Education Is Key When It Comes To Creating A Sustainable Future

By Cassie Mahoney

Ask every property manager what they wish they could get their residents to understand better, and I bet recycling falls into the top five. Between wish-cycling and waste-bin confusion, our waste management budgets seem to be getting higher each time a contamination charge hits our bill. In Denver, AMLI Residential has invested tens of thousands of dollars in Recycle Across America signage to help educate our residents. We’ve hosted resident events with game-changers like Scraps Mile High, a pedal-powered composting service we partnered with at our downtown properties to bring more waste diversion options to our residents. We’ve written countless emails to let our residents know when to recycle and when to trash items. With all of this, we’ve made a dent, albeit a marginal one, in the education of our residents. However, there is still a ways to go.

In 2018 and 2019, AMLI Residential conducted nation-wide resident surveys on sustainability. These surveys taught us that our residents care, and they want to learn more. For example, in 2019, 50% of residents responding said they always recycle, 63% expressed willingness to pay more to live in a green/sustainable community, and 49% agreed or strongly agreed that green features factored into their decision to rent with AMLI Residential instead of another community. There is a desire among residents in Denver for apartment communities to make it easier to live a green lifestyle. This is clear. But there is a lot of confusion as well. In our 2019 survey, we found that 20% of residents responding said their favorite green feature at their AMLI Residential community in Denver is recycling, while 19% of residents surveyed asked for better recycling, more recycling education, or to have recycling (which every community has). So we can see that there is a missed connection in the education of our residents
on recycling.

In our 2018 survey, we asked residents if they felt our on-site teams were knowledgeable about AMLI Residential commitment to sustainability. Of those surveyed in the Denver region, only 55% said yes. Of the other 45%, the majority answered undecided. From this data, we can conclude a few things:
  • Our residents want to lead greener lifestyles, and are willing to pay for ease of access to it. (I should note here that residents are so tuned into waste management/diversion as a green initiative that in 2019, 22% of residents responded that the green feature they would most like to see at their community is composting).

  • Our residents don’t have an overwhelming confidence that their on-site teams are super knowledgeable about our green initiatives.

  • Our residents want us to educate them.

So, how do we work smarter, not harder, at making a noticeable impact? Surely education is the key, but we can only host so many events and post so many signs.
Has anyone else had fantasies about watching the recycling room footage and sending contamination notices? No? Just me?

Kidding aside, it comes down to our people: employees can make an impact. Word of mouth is one of the most powerful weapons that has ever existed for any business, and it can travel quickly. So, it’s time to pivot.
Let’s focus more on our employees and their knowledge. If we can inject passion for sustainability into our employees, then on a day-to-day basis they will be the ambassadors we need. Think about it: how many conversations does your team have with residents on the daily? What if those conversations were also educational opportunities? And, how do you think it affects the progress you’re making if your employees don’t know that a greasy pizza box is not recyclable? We’ve recognized an untapped resource, and decided to invest in our people. This year, AMLI Residential introduced a new role in Denver aimed at providing our teams the training support they need.

As AMLI Residential first Regional Peer Trainer in the nation, I’ve had the opportunity to work one-on-one with our newest leasing consultants, and also to integrate our commitment to sustainability into our training program. My job ensures that our new team members feel supported, and that we can devote much more time to our onboarding process. For the first time, we can make our passion for sustainability a focus in the training schedule of our new hires. We can educate new team members about LEED certifications, Energy Star Certifications, and green features in our apartment homes. We can incorporate strong knowledge about recycling guidelines into the training process, which they can then pass on in the move-in orientation. While it is still too early on to see the larger picture of the impact we are making, we believe we are headed in the right direction. Of course, we are still hosting those events. We are still placing those signs. We are still sending those emails. But we are also spending valuable time on ourselves to ensure that we are knowledgeable, helpful, and invested in the green goals we have set as a company that brought our residents to us in the first place.