Coliving is Going Green!

I’m very proud to announce that YD Development has just started construction on 424 W 47th St, partnering with Common Living to deliver their first home in core Manhattan. For this project, we wanted to provide a careful balance of ergonomics, efficiency, aesthetics, and community with, of course, budget.

There are a number of green features in the building, namely a 14.4kW solar canopy (designed and installed by Brooklyn Solar Works), very strategically placed motion sensor lights, 1.5gpm shower heads and 0.9/1.6 gpf toilets, a green roof designed by landscape architect Shigeo Kawasaki, smart thermostats, and a plethora of other small details.

If we were to install these in a normal multifamily rental or condo building, I wouldn’t expect significantly more efficient results. In fact, the presence of green tech can actually make some people more wasteful. What’s groundbreaking here is that we have the opportunity to inculcate building-wide sustainable behavior in a coliving community.

Common’s data scientist Kaivon Ahmad was kind enough to share historic usage with me across their entire portfolio, and I analyzed typical electric and gas usage across a number of metrics. As it is their data, I won’t divulge any details, but I will share perhaps my most significant inference: Utility usage across a community is subject to herd mentality. I suspect that, just like in social circles, a few top influencers can lead the behavior and attitudes towards energy usage throughout a coliving community. And this attitude can swing both ways across a spectrum from efficient to wasteful. These influencers may not even realize the role they play, because their behavior can be infectious on a subconscious level.

So I set a goal to achieve greater efficiency than any existing Common building across every utility metric- first by providing the proper tools with green tech, and second, by influencing member behavior both passively and actively.

In selecting the green technology at Common Clinton, I want to give the members very visual and tactile daily reminders that they are part of a sustainable living community. Imagine this routine:

  • You wake up to natural sunlight and head to the bathroom where a small motion sensor light turns on. You can make a conscious decision to stick to that light or flip on the switch for some more light.
  • You use the toilet and are presented with the dual flush option. Both are extremely efficient anyway. The heated washlet seat also helps conserve toilet paper.
  • You hop in the shower and turn on the High Sierra nozzle. Its distinctive look is different from other shower heads, which reminds you that the flow rate is 40% lower than a regular shower head. But it still feels the same as a regular shower head while saving water and energy.
  • You head over to the kitchen and the hallway light is triggered by your presence. Nobody needs to worry about figuring out who should turn off the lights because the only time these hall lights are needed is when someone is passing through. And the kitchen and living room lights are on vacancy sensors, so if someone forgets to turn off the lights in those areas, don’t worry- the building’s got you.
  • You decided to head up to the green roof for a bit of reflection before you start your day. You sit under the massive solar canopy, which in the summer provides much needed shade. And it also reminds you that a chunk of electricity is generated on site.
  • The green roof serves as a further reminder- the building is literally green. It’s not only calming to look at, but reduces heat flux through the roof in extreme temperatures and reduces energy usage.

There are a number of less visible features, but these daily and omnipresent reminders were all selected because they provide a level of convenience and improve the aesthetics while passively encouraging sustainable behavior. Coupled with some basic education on best sustainable practices in a pamphlet we’ve prepared for the members, we believe a significant number of the members may choose to embrace an attitude of active participation in conservation.

Active conservation includes behaviors such as:

  • Turning on ceiling fans to distribute heating more evenly
  • Closing curtains when they’re gone to minimize air exchange
  • Using washer/dryer/dishwasher only when they’re full, and operating them during off-peak hours when electricity is cheaper
  • Sorting waste and recycling properly

In a community where enough members actively engage in this behavior, they will encourage each other to participate. Further, we can reduce or maybe even discourage instances of “super users” spiking the utility bills and negatively influencing other member behavior.

Which leads me to one of the most important aspects of implementing these features: increasing ROI. Common members don’t even pay for utilities, so as the owner, encouraging sustainable behavior improves our opex. The solar panels also come with significant tax benefits while improving asset value. And creating a more hassle-free living experience reduces member turnover and vacancy rates, increasing the NOI.

Tl;dr version: Green tech in a coliving community could create a dynamic where members encourage each other to actively participate in conservation. And it doesn’t sacrifice the experience or financials.