The 2024 Environments for Aging Conference + Expo, held April 13-16 in Atlanta, will feature a variety of keynote and breakout sessions.

Environments for Aging is previewing some of the upcoming educational sessions in a series of Q+As with speakers, sharing what they plan to discuss and key takeaways they’ll offer attendees.

Session: “Dollars and Sense!—How Energy-Efficient and Environmentally Mindful Design Leads to Better Financial and Wellness Outcomes.”

Speakers: Cynthia Shonaiya, principal, Hord Coplan Macht, David Holland, vice president – development, Brightview Senior Living, and Erica Zoren associate principal, Hord Coplan Macht.

Challenging the notion that sustainable design is out of financial reach for senior living providers, this session will dive into planning and design strategies that can help project teams set realistic goals and deliver energy-efficient buildings that can realize first- and long-term cost benefits.

A case study on Brightview Senior Living’s (Baltimore) sustainability initiatives will help illustrate how environmental design can benefit residents and employees and support environmental stewardship goals. Biophilic design, connections to nature, and carbon modeling goals will also be discussed.

Environments for Aging: Why do you think there’s a perception that sustainable design is too costly for senior living providers?

Cynthia Shonaiya Hord Coplan Macht

Cynthia Shonaiya (Image credit: Hord Coplan Macht)

Cynthia Shonaiya: Many senior living providers are operating on tight budgets, attempting to balance the combined financial challenges brought on by the pandemic, steep payroll increases, elevated construction costs, and high interest rates. Therefore, there is a reluctance to consider features that may increase the first costs of a construction project.

While it is true that some sustainable strategies may increase first costs (like additional building insulation or energy recovery ventilation for HVAC systems), a careful life-cycle cost analysis can reveal quick payback periods, sometimes just 2 years, providing owners with long-term financial savings.

What’s more, some sustainable features, such as low-VOC paints, low-flow toilets, reflective roofing, and water-efficient landscaping—known as “low hanging fruit”—can be implemented at no cost. Moreover, many jurisdictions and utility companies around the country offer tax rebates and incentives for “green” buildings, which can help owners offset first costs.

How has sustainable design become more attainable for senior living communities in recent years?

Erica Zoran Hord Coplan Macht

Erica Zoren (Image credit: Hord Coplan Macht)

Erica Zoren: The last 5 years have seen significant technological advancements in building systems to increase energy efficiency, reduce payback years when considering a life-cycle cost analysis, and become more appealing options for owner-operators of senior living communities.

In tandem, the recent passing of the Inflation Reduction Act has provided additional funding to offset added first costs for more efficient systems.

We have also seen upgrades of early energy analysis tools for design teams, making it easier than ever before to run comparisons on siting the building, massing options, and orientation to capitalize on simple geometric changes that have no additional first cost but can reveal energy-saving options.

What are some of the benefits to owners and operators of senior living communities from implementing sustainable design strategies?

David Holland Brightview Senior Living

David Holland (Image credit: Brightview Senior Living)

David Holland: Attention to sustainable design can drive lower utility costs through more energy-efficient buildings and lower maintenance costs as a result of better equipment and lower repair and replacement needs.

Systems equipment and building materials continue to evolve and increase their return on investment so keeping attentive to product change with a sustainable lens will realize higher financial returns.

Additionally, a community’s sustainable mission and purpose can also drive recruitment in a world where caregivers will be an increasingly scarce resource. Employees can champion and drive sustainable programming and initiatives that connect them to the company where they work and the residents they serve.

How does a sustainable design approach also impact residents?

Holland: Residents and their families are increasingly looking for senior living communities that consider the environment when deciding what and how they deliver their programming.  The climate crisis is on the minds of residents, and they want to actively engage in initiatives where they can contribute as a legacy to their children and grandchildren.

That engagement with residents can create a more vibrant living environment and commitment to the community in which they live.

Sustainable design also can lead to healthier living conditions. A focus on building design with improved indoor air quality, increased focus on natural daylight, and programming that includes outdoor gardening, walking, and exercise opportunities can drive better health and wellness outcomes for all residents.

What’s one takeaway from your session that you hope attendees walk away with?

Zoren: Seeking information and integrating a data-driven design process are critical to understanding your current and future portfolio’s energy performance.

Taking the opportunity in the project timeline to run energy models and using the data to conduct life-cycle cost analysis is the path towards lowering utility costs, improving resident well-being, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

For more on the 2024 EFA Conference schedule and registration, visit