Sustainability has emerged as one of the fastest-growing desired housing features.

From 2008 to 20018, the rise in apartments that are LEED-certified — a designation that recognizes buildings designed to be more sustainable — grew by almost 300 percent. In 2018, there were 382,200 units across the country that met this qualification, and Washington was among the top three cities in the number of sustainable apartments, according to research based on Yardi Matrix data.

Many residents may seek apartments with this certification to make a difference for the environment, to improve energy efficiency and air quality, to have certain designs or features or to emphasize personal wellness.

Here are a few things to consider in a search for sustainable apartment living:

Go beyond the label

Think about “green” or “sustainable” labels the same way you think about “organic” and “reduced fat” foods. While the label might spark some initial interest, you’ll want to do additional research.

If you’re searching for a new apartment with sustainability as a key factor, consider specific questions such as: How does the building reduce or offset carbon emissions? Is it using renewable energy or emphasizing net-zero goals? What energy-efficient appliances, lighting and water-saving systems are being used? How has it invested in recycling and composting facilities?

Consider building design and amenities

Many developers are evolving to use aesthetically pleasing and environmentally conscious materials like reclaimed wood and metals, cork, bamboo and other renewable materials. These materials help reduce building construction and operations’ environmental impacts while also creating a beautiful space.

Newer buildings are being designed with more windows to maximize natural lighting and reduce the need for light fixtures. Some employ sensors or timers to minimize excess energy use in common areas and units. According to a 2019 survey by the National Apartment Association, the top features residents want in apartments include smart thermostats and lighting.

Low-emission materials and proper installation, combined with exercise and outdoor spaces, community areas and resident engagement, all support a thriving environment.

Look for data and benchmarks

Environmentally responsible communities are eager to help residents navigate the world of sustainable living. For example, a Maryland-based real estate developer and operator regularly communicates with its residents about its renewable energy efforts. The company also posts signs around its buildings explaining the purpose of features and resources to empower residents’ own sustainability practices.

Some property owners and electric providers make their benchmark of utility usage and energy consumption available. Resources like the Global Real Estate Sustainability Benchmark, Energy Star and Measurabl provide listings of certified sustainable spaces and transparent data on apartment communities’ environmental efforts.

Many apartment operators are still taking steps to benchmark and measure their efforts — if you don’t see that a community is LEED-certified or can’t find data readily available on its website, ask the staff what materials and policies they have in place to promote sustainable living.

Do your part

Apartment communities are constantly adapting to the needs and lifestyle preferences of their residents. Look for communities that offer amenities like open green spaces and electric vehicle charging stations and opportunities to participate in sustainability activities, such as recycling, composting and a community garden. You can also ask your community to provide a report on your energy use so you can set your own benchmarks and make decisions about your energy consumption.

When searching for your next apartment, it’s important to start with a clear vision and determine what factors matter most to you. As the options grow and more communities invest in environmental efforts, consider how sustainability might factor into your list. No matter what community you decide to live in, you can do your part by adopting more sustainable habits.

Robert Pinnegar, CAE, is the president and CEO of the National Apartment Association.

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