Archive for the ‘Sustainable Practices’ Category

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.

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.

Sunrise Senior Living: Growing Green Practices at Communities

Sunrise Senior Living - LogoIn an earlier article, I highlighted the growing trend of retirement communities adopting green practices, and Sunrise Senior Living was one of the senior living providers featured. In this article, I am highlighting other green practices found at their communities.  

Sunrise Senior Living is already a leader in energy-saving efforts, with 33 communities receiving ENERGY STAR© certification and all of their 248 communities in the United States entered into the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Portfolio Manager to track energy usage, but there are other measures this company embraces to reduce their environmental footprint and enhance the lives of their residents.

Replacing outdated equipment with the latest technology and the “best of the best” is how Jim Shaffer, director of maintenance and capital programs, describes Sunrise’s philosophy when renovating or upgrading communities. While the upfront costs might be higher, in the long run the company sees a substantial return on investment that results in reduced costs due to decreased consumption of resources, whether it is energy or water.

Sunrise of Plano's Associate Executive Director Sharon Demarest

Sunrise of Plano’s Associate Executive Director Sharon Demarest showing off the community’s herb and flower garden.

With communities typically spanning four to five acres, of which half to one third is devoted to landscaping, that is quite a bit of green space to maintain. This is one reason why Sunrise decided to explore the use of a smart lawn irrigation system to manage their watering. The system determines the watering schedules and volumes using the previous days’ rainfall totals that are provided via satellite. Two years ago, this system was installed at several communities and the investment is paying off, with Shaffer saying they have seen “significant water savings.”

Sunrise is also willing to invest in new technology if it improves their residents’ living spaces. “Creating that sense of home” is important and lighting plays a role in creating a comfortable feeling, says Shaffer. Four to five years ago, Sunrise made the switch from incandescent bulbs to compact fluorescent lights (CFLs), which saved a significant amount of energy, says Andy Coelho, senior vice president of facilities, and now we are investing in light emitting diode (LED) lights since the technology has proven itself and creates the aesthetics we are looking for. Shaffer adds that LEDs are now more affordable.

Sunrise of Plano's Gardening Club

Sunrise of Plano’s Garden Club enjoying an afternoon of gardening.

Despite the value of these energy-saving practices, they are often unnoticed by residents. However, there are other more visible ways that Sunrise greens up its communities—efforts that are inspired by their residents. At Sunrise of Plano in Texas, the herb and flower garden is an integral part of the community and is a special place for a lot of residents, says Sharon Demarest, the community’s associate executive director.

Though residents started the garden five years ago, its importance had diminished until being resurrected by Demarest and other residents two years ago. The garden is near and dear to my heart and is special for a lot of residents, Demarest says. With the garden having raised beds, residents can easily water and weed the herbs and flowers, and the maintenance staff performs the heavier duty work.

Sunrise of Plano's Gardening Club hard at work.

Filling the beds are the staple culinary herbs of basil, rosemary, sage and parsley. Lavender is also grown along with blackberries and blueberries. Drying the herbs allows their use year-round in dishes served in the community dining room, and they also served as inspiration for the lemony basil salmon roasted beet-couscous salad dish featured in the 4th annual Taste of Sunrise Recipes from the Heart and Home,says Demarest.

Sunrise of Webb Gin's Mary Hiers

Sunrise of Webb Gin’s Mary Hiers earned NWF wildlife habitat certification for her community.

She is proud that the garden inspires a sense of community amongst all residents and staff and serves a purpose beyond just lifting spirits. The community’s activity director uses it for social programming and activities, since gardening not only keeps residents active but the plants can also serve as cues, which are important for memory care residents. It’s such a happy place with residents working in the garden, collaborating and having fun; it’s truly a joy, Demarest says.

At the Webb Gin community in Georgia, it was the efforts of resident Mary Hiers that made residents and staff more aware of their garden’s importance as habitat for local wildlife. “I just love the outdoors…the environment has always been important to me,” Hiers says. As the former director of the Fernbank Science Center, Hiers spent her life connecting children and their parents to the natural world around them, and she continues this even in her retirement.

Sunrise of Webb Gin's garden is enjoyed by residents year-round.

Tending the garden is a favorite pastime of residents.

Upon joining Webb Gin, she noticed that the landscape provided habitat, food, water and shelter, the four elements needed to provide habitat for wildlife. “The property is beautiful,” Hiers says, of the campus that has walking paths through the landscaped grounds and a retention pond that plays host for many birds. Favorite resident activities are walking along the paths and bird watching.

Sunrise of Webb Gin's garden is enjoyed by both families and residents.

The landscaped grounds are enjoyed by residents throughout the year.

Knowing of the National Wildlife Federation certified wildlife habitat program, she decided to earn certification for Webb Gin. Executive Director Carla Cooper assisted Hiers in filling out the application, and they received certification in 2013. But Heirs didn’t stop there.

To develop the educational component of the walking trail, such as describing how the plants contributed to providing habitat, she reached out to a dear friend, who also happened to be a successful grant writer, to write a grant for signs that could be placed alongside the 150 plants located around the community.

Sunrise of Webb Gin's garden is well tended by residents.

Her friend wrote an award-winning grant and the signs were erected later that year. While educating residents  is the primary reason of the signs, there is another beneficial use that these signs provide. Recall exercises are good for our brains, and the community therapist uses the plants and signs in recall exercises, Hiers says.

Another important sign is the National Wildlife Federation certification sign that prompts visitors to ask what it means. “Families see the sign and ask about it,” she says, and based upon the questions she answers, she thinks news about backyard certification is spreading, something she is pleased to see.

Smiles are always found in Sunrise of Webb Gin's garden.

Inspired by seeing raised beds at a nursing home, Hiers is exploring whether raised beds could be built at Webb Gin so disabled residents can also participate in gardening. And she is also instrumental in planning an Earth Day program with Jenohn Carter, the activities and volunteer coordinator. Residents will plant a Golden Raintree to replace one that died earlier and have the opportunity to hear local master gardeners talk about gardening.

Sunrise of Webb Gin is surrounded by NWF certified landscaped grounds.

Though Hiers takes the initiative to spearhead these environmental efforts, she credits that Webb Gin staff for their support, saying “we have the most awesome director.” And because she loves what she is doing, Hiers doesn’t see ending her work anytime soon; “I’ll go to my grave being a teacher.”

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.