Up until a decade ago, getting a word in edgewise about apartment utilities at major multifamily conferences was difficult. Education sessions would hardly touch on what has now become apartment management’s third-largest expense. And there was no real place where utility and energy managers could gather and exchange ideas.
After all, multifamily utility management lacks the glamour of subjects such as industry trends, revenue management and the latest amenities.
But all that has changed.
Now that there’s more focus on sustainability and green operations that save money and attract residents, apartment utilities are no longer the red-headed stepchild of multifamily housing. They are seen as opportunities for property managers to create a better overall living experience through technology by saving water, natural gas and electricity, all of which trickles to the bottom line.
These days, utility management innovation doesn’t rest. Wheels are constantly in motion to develop new ways for apartments to save, even when it comes to taking out the trash. Cameras inside garbage and recycling bins that monitor fullness and detect garbage mixed in with recyclables are among the latest innovations.
The changing approach to managing apartment utilities
Mary Nitschke, a respected leader in multifamily sustainability and energy, touts the camera- monitored trash flow as the greatest thing since the arrival of the modern trash compactor in the 1970s. She will be among a host of industry professionals who will discuss the changing culture of multifamily utility management at RealPage’s Energy Summit 2021, which is online Feb. 24-25.
The virtual conference is open to portfolio managers/owners and their staffs.
Nitschke, who serves as Vice President of Sustainability at RealPage, says a big reason that apartment utilities are increasingly part of apartment management conversations is an improved ability for stakeholders to collaborate about the subject. Until RealPage’s annual summit was launched 10 years ago, there was little attention paid to the topic.
“You’d go to a conference and there might be one or two tracks on energy and sustainability,” says Nitschke, who will be presenting about apartment waste management. “A lot of the people in charge of utilities also had other roles, so they’d have to pick what responsibilities that they wanted to focus on and what to sacrifice. It was difficult for folks to get time to really focus on utilities, even though it is a core responsibility.”
Dedicated time with your peers
Since its inception, the RealPage Energy Summit has provided education and best practices to stimulate conversations about how to not only reduce energy and utility operational costs, but also shed light on renewable energy trends and other movements within the space that affect residents.
“It’s a beautiful mixture of the leading edge and blocking and tackling,” said Nitschke. “It’s really the only content out there that’s focused exclusively on our space and focused exclusively on utility management and sustainability.”
The summit has featured several milestones over the years, including the introduction of green loans by Fannie Mae in 2016. Some of the industry’s biggest energy leaders from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), National Apartment Association (NAA) and National Multifamily Housing Council (NMHC) have regularly presented. Dan Winters of GRESB, the global standard for benchmarking real assets, presented last year.
To recognize today’s greater interest in sustainability and managing apartment utilities, the Utility Management Advisory (UMA), a multifamily utility management think tank, is presenting its first UMA Sustainability and Innovation Award at this year’s summit. The award recognizes a property/portfolio or an individual for innovation in sustainability.
The winner will be featured in the upcoming “Sustainability Success” webcast series hosted by Nitzchke.
“It can be an innovation as simple as a portfolio implementing recycling or creating a paperless environment, a benefit that has changed how business is conducted,” she says.
The power of networking
While attendees won’t be able to mingle in person at this year’s Summit, the virtual setting should provide opportunities for even greater collaboration. Sessions will be compressed, and attendees can gather resources in a matter of hours instead of over three or four days away from the office.
Because the conference is virtual, Energy Summit 2021 will feature for the first time “Ask the Experts,” individual breakouts that allow attendees one-on-one conversations with industry leaders. Attendees can also network with each other, a valuable resource in itself.
“People talk about the power of networking,” Nitschke says. “It’s not just powerful but also therapeutic. It’s comforting to be around people who do what you do and may have the same pain points as you. It’s incredibly valuable from that perspective. This is a day and a half of information and insights specifically related to managing multifamily utilities.”
Nitschke hopes the complimentary registration will be the starting point for many new participants to begin realizing their own significant utility savings and green initiatives.