It’s clear the “green” movement has planted it roots and proven to be more than a fad in fashion, living and housing. However, for the senior living industry, when it comes to sustainability, providers are… well, green. Whether it’s due to demand, cost cutting or funding requirements, some organizations are beginning to embrace environmental stewardship, but fewer are investing in building or upgrading facilities to meet Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification standards.

Last month, Presbyterian Senior Living broke ground on Northwood Gardens, luxury terrace homes at our Kirkland Village CCRC in Bethlehem, PA. The 36-unit apartment building will be our first LEED certified community, but certainly not our first venture into building or upgrading communities to meet advanced, industry-leading green standards. Expected for 2016 completion, Northwood Gardens will feature geothermal heating and cooling, energy efficient windows, LED lighting and recycled building materials.

So why did we decide to seek LEED certification for this project? LEED is considered to be the gold standard of green, and the seal of the premier sustainable building rating system underlines our deep commitment to environment stewardship.

Prioritizing green over grey (human-engineered solutions, such as concrete or steel) is a major undertaking for any senior living provider and the following considerations are important when beginning the LEED Certification process:

  1. Choosing the right certification for your community

Beginning the certification process can seem overwhelming and confusing. Whether it’s LEED or an alternative rating system, doing your homework to identify the right certification is critical. The U.S. Green Building Council, the LEED certifying body, has useful tools in helping to navigate the different categories and levels of certification and respective requirements. Each category, operations and management, interior design, building design and construction, and neighborhood development, all require various credits to satisfy the endorsement requirement. (For example, communities can earn credits for incorporating access to quality transit, reducing parking footprint, installing rainwater management systems, carbon offsets and/or local food production.)

Some providers may choose to forgo LEED certification all together and develop their own institutional rating system; others are building new construction to meet LEED standards, but choosing not to undertake the official application and process because of the costly time and resource commitment. Either way, developing communities that provide seniors a healthier, more efficient and eco-conscious lifestyle is better for everyone. The key is to be transparent with residents about your rating system and what green investments you’ve made.

  1. Organization is critical during the application process

One thing I’ve found most eye opening during the process was the level of detail and impeccable organizational skills necessary to keep everything on track. Between the planning, application and valuation stages, organization will be your best friend! A qualified team of architects, consultants, engineers, product marketers and other building industry professionals should all work together in ensuring there is accountability for the procurement of all required information, documents and reports.

The process begins with an 8-hour strategy development workshop, LEED Charrette, with all the involved design professionals. In the application stage, various specific forms are required, so keeping detailed, robust notes and records will help when submitting documents for review. Throughout construction, tracking suppliers’ products is necessary to ensure LEED criteria is being satisfied and various tests must be performed to assure targets are being met.

  1. Green 101: Educating consumers, residents and staff

Being a sustainable senior living community is more than just good marketing and messaging. Many consumers can be duped by false or overstated claims of being eco-conscious. It’s important to educate everyone – from corporate and campus staff, to prospective residents and their families – about what investments your organization has made toward environmental stewardship. Make sure they not only know what sustainable features you’ve incorporated into your building and operations, but what value it provides. Demands and expectations are growing for green retirement communities, but many still don’t know what it means to live in a high performance green home. The growing baby boomers have a lot of options in retirement living, so help them understand how living in a green community will enhance their lives.

A LEED certification seal may help initially entice someone, but deeper education can turn a prospect into a buyer. Benefits of living in a green community include:

  • Cost: Energy efficient appliances and lighting, special heating and cooling systems and low-flow water features can reduce monthly bills and overall costs. Using recycled materials and green waste removal can also help to reduce building expenditures, lower long-term operations and cut maintenance costs.
  • Well-being: Health and wellness are among the biggest values for seniors. For example, the EPA estimates that indoor air is often 2-10 times more polluted than outdoor air. Incorporating good ventilation minimizes indoor pollutants and hazards, and helps reduce associated respiratory issues. Additional low-VOC paint and natural building materials reduce toxin exposure and specialized water filtration provides safer, cleaner drinking water.
  • Value: Green homes are largely perceived to be more valuable because of the positive impact on the environment, health benefits and long-term financial savings. As for builders and housing providers, incentives help these projects to be more accessible, and in most cases are more valuable than the grey alternatives.   
  1. Ingraining Environmental Stewardship into Community Life

Creating a green infrastructure doesn’t just stop once the physical space is constructed. To truly be stewards of the environment, green practices need to be ingrained into daily community life. This goes for staff and residents. Creating more outdoor spaces (for dining, entertaining or even physical therapy), encouraging residents to grow community or personal gardens and developing a recycling program are just a few ways to help everyone become more eco-conscious. Engaging residents to be more green in their homes (turning off lights, using less water, recycling, etc.) helps them to reap the benefits of stewardship, while also making them feel more invested in the mission.

Obtaining LEED certification is a major investment, but pays dividends on the enhanced community life and the reduced footprint on the environment. Sustainable development and green infrastructure will continue to be a growing demand in our industry, so now is the time to start LEEDing the movement.

Rodney Fenstermacher is the corporate director of construction and plant assets at Presbyterian Senior Living, a network of 29 senior living communities located across the mid-Atlantic. Rodney manages new construction and existing campus modernizations of all Presbyterian Senior Living communities.

This article originally appeared on McKnight's