A friend and loyal reader recently wrote to me, complaining about how difficult it is to get his high rise condo board to go green in its management decisions. His experience reflected my own seven years of condo living, and I can understand the difficulty of getting change enacted by a condo board or homeowner association comprised of volunteers who may be older and may not be aware of (or may not care about) environmental issues.
Based on our experiences and observations, here are six ways that you might get your high rise community, condo board or homeowner association to adopt green living practices.
1) Break it down to dollars and cents. At the end of the day, realism trumps idealism for your condo board or HOA. It’s all about results and the bottom line. There used to be a time when energy efficiency and other green initiatives were much more expensive than conventional alternatives, making them a losing proposition financially. But in an era of higher energy and water prices, and at a time when green building is increasingly going mainstream, that can no longer be assumed. Here in Arlington, VA for example, green building materials and practices have dropped in price to the point where it’s generally assumed that builders will build to at least “LEED certified” standard, the most basic green standard propagated by the US Green Building Council.
Do you want your condo board to consider replacing hallway incandescent lights with compact fluorescent or LED bulbs? Show the board the hard research available that demonstrates the huge amount of energy that would be saved by changing the bulbs. Considering adoption of a green roof (one with plants)? Provide evidence of how a green roof substantially cools a building and saves money.
There’s lots of information on the Internet to bolster your arguments. Good places to start are at Energystar.gov (which includes a section on larger buildings) and the US Green Building Council.
2) Educate residents. Informing residents of the need for, and benefits of, going green is absolutely essential. The more residents learn about these issues, the more pressure can be brought to bear on the condo board or HOA to go green. Additionally, it will increase the number of residents who adopt green living practices in their own units, which can add up substantially regardless of what the board does.
Many communities have a newsletter that is always looking for new articles. Use it! Start writing articles about green living and insert them for distribution. If you want, cut and paste articles from this website, since I touch on many of the relevant issues (but please give me some attribution!)
Another alternative is to bring in a panel or speaker as a community activity. Here in Arlington, anyone can call Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment, the civic group for which I volunteer, and request to have a speaker come and discuss green living issues. I’ve been a speaker myself, and I know that providing an interactive forum for residents to ask questions is a great educational tool.
3) Run for the board and/or its committees. The best way to implement change is from the inside. Run for the board or volunteer for one of its committees (especially those like Finance, Groundskeeping, and others with a direct bearing on green issues). Your association may simply need a new voice that will speak on behalf of the environment. You are bound to get a lot of support from other residents who may be displeased at your HOA’s inaction on environmental concerns.
4) Urge the board to make it easy for residents to get repairs. If your community has maintenance people on staff, it’s essential that the board provide a very easy way for residents to report and fix things like leaky faucets, running toilets or drafty windows. These are the easiest things in the world to put off indefinitely, especially if utility bills aren’t individually paid. Encourage the board and its staff to place priority on these easy repairs, with a quick turnaround time. If it’s hard for people to get these repairs they simply won’t happen.
5) Make sure that the condo board follows the law. Sometimes the law is on your side. Here in Arlington, high rise buildings are required to provide easily accessible, well-marked recycling bins for people to put their recyclable materials. Inspectors can and do show up unannounced to ensure compliance.
If the law supports your green efforts, make sure your condo board is aware of it and implements it. If the law is silent, then write to your City Council member and urge them to support recycling and other green legislation.
6) Volunteer as an environmental steward. Even if your condo board doesn’t want to do much of anything, nothing stops you from being a volunteer environmental steward, with or without their approval. Would someone in your building know how to dispose of extra latex paint, or a bicycle she doesn’t want anymore, or a Christmas tree after the holidays? If not, why not? Be the one who informs (which goes hand in hand with education), and the one who facilitates. For example, if your local jurisdiction has periodic pickup of large appliances or hazardous materials, be the one who informs and coordinates to make sure that residents participate. Maybe coordinating a community yard sale once per year would be a great way to re-use things that residents no longer want.
Above all, don’t despair or give up. Sometimes change comes slowly. Even if your condo board or homeowner association does nothing while you end up educating residents, and as a result 25% of them adopt green living practices, then that’s a big win for the environment. It’s still people recycling, watching their energy and water use, and watching the chemicals they use that weren’t doing all of that before. We have to take our victories where we find them.