer who covers senior living, sustainable forestry and agriculture issues. Her writings have appeared in publications that include TimberWestThe Forestry Source and Acres U.S.A.

Atria Senior Living’s Going Green Practices

In an earlier article, I highlighted the trend of retirement communities adopting green practices. Atria Senior Living is one senior living provider who has not only embraced green-building methods but are putting these practices front and center for residents and their families to see.

Atria on the Hudson - Exterior

Atria on the Hudson is the only LEED certified retirement community in Westchester County.

A data screen that displays up-to-minute electricity savings and native drought-tolerate landscaping that prompts requests for the landscaper’s number: these are just a few of the community highlights that family and friends are surprised to see when visiting the Atria on the Hudson and Atria Valley View communities. These additions aren’t just novelties but are a number of features that will eventually become commonplace at other Atria communities across the United States.

“Let’s be honest, it’s not easy being green, but it’s worth it,” says Stephen Nichols, executive director of Atria on the Hudson in Ossining, New York. As the only green community in Westchester County, this LEED Silver certified community is a draw for seniors seeking environmentally friendly living. The community was designed from the ground up with sustainability in mind, and Nichols says this is apparent to visitors and residents since the closest parking spots are reserved for green vehicles and automatic lighting is used.

Atria on the Hudson - CourtyardAtria on the Hudson is one of three Atria communities that now have solar panels, and while the popular reason for solar panels is reducing electricity consumption, there is another benefit that surprised Nichols. During Superstorm Sandy, we only lost power for a short time, and I never once thought of solar panels providing a safety benefit, he says.

For residents who require electricity to power medical equipment, solar panels could be a deciding factor in choosing a community. He has also observed that a popular hotspot of the community is the data screen that displays up-to-the-minute savings in the amount of oil savings by having green building practices. Residents frequently stop and discuss what the community is doing, making a point of showing the data screen to visitors, Nichols says.

The sustainably-built Atria on the Hudson is part of the initiative launched in 2009 to incorporate green sustainable practices into our communities as part of our “Go Green with Atria” campaign, Mark Alexander, senior vice president of redevelopment, wrote in email. The inaugural change of installing more than 140,000 compact fluorescent lamp light bulbs in all of their 150 communities and at the corporate Support Center resulted in a reduction of 37 million kilowatt hours of electricity.

“Because we take our obligation to the world around us seriously, we are committed to providing residents with the best possible senior living experience and increasing our environmentally friendly practices plays a key role in that commitment,” Alexander shared via email. “To date, we have invested over $145 million, including a $1.1 million of additional investment in lighting initiatives, in developing our communities, and improving their sustainability, with more improvements planned for the future.”

Atria Valley View - Courtyard

Renovations at Atria Valley View earned it LEED Silver certification.

The renovations of the Atria Valley View in Walnut Creek, California not only earned it LEED Silver certification, but it also created a stronger connection of residents to their natural surroundings. Replacing the older windows with double-paned windows created a significant drop in energy consumption for heating and air conditioning but they also allow residents to engage with the outdoors, says Leo Morales, senior executive director of Atria Valley View, adding that the practices at his community places us “years ahead of competitors” in the surrounding area. These practices include using an irrigation system that waters plants at their roots, which conserves water usage in drought conditions that are increasingly becoming headline news.

Water savings is also found not only in using water-efficient bathroom appliances and smart water heaters, but also in use of native plants in landscaping. And the benefits of native landscaping extend beyond a conservation of resources. I estimate that we have seen an increase of 50 percent or higher of visiting birds and bees, Morales says; this translates to a “tremendous impact in [our resident’s] desire to get outside and walk.”

Recycling efforts are also part of life at both communities. About a year and a half ago, we saw that our residents receive a lot of mail and the paper wasn’t being recycled so we expanded recycling efforts, Nichols says. Both Morales and Nichols say the key to encouraging participation in a recycling program is the placement of the bins, whether in the mailroom at Atria on the Hudson or in a central location at Atria Valley View. Residents welcome these new energy and resource saving measures and “[they] love the concept,” Morales says. Newcomers at his community are welcomed by ambassadors who emphasize that recycling is part of life. The maintenance staff also offer compact florescent light bulbs to replace the incandescent light bulbs in the furnishings that new residents bring.

At the residents’ request, Atria on the Hudson has participated in the Westchester Green Business Challenge since 2012, and this year will see a partnership with the Briarcliff Manor Horticulture Society to bring an organic garden to the community.

Atria Valley View - OverlookThe day-to-day renovation and maintenance work that also incorporates sustainable practices include using recycled carpet and using VOC-free paints and adhesives at communities, Alexander shared via email, and with our newest community on Cape Cod earning LEED Gold certification, “I think we’ll continue to see a shift toward environmentally-conscious communities.” One such community, Atria Tamalpais Creek in Novato, has 35 percent of their two-year electricity usage being generated from green sources and recycling efforts that have diverted 576 tons of waste from the landfill.

