Today, approximately 47 million seniors live in the U.S., nearly 15 percent of the population, and this number is predicted to rise to more than 78 million by 2035. For many seniors, independent living is becoming an attractive option when they are seeking more companionship but want to retain their independence. These living centers are almost like mini-vacation resorts, with restaurants, salons, entertainment, and well-manicured grounds. Many facilities are a hybrid, with services ranging from independent living to full-time nursing care. Centers operate 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, and with this variety of offerings and services, buildings are resource-intensive.
What Challenges Is The Senior Living Industry Facing Today?
Measuring, benchmarking, and tracking resource use can be complicated across a large portfolio. Each facility may have multiple types of spaces, including kitchens, shops, on-site health clinics and pharmacies, laundry centers, and of course individual living spaces. And it’s here, in the living spaces, where facility managers face the unique challenge of managing hundreds of independently-controlled resident rooms using energy and water. Waste streams are also increasingly complex, not only for the various waste from both common and individual areas, but medical waste is highly regulated and risk-intensive. Even with these challenges, senior living communities are consistently ranked as the strongest investment type across all residential property investments.
What Senior Living Trends Support The Sustainability Transformation?
- Rise of technology and IoT: As a more tech-savvy generation with more connected devices is entering the senior living space, facilities must keep pace. Smart devices can give residents access to daily schedules, menus, and activities. Wearable devices can track vital stats and provide one-touch assistance calls. All of this – as well as building management and equipment sensors that can provide real-time updates on resource use – need a strong IoT infrastructure in place.
- Growing demand for green living: More residents – including the baby boom generation now entering the senior living population – are seeking communities that are prioritizing sustainability. They want facilities built near transit, with access to community green spaces or community gardens, more waste diversion options, and efficiency built into common and individual spaces.
- Rising resource costs. Water and waste, in particular, are driving a focus on rate negotiations and behavioral changes to keep costs down. In the energy space, a mix of green power with traditional grid delivery can help facilities reach their sustainability goals, while on-site renewable generation can provide reliable backup power when needed.
- Increased regulatory transparency. Assisted living and nursing care facilities face very strict regulations to protect the health, privacy, and safety of their residents. As more families demand transparency, a growing number of states have passed legislation to make compliance violations available to the public.
What Should Senior Living Facilities be Thinking About?
Some of the following actions can help senior living communities address current trends and external pressures while maximizing savings and resource efficiency.
- Gain visibility into site consumption and trends. Facilities across portfolios may vary greatly depending on the community’s amenities. Capture data details such as contract terms, square footage, sales, equipment, and more to best compare site types and identify true outliers. A strong foundation of data can help identify billing errors, reduce rates, and identify opportunities for reduction in energy, water, and waste expenses.
- Analyze resource consumption at the site. Analyze the portfolio and conduct on-site audits of energy, water, waste usage, and telecom devices to have a complete understanding of opportunities for cost reductions. To ensure compliance with federal regulations like HIPAA and RCRA, as well as local regulations, senior living facilities should consider a robust waste audit program to assess risks, inform a compliance program, and verify adoption.
- Upgrade to efficient equipment. Upgrade equipment and technology to reduce consumption and minimize costs. Organizations should consider installing low-flow water heads, sink aerators, occupancy sensors in bathrooms and communal spaces, lighting retrofits, and other technology to ensure automatic reduction of resource consumption.