From 2023 being the hottest year on record (and record breaking weather events) to the average American eating a credit card worth of microplastics every week, the last year has seen some outrageous environmental headlines. It’s no surprise, then, that sustainability has been top of mind for consumers and businesses alike — and the student housing industry is no exception.

After all, student populations tend to value sustainability more than many other demographics, so incorporating sustainable practices and technologies into their residences help student housing managers maximize occupancy rates and support campus enrollment goals.

Of course, sustainable student housing practices can range from investing in renewables (such as solar or wind) and energy management to reducing waste and other green initiatives. But there are 8 distinct sustainability practices that have not only helped student housing managers reach their sustainability goals, but also reduce costs and increase revenues. 

What is Student Housing? 

Student housing, put simply, refers to any accommodation specifically designed for students attending universities, and colleges, or any other educational institute. These residential complexes are designed to meet the unique housing needs of students living away from home, and are typically located on or near academic campuses. 

Student housing also takes on various forms, from dormitories and apartments to shared housing, and offers a range of amenities and support services — including furnished units, smart infrastructure, food services, common study areas, and recreational communal spaces. Of course, all these services and amenities represent overhead costs, so it’s the role of student housing managers to manage these costs without compromising student experience.

Top Sustainable Student Housing Trends in 2024 

Sustainable student housing doesn’t consist only of luxury amenities that are ‘nice to have’. Rather, it represents significant cost-savings to residents and student housing managers alike.

Of course, there are some upfront costs to implementing these sustainable practices, but those are more than offset by the cost-savings they offer. Indeed, sustainable student housing practices represent an investment that will yield significant return for years to come.

Smart Energy Management

Energy consumption represents one of the greatest sources of both emissions and operating costs in the student housing industry. However, IoT-enabled smart tech has given student housing managers the ability to significantly reduce energy consumption and overhead costs at the same time. 

1. Smart HVAC Technology

Smart HVAC technology leverages machine learning and AI to manage energy consumption in real time, reducing both the carbon footprint and energy consumption costs of student housing facilities. For starters, smart thermostats and occupancy sensors monitor and respond to real time fluctuations in occupancy in both dorm rooms and common areas. 

Furthermore, energy management systems, such as Verdant Plus, track and monitor fluctuating occupancy patterns, seasonal weather patterns, and peak demand load times to optimize energy consumption throughout the year. In fact, one of the world’s leading student housing operators, the Global Student Accommodation (GSA) have selected Verdant Smart Energy Management System for rollout in 28 of their Yugo communities. 

Smart energy management also goes well beyond a sensor network that automates energy use monitoring and optimization. Smart HVAC systems also offer remote management features that allow campus staff to monitor HVAC output and ensure that student housing climate control systems are running at peak efficiency. 

These remote management features also include HVAC diagnostic alerts whenever the system is performing outside of expected parameters.

2. Smart Lighting

Similar to smart HVAC systems, smart lighting systems leverage occupancy sensors and time-based lighting schemes to manage and optimize energy consumption. By adjusting lighting intensity according to real time occupancy and time of day, smart lighting not only provides a seamlessly comfortable and safe experience for student residents, while reducing energy consumption in areas not in use.

Many smart lighting systems, moreover, also interface with smart HVAC energy management systems to allow managers and staff to monitor all their energy consumption through a single interface. For instance, Verdant Plus can integrate with third party lighting systems to ensure that lights turn on/off according to whether a room is occupied or not.

3. Energy Efficient Appliances

Of course, energy consumption isn’t limited to core infrastructure. Residents and staff, alike, also rely on a number of appliances to get through their days. So student housing managers are increasingly relying on energy efficient appliances to reduce their carbon footprint and energy costs.

This, in turn, can help attract environmentally minded students. Indeed, 73% of millenials are willing to spend more on sustainable goods and services, according to a survey conducted by Nielsen.

The most common energy efficient appliances include, energy-star-rated refrigerators and laundry appliances, responsive smart thermostats, high-efficiency air conditioners, and LED lighting.

4. Demand Response Programs

Another way student housing managers can reduce their energy consumption and operating costs not only requires no upfront investment or installation, but can even generate additional revenue. Specifically, Demand Response programs allow student housing managers to receive credits against their energy costs whenever they opt-in to reduce their consumption during peak demand times.

Through a Demand Response program, student housing managers receive alerts prior about forecasted peak usage ‘events’, and unless they opt-out of that event, their various smart appliances (e.g. HVAC systems, water heaters, etc.) will adjust to draw less energy from the grid during that event. In turn, student housing managers can then sell that energy back into the grid, and that revenue can then be applied against their energy bills, reducing their overhead energy costs.

5. Solar Energy Integration

Student housing managers can also reduce energy consumption and costs not only by selling unused energy back to the grid, but by consuming less energy in the first place. Specifically, solar panels allow student housing managers to reduce their energy costs on two fronts.

First, by generating their own energy, they allow student housing operators to reduce their reliance on the mainstream mainstream power grid. Second, student housing managers can also sell any excess energy production back into that grid through their Demand Response Program.

So not only can student housing operators reduce their energy costs by reducing their energy consumption, but they can also generate additional revenue to subsidize those energy costs. 

