Three years ago, California saw some of its driest days.
As lake beds sat empty, animals faced endangerment and water supply dwindled, residents at Pilgrim Place in Claremont, California, took action.
“Our driving force is the commitment of residents to live more sustainably with greater environmental consciousness and lower carbon impact because of our shared values,” says Bob Traer, chair of the community’s resident-led Environmental Concerns Committee.
The committee drafted a comprehensive sustainability plan with a series of conservation goals in the areas of water, energy, food, waste and recycling. The plan, adopted by Pilgrim Place in 2013, started a campuswide initiative to reduce waste.
Today water left on dining room tables is collected to water trees, homes have energy-efficient appliances, and thermostats are programmed to conserve electricity. The results are adding up.
By the end of 2015, Pilgrim Place reduced its water usage by 39 percent. Despite a 10 percent increase in residents since 2001, water use is one-third of what it was 15 years ago. Energy consumption is down, too.
“Individually these are small things, but small things reflect commitment,” says Traer, who teaches environmental ethics at Dominican University of California and recently published a book titled “Doing Environmental Ethics.” “People know what we’re doing, and that’s part of the story.”
According to a recent report from The New York Times, the demand for green retirement communities is rising as more health and environment-conscious baby boomers age. Experts say that eco-friendly communities will need to become the standard in coming years.
CHHSM members across the map are leading the way into the future.
Horizon House in Seattle has been a national conservation leader since its residents formed a Conservation Committee in 2008.
Committee members educate fellow residents about environmental issues while working toward goals they’ve outlined in the Horizon House Sustainable Environment Vision.
“I think one of the largest challenges facing the world today is global warming,” says Jean Durning, committee chair. “Everyone needs to be aware of and participate in the work of containing greenhouse gases.”
As part of the community’s strategic plan, Horizon House recently initiated its apartment efficiency project, gradually installing energy-efficient windows, sliding doors, LED light bulbs, low-flow showerheads, and power strips that shut off automatically when not in use.
Also in 2015 the community converted from gas to steam heat, which will ultimately reduce its carbon emissions by close to 40 percent.
For the past six years, Horizon House has partnered with Catalyst 2030, a social purpose corporation that coaches organizations in sustainable practices. Last year Horizon House and Catalyst 2030 helped launch the LeadingAge Washington Sustainability Forum, an outlet for individuals to share resources and work together to reduce resource consumption.
Durning says everyone should look for ways to reduce their carbon footprint.
“You don’t need a formal structure,” she says. “You can get together and start a conversation and encourage others.”
The senior living community recently upgraded its buildings, installing solar panels, double-pane windows, energy-efficient appliances and more. The changes earned Greencastle the Florida Water Star certification and reduced its average monthly electric bill by more than $1000.
“Start with one light bulb or make sure all the holes around outlets are filled,” Casagrande says. “When you need to replace an appliance, make sure you put in something energy-efficient.”
Casagrande encourages other CHHSM ministries to act.
“You don’t have to change everything,” she says. “Just start with something simple.”