Even staff rise to the challenge of considering new green initiatives, with Nichols saying that their Director of Culinary Services is considering the feasibility of a food waste generator to power the community’s kitchen. With residents welcoming these changes and, in fact, encouraging their implementation at Atria communities, it just demonstrates, as Morales says, that “everyone is feeling a little green these days.”

Andrea Watts is a Seattle-based freelance writer who covers senior living, sustainable forestry and agriculture issues. Her writings have appeared in publications that include TimberWestThe Forestry Source and Acres U.S.A.

Promoting Wildlife-Friendly Habitat at Retirement Communities

Wildlife-friendly habitat at retirement communities benefits both seniors and wildlife alike—from providing relaxing scenery to offering a much needed green oasis for birds in an urban environment. For seniors considering creating wildlife-friendly habitat at their community, there are several of organizations that provide expertise  and certification.

In Rethinking the Value of Your Community’s Landscapes, posted on Assisted Living Federation of America’s Member to Member Solution page, I highlight the benefits of wildlife-friendly habitat and senior living provider, Erickson Senior Living, whose residents and staff embrace the idea of creating wildlife-friendly habitat at their communities.

These are photos of Oak Crest in Parkville, Maryland showing wildlife-friendly habitat in action.

Oak Crest Village Parkville, Maryland

Wildlife-certified habitat that residents enjoy every day while strolling through the campus.

Cherry Trees on Oak Crest Village's Campus

Wildlife-friendly habitat adds to the beauty found on the Oak Crest campus.

Residents and Staff Participating in Spring Clean up

Residents and staff participating in the annual spring clean up of the garden area.

Green Roofs on an Oak Crest Village building

Other sustainable practices include green roofs on several campus buildings.

A Trend Toward Living Green in Retirement

Free-range chickens, organic gardens, certified wildlife habitats and ENERGY STAR© certification are just a few of the sustainable features increasingly being found in retirement communities across the United States. In spite of the debate as to whether the upfront costs of building green are worth the investment, the senior living industry is trending toward developing more green retirement communities—which is good news for seniors who want to continue a green lifestyle during their retirement.

“All the modeling show significant savings” said Senior Lifestyle Corporation’s Vice President of Development & Acquisitions, Bob Gawronski, but he cautions that there isn’t the history available yet to show the actual savings. He saw the move toward building green senior communities begin in 2006-2007 as a result of public financing requirements, with the government promoting the addition of green features in affordable housing.

A Helping Hand From Uncle Sam

Senior Suites of Fay’s Points uses a geo-thermal system to provide heat for the community.

Senior Lifestyle Corporation’s Senior Suites of Fay’s Point is one such community that has the green features required to receive public financing. Heating and cooling is provided by 28 geothermal wells and with its flexible, two-pipe heating and cooling system, the geo-thermal system uses less energy and costs less than other HVAC systems to maintain. “To those who understand the technology, our project is exciting, but for most of our residents, the geothermal heating is more of a mystery because they can’t see it,” Gawronski said.

Because of the upfront building costs, Senior Suites of Fay’s Point was a project Senior Lifestyle Corporation wouldn’t have pursed had the public financing provided by the Illinois Housing Development Authority not been available. This public-private partnership resulted in a senior community that is not only affordable but also meets LEED certification design standards, though it wasn’t certified at the time of construction. Gawronski said they chose not to pursue LEED certification at the time, something he would change in hindsight because people do recognize the LEED designation and its usefulness as a marketing tool.

A Little Education Goes A Long Way

Green senior communities require an educational component. While Baby Boomers are savvy in recognizing the value of green building elements, their parents may be unfamiliar with these features, which may defeat the purpose of building green. “Our residents were confused by the green stuff,” Grawronski admitted. The permeable asphalt was greeted with comments of the developer being “full of hot air” and the native grasses were considered weeds that weren’t being cut. “You do have to have an educational program for residents and staff so they understand the building’s design, such as how it is cooled and heated and why native prairies grasses are used,” he said.

With three Senior Lifestyle Corporation communities scheduled for LEED certification next year, Gawronski has learned that it is a lot easier to be green and meet certification requirements than people realize. But while being LEED certified may be the most prestigious designation to showcase sustainability, there are other certifications or recognitions available that demonstrate a community’s commitment to being a responsible steward of the environment, even in well-established communities.

An Influential National Brand

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) ENERGY STAR program is an “influential brand recognized by over 85 percent of Americans” and certifies more than just energy–using devices, said National Program Manager Clark Reed. Since the Environmental Protection Agency created the ENERGY STAR program in 1992, it has morphed from focusing on energy-efficient computers to certifying energy-efficient buildings. Administrative offices were the first of 16 building types receiving certification in 1999.

In 2009, the EPA reached out to the Assisted Living Federation Association (ALFA) to develop a partnership that encouraged ENERGY STAR certification of the senior care communities sector. An energy survey conducted in 2010 identified the energy drivers, which weren’t known prior to 2010 according to Clark.

Using the survey’s results, Reed’s office developed a rating system that launched in 2011; the rating system accounts for variables such as location and size of the community. To achieve ENERGY STAR certification, a senior care community must earn 75 or better out of a 100 rating score. To ensure that the rating system is applied equally, if a community consists of 50 percent or more independent living units, it may not be eligible for ENERGY STAR certification depending on metering. “Since the energy performance scale’s launch in 2011, it became possible to identify the senior living industry leaders in the country,” Reed said.

