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AppFolio’s 2021 Wave Summit: Sustainability resumes priority status post-COVID

Angela Aeschliman, CPM®, CCIM, LEED AP ND, and Nicholas Stolatis, CPM®, RPA, LEED AP, BD+C, packed a lot of practical advice for property managers into a half-hour presentation at the recent AppFolio Wave Summit.

Aeschliman, who is SVP of Property and Asset Management for The Missner Group, and Stolatis, principal of EPN Real Estate Services, tackled the issue of prioritizing sustainability in our post-COVID environment.

Indeed, says Stolatis, sustainability often took a back seat this past year, except for those property managers who truly embraced sustainable practices “and continued to employ them, notwithstanding the urgency of addressing the demands of the pandemic.” They also addressed the issue of other environmental challenges, and the role of the property manager in both of those imperatives.

The session began with a sort of wakeup call: “Buildings produce 40% of all carbon emissions,” said Aeschliman. The question then becomes: What can building managers do to reduce it?

Stolatis suggested in reply that property managers, “Start at the beginning, with benchmarking.” He pointed out that you “can’t manage what you don’t measure,” indicating that, once metrics are in hand, goals can be set.

These include “the proverbial no-cost/low-cost solutions, such as switching to LED lighting and properly maintaining equipment for more efficient performance.” From there, managers can build up to more high-performance investments, “those that will involve capital, but will leverage improvements significantly and offer paybacks.”

Choose role models wisely

In the field of energy management, over the past decade buildings such as the Edge in Amsterdam and the Crystal in London have often been held up as the direction of commercial real estate. But their levels of performance might very well be out of reach for most existing buildings, Stolatis stated.

The reverse effect can actually be the result: “It could discourage some owners from even trying,” he said. Rather than swinging for the fences, “It’s important that people make whatever attempt they can for incremental improvement.”

In terms of practical guidance on how property managers can achieve better performance in their buildings, Aeschliman advised attendees to seek more education. Particularly, she mentioned IREM’s own Certified Sustainable Property (CSP) program, which she describes as a “walk-through training platform for managers and their teams.”

Of course, property managers cannot stand alone on the front lines of sustainability. Both Stolatis and Aeschliman urged property managers to engage their tenants as part of the overall community.

But community also entails the local municipalities, many of which are creating net-zero goals and timelines. This, along with how managers should deal proactively with environmental risks, was a major focus in the presentation.

In that regard, other key takeaways from the session were:

  • Working with local officials to make carbon-emission legislation “more effective and engaging for building owners”;
  • Achieving those goals while “respecting the need for investors to make a fair return”;
  • The role of the property manager as an educator to engage tenants; and
  • The barriers smaller owners face in their efforts to improve operations.

With the pandemic waning, Aeschliman and Stolatis indicated that sustainability can now once again take its rightful place as an industry priority.

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