If you’re living in a city, it’s hard to feel like the eco-friendly changes you make will impact the greater environment around you. The streets are jam-pact with cars, busses, and trains. The light pollution blocks the star-filled sky with street lamps, buildings, and bright signs. The US Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates that the operation, maintenance, and construction of urban buildings and skyscrapers in US cities account for around half of the country’s energy consumption. On a global scale, that number jumps up to nearly 75%.
It’s safe to say that our lifestyles in a city environment are built around consuming carbon. It’s an addiction that seems impossible to shake. We need innovation in all energy-consuming sectors in the next couple of decades to reverse the trajectory of the climate crisis. Although some of the innovations in transportation and building practices aren’t financially viable at the moment, there are several things you can do and be aware of when looking for a new place to live that will genuinely impact and influence companies and developers to move more efficiently towards greener solutions.
The most effective place in your life where you can have the greatest impact on the environment is where you relax, sleep and eat – your home. Everything from the food you eat, how to cool or heat your unit, or how you dispose of your waste can really affect the environment around the city. The more you create greener habits in your life, there is hope that you can influence and educate others in your network and community to do the same. Building a community of environmentally aware people can create influence throughout an entire neighborhood.
The first step to creating this is to grow your awareness and educate yourself on where you are living. Maintaining and constructing residential buildings is a huge energy consumer. It may be challenging to have the building owner change their building to be more sustainable and energy-efficient, but when your lease is up and you’re on the hunt for a new apartment; there are several things you can look for to live in a greener environment.
1. Smarter Design
Many architecture firms and developers are finding innovative ways to make their apartment buildings more energy efficient. There are several things you can look for when touring apartments.
- Do the walls have good insulation? The more you can keep your ideal temperature in your unit, the less you’ll have to use more heating or air conditioning.
- Does the apartment have large windows or skylights? And are they newer windows? Windows are a fantastic solution when using less electricity. They can be the primary light source during the day, cutting down the need to light your space with electricity. However, if these windows are old and outdated, it can cause leaking of your heat or air conditioning and cause you to need these systems more often. If you need to use lights, look to see if they are using more energy-efficient light installations.
- Is the building using new HVAC systems? Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems or HVAC systems that are old and inefficient can be a huge problem when living a more eco-friendly lifestyle. Simply put, they can be energy leakers. If you live in a very cold or sweltering environment, please ask about these systems and how recently they’ve been updated. It could save you hundreds of dollars a year on your energy bill and massively help cut the amount of energy that a building requires.
2. Refurbished and Renovated Buildings
Building new foundations and structures require vast amounts of energy, especially in larger apartment buildings. Generally, smaller apartment buildings don’t need as much energy to construct or maintain. However, the best route is to find apartment buildings that are renovated, refurbished, and repurposed. This cuts down the required emissions nearly in half, primarily if the building is constructed of heavy steel or concrete. When we show interest in building green practices, development companies begin to take note of this and adapt their interest towards the market’s interest. Rather than look for those cool, newly built modern buildings, look for those smaller refurbished buildings with updated interiors.
Recently, we refurbished our newest co-living apartment building on Capitol Hill rather than knocking down the old building and replacing it. This cut down our environmental footprint immensely during construction and gave us the opportunity to give life to a historic building near our nation’s capital.
You’d be surprised at how much of your electric bill is because of your refrigerator, stove, and microwave. When searching for an apartment, you want these appliances to be energy efficient. Most of the newer appliances will likely be optimized for energy efficiency, but you should always check. Make sure the refrigerator has a tight seal and that the compressor coils are cleaned. This alone will ensure your biggest appliance is using as little energy as possible.
4. Renewable Energy Sources
Although it’s still uncommon in most cities, if the apartment is powered partially or totally on renewable energy like solar, that would be a considerable advantage to combat your carbon footprint. This should be something that changes in the next few years, with the price of solar energy dropping substantially.
5. Explore Better Waste Options
Waste is often overlooked when finding places that are more environmentally friendly. It’s not as sexy as talking about modern design and solar energy, but it is imperative. There is an immense amount of waste produced from constructing a new apartment building to maintaining that building. Frequently apartment buildings will offer to recycle if it’s available in that city. However, currently, the US recycling infrastructure is insufficient, to say the least. According to National Geographic, only 9% of our recycling actually gets recycled. The other 91% gets disposed of like regular waste, or even worse, incinerated. That’s why if you want to get more thoughtful about recycling and waste, you should look into your own options.
Composting: Rather than just throwing your banana peel in the garbage can, you can send your compost out to be used as fertilizer for crops, forests, etc. For Washington, DC. You can use Compost Cab to find great composting solutions for your food waste. They make it simple, offering both drop-off locations and pickup options for a small monthly fee. In most cities, there has been a rise in independent composting options. Don’t forget, you can also do your own composting at home if you have the space.
Recycling: Several local and national recycling companies will actually utilize your recycling waste and repurpose your recycling. One, in particular, is the Independent Recycling Service. It’s essential to be aware of your trash and create a waste management system that works for you and the environment.
Finally, here at OSLO, we are always looking to strive for better at what we do. Becoming greener for our environment in the Washington, DC area is one way we can do that. We don’t want to strive to just be sustainable. Sustainability isn’t enough to solve this climate problem. We are striving to be regenerative.
Sustainability is not enough; we need to be regenerative
Often, you’ll hear companies market their products as becoming more sustainable. Yes, that is a significant first step in helping our planet heal from the damage we’ve been inflicting on it. However, a new concept and building standard has started to pick up steam in the development community – Regenerative Development. Regenerative development essentially boils down to creating and designing buildings and communities that take sustainability to the next level. Regenerative Development’s core concept is to create environments and lifestyles that help maintain and grow a fractured relationship between people and our natural environment.
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