Gaining Recognition With Industry Leaders

These industry leaders include Sunrise Senior Living and HorizonBay (now owned by Brookdale Senior Living) who were among the first participants in the ENERGY STAR program. Becoming a leader and recognizing the value of energy efficiency within operations is why Sunrise Senior Living joined the program. “We had the systems in place to collect the data required to achieve certification and 30 communities were certified in 2011,” said Jim Shaffer, Director of Maintenance and Capital Programs at Sunrise Senior Living. At the end of 2013, 33 communities became ENERGY STAR certified, and Sunrise’s 248 communities in the United States are now entered into the EPA’s Portfolio Manager®.

“The early efforts of Sunrise Senior Living and HorizonBay were recognized at the 2011 ALFA conference,” said Acting Vice President, Marketing & Membership, Jaclyn Allmon. ALFA also added a “Going Green, Saving Green: Energy, Recycling, and Expense Reduction Strategies” category to their Best of the Best contest in 2013, and awardees included Orchards at Southington, Benchmark Senior Living and Brightview Senior Living. These companies are making valuable improvements to their operations and doing what we hope all senior communities will do to develop and implement green programs, Allmon said.

Sunrise of Edmonds was the EPA’s Top in Category for Senior Care Facilities in 2013 and was also their internal Sunrise Energy Star winner.

Sunrise Senior Living developed an internal energy reduction competition modeled after the EPA’s national Battle of the Buildings competition which rewards communities that achieve the highest reduction in energy usage. “When the competition was unveiled in 2011, the reaction was positive, with communities seeing the competition as a way of being recognized within Sunrise as a top performer,” Shaffer said. Last year, the company recognized the top 2 performers, and for the 2012-2013 competition cycle, the top 3 performers will receive recognition. He too emphasizes that education is key to encouraging staff and residents to adopt energy-saving best practices. “[It’s] changing everyone’s mindset as it comes to your daily routine,” Shaffer said.

How to Find Sustainably-Built Retirement Communities

For seniors seeking future retirement communities for themselves or their parents, there are a number of searches available to find communities practicing sustainability. The U.S. Green Building Council has a directory of certified projects, and searching under the terms “retirement communities” or “senior living” displays the communities that have achieved LEED certification. Searching in the ENERGY STAR directory under “senior care communities,” displays the communities who have achieved ENERGY STAR certification and their annual ranking. The National Wildlife Federation also provides a list of certified communities so seniors can see if a retirement community’s surrounding grounds are providing habitat for wildlife. Other national recognition programs include the International Council on Active Aging® Green Award that recognizes a community’s environmental stewardship practices.

Allmon sees the possibility of prospective residents and their families seeking out LEED or ENERGY STAR certification, but it’s just a question of whether it will be in their top list of priorities for selecting a community. For Clark, he is optimistic this will be the case with retiring baby boomers having a very strong environmental ethic, and this sentiment isn’t just limited to the United States’ seniors. In the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS)’s October 2013 report, A Sustainable Community for Older People:  Case Studies of Green Retirement Village in Australia, authors found that “most retirement village residents understand and recognize the importance of sustainability in their lifestyle.”

Over 2,300 Senior Care Communities Benchmarked by the EPA

This might prompt more communities in the United States to apply for awards that recognize their green efforts. For ALFA’s 2014 Best of the Best award, there weren’t any submissions in the “Going Green, Saving Green: Energy, Recycling, and Expense Reduction Strategies” category. “Senior living companies are likely integrating best energy practices, but out of nearly 100 Best of the Best submissions, we unfortunately didn’t receive any submissions in the green category this year,” Allmon said.

What is known is that over 2,300 senior care communities (188 million square feet in size) have been benchmarked in the EPA’s Portfolio Manager®, according to Clark. And both Shaffer and Gawronski also said that during renovations at their communities, efforts are made to incorporate sustainable materials and energy-reducing designs. “During capital improvements, we partner with the building’s owners to replace outdated assets with higher energy-efficient models and are willing to invest more upfront in capital expenditures that will yield significant energy savings,” Shaffer said.

One example he cited is installing a white, reflective roofing system with a high insulation rating to reduce the cooling costs during the summer and keep heat inside the community in the winter, consequently decreasing the energy usage of the community. For Senior Lifestyle Corporation communities, Gawronski said that when they renovate existing communities, recycled content and FSC-certified products are used.

The Green Choice in Town

In Australia, the retirement village industry is now realizing the need of providing sustainable communities for seniors, and in the United States, Gawronski anticipates many communities will be marketing themselves as the “green choice in town” within five years. With market-rate investors expressing more interest in green development, seniors can expect to see the sustainable practices found in affordable housing becoming commonplace in market-rate communities.

Andrea Watts is a Seattle-based freelance writer who covers sustainable forestry and agriculture issues. Her writings have appeared in publications that include TimberWestThe Forestry Source and Acres U.S.A.