6. Waste Reduction Programs 

Waste reduction isn’t limited only to energy consumption. Onsite waste reduction programs also play an important role in creating a sustainable student housing environment.

And waste reduction goes beyond installing recycling bins in convenient locations and providing clear guidelines for their use. Waste reduction programs can also include composting and waste diversion, and educating residents on responsible disposal practices.

Furthermore, student housing managers can promote the use of reusable products, including water bottles, grocery bags and on-campus utensils, eliminating reliance on single-use products entirely. And less waste means lower waste management and disposal costs. 

7. Smart Water Management

Beyond energy and waste disposal, there remains an additional area in which student housing managers can reduce both their carbon footprint and operating costs: water consumption. After all, from showering and drinking to meal preparation and property sanitation, water is a necessary part of everyday life.

Much like energy consumption, however, water represents a significant overhead cost in student housing property management. Indeed, a single leaky toilet alone can cost up to $840/year

Enter smart water management systems. Simply put, smart water management systems utilize sensors and automation to monitor, control, and optimize water usage in real-time, enhancing efficiency while reducing waste. Indeed, smart water management systems reduce water consumption by 15%, energy usage by 10%, and operating costs by 11%. Consequently, student housing property managers are embracing these systems seeking to maximize their property’s profitability and ROI. 

8. Green Roof Initiatives 

Green roof initiatives are reshaping campus and student housing landscapes as we know them, upgrading outdated infrastructure to be more eco-friendly. Put simply, green roof initiatives (also known as vegetated roofs or living roofs) involve cultivating vegetation atop buildings, offering student housing managers a number of benefits. 

For one, green roofs reduce building energy use by cooling roofs in question, improving thermal mass and insulation as well as stormwater management. Additionally, green roof initiatives are proven to improve biodiversity, providing a new habitat for plants and animals such as birds and insects. Finally, green roofs mitigate the impacts of the urban heat island effect, contributing to air quality improvement. 

From a financial perspective, green roofs are equally as enticing for student housing managers. According to GSA, it is estimated that green roofs on commercial buildings have a payback period of approximately 6.2 years nationally, including an internal rate of return of 5.2% and an ROI of 224%.

9. Community Gardens 

In some cases, student housing managers are also introducing community gardens onto their properties. Community gardens provide students with the ability to cultivate their own produce, and foster overall more sustainable practices and habits into their everyday lives. These gardens, in turn, transform communal areas into vibrant, eco-friendly hubs where students can learn and participate in a greener future. 

Community gardens also further contribute directly to waste reduction by aligning with and supporting composting initiatives. Most importantly, the introduction of community gardens puts the ownership in the hands of your student body, empowering them to take an active role in sustainable living. 

10. Education and Awareness Programs 

By launching education and awareness campaigns, student housing managers can play a direct role at promoting sustainable lifestyle habits within the student body. Whether that means organizing sustainability workshops and seminars, creating informative posters, or collaborating with student organizations for events and initiatives, community engagement can play a critical role in ensuring a student housing property is more sustainable and energy efficient. 

After all, residents are responsible for the bulk of waste and energy consumption in a student housing property. But an informed student body will foster sustainable community attitudes and practices, reducing emissions, waste, and energy consumption, and improving overall profitability. 

11. ESG Compliance

Environment Social Governance is about adopting business practices that focus on environmental sustainability, social inclusion, and ethical governance. And by becoming ESG compliant, student housing managers can not only reduce energy costs, but gain access to strategic financing options and/or attract new investors.

Consequently, student housing managers are investing in sustainable practices and technologies (such as those outlined above), tracking environmental data, and finding additional ways to reduce their property’s carbon footprint. This includes (but isn’t limited to) deploying smart HVAC technologies, installing smart thermostats (such as Verdant’s ZX and VX Thermostats), adopting renewable energy sources, curbing water consumption, and undertaking other community efforts.

By becoming ESG compliant, student housing operators can renegotiate more favorable terms on existing financing, attract new investment, or qualify for additional financing which, in turn, allows them to expand both their operation and further sustainability efforts.

How Verdant can make your student housing property more energy efficient

In a growth economy, inflation impacts business and operating costs. Fortunately, student housing managers can use Verdant to optimize their energy consumption, and reduce their rising overhead operating costs. In many instances, Verdant customers have seen their investment repaid in as little as 12 months.

Verdant’s energy management system integrates directly with smart HVAC systems and many third-party smart lighting solutions to collect real time data on occupancy patterns, peak demand loads, and historical thermodynamics, and then use that data to continuously optimize student housing energy consumption all-year round. Furthermore, our smart thermostats integrate with Demand Response, allowing student housing managers to avoid energy price surges during peak demand times.

Student Housing Trends: A Look Ahead 

Climate change poses a clear and present risk to every business, but no one is going to feel the costs greater than future generations. So student housing managers need to address those challenges both on behalf of their business and their residents.

Consequently, student housing managers are relying more on sustainable energy management best practices. Fortunately, these efforts also reduce costs and even generate new sources of revenue. Indeed, these measures will not only ensure a bright future for their residents, but ultimately protect and bolster their bottom line.

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