Many Americans, across age groups and income levels, want to live in multifamily housing (e.g., apartments) with amenities, including sustainability features. Meeting this demand, multifamily buildings across the U.S. have demonstrated eco-friendly practices (e.g., efficient use of energy and water; organics collection) and achieved sustainability certifications, such as ENERGY STAR, LEED, and the National Green Building Standard. 

As more buildings adopt organics programs, what’s next? Why should residents choose one green building over another? The answer is simple: foster additional zero-waste opportunities for residents to avoid sending waste to landfills by adopting a suite of alternative behaviors.  

This guide is designed for developers, building managers, HOA/COA board members, and residents, along with anyone else interested in learning about cutting-edge sustainability approaches.

Four ways to go beyond recycling and organics 

1) Certifications: Similarly to the certifications above (e.g., LEED), zero-waste certifications, such as TRUE, use established criteria to determine whether an organization receives a stamp of approval. Unlike the seemingly ubiquitous LEED certification, the relatively scarce TRUE certification may boost a building’s appeal through product differentiation.

2) Avoiding waste during move-in and move-out: Moving to a new home typically involves the use of flimsy, disposable products, such as boxes, bubble wrap, and packing tape. Instead, property managers could direct residents to services (e.g., NYC-based Gorilla Bins) that provide sturdy, reusable packing materials.

3) Avoiding waste in daily life: Residents’ adoption of reusable products should not be limited to moving day. Rather, they should continue to embrace the circular economy, “where waste and pollution are designed out in the first place; products and materials stay in use for much longer; and natural systems can regenerate.” For instance, Loop offers familiar brands (e.g., Clorox) in reusable packaging, delivered in a reusable tote bag. Its popularity has skyrocketed during the COVID-19 pandemic, despite a misconception that disposable products are safer than reusable ones.

4) Gamification: Much of the responsibility for maintaining a zero-waste building will fall on residents after they have moved in, but it does not need to be a burden – it can be easy and fun. One approach for motivating sustainable behaviors is gamification (i.e., using elements of games in a non-game setting). For example, “smart receptacles,” such as BigBelly, have the ability to measure recycling diversion rates, which residents can monitor through data visualization on a display screen or mobile app, potentially inspiring an atmosphere of collaboration and friendly competition (who’s the most sustainable resident?).

We should note that the feasibility of zero-waste buildings may differ across jurisdictions. Boulder, Colorado, has an ordinance aimed at becoming a zero-waste city by emphasizing the practices of reuse, recycling, and organics collection; other cities may follow. 

Moving forward

Zero-waste might seem like a futuristic concept, yet several large companies have already hit the ground running. Examples outside of the real estate industry include Nestlé, Microsoft, and Subaru. Is your organization next? Third Partners can help with designing and implementing a zero-waste plan that fits your organization’s values and mission – please contact us for a free consultation.