One of the biggest near-future trends in multifamily and commercial construction will be the inclusion of electric (EV) vehicle charging stations in the parking facilities. Which makes sense, as the market analysis organization Statista.com expects a 30 percent market penetration by all-electric vehicles (not hybrids) by 2030.
“For classes A and B residential properties it will be very important to have this feature,” says Chris Laughman, a seasoned expert in real estate environment, social, and governance (ESG) factors. Laughman is a senior director focused on energy and sustainability for one of the world’s largest multifamily real estate firms and holds an MBA in business sustainability. In addition, he is the author of a Substack newsletter, ThirtyNine, which focuses on ESG topics and their impact on real estate and the broader world.
The rapidly unfolding trend toward accommodating EVs in housing is just one of the many changes that residents are demanding. While he appreciates the environmental impact these demands may have, it’s an analysis he makes by with the head, not just the heart. Laughman examines data from sources like Statista and other credible experts, particularly information extracted from individual buildings’ energy performance.
Laughman is nothing if not a believer in evidence—data by another name. Notably, the name of his blog refers to the 39 percent of all global emissions emanating from the built environment. When speaking on the topic, he points out that we are essentially eliminating waste. When you don’t buy energy or water you don’t need, your net operating income improves as well.
His affinity for statistics not only defines Laughman’s mission and how he works but also explains his somewhat unorthodox career arc.
After graduating from college, Laughman went into law enforcement and pursued his first master’s degree in business to help him make sergeant. That was in the 1990s, a decade before the LEED green building ratings system became a household word. A classmate happened to be a property manager who showed Laughman his interest and strengths in statistics could lend itself to a career in real estate.
That classmate was right. Laughman shifted his career focus, first in managing a portfolio of bank branches, then into real estate property management roles, where he reveled in the breadth of building operations and the granular details of electrical and plumbing functions. Over time, instead of managing buildings, he managed portfolios and later moved into more senior roles in facilities management that emphasized sustainability.
Something he discovered in building operations was a lack of focus on utilities cost and consumption. Utilities is often just viewed as the cost of doing business, and we fail to take the time to optimize our use of utilities, he says. Those opportunities translate to improved profitability.
“A dollar saved in operating expense has the same effect as raising the rent a dollar,” Laughman explains. That instinct for identifying efficiency opportunities led him to seeing employers’ savings as a savings for the planet as well. “For every kilowatt we do not need, that kilowatt could be directed to another property that does need it or, better yet, maybe it doesn’t even have to be produced at all.”
“I have this tendency to throw myself into understanding things,” he notes, which is an understatement. Along the way between dual master’s degrees, he studied for and qualified as a LEED AP in operations and maintenance, was educated as a climate educator in the Climate Reality Project, earned several certifications with the International Facility Management Association, a GGP (Green Globes Professional) with the Green Building Initiative, and a Fitwell Ambassador (Fitwell Certification System).
Why so much study, and what does it enable him to do professionally? He chalks it all up to curiosity. “It’s primarily about figuring out the puzzle,” he says. “Why is this building inefficient?”
Notice his use of the singular “building.” That is because, he explains, while using big data to understand out which buildings are not performing efficiently, every building is unique. This might seem odd given how he works with large, national real estate firms that have, literally, thousands of structures.
He says there are some predictive characteristics, such building age (structures built in the 1960s and 1970s tend to be the least energy efficient), that provide indicators as to how a building might use energy. Sometimes, he points out, much older structures might surprise you: their thicker walls can create surprisingly good envelopes, while newer buildings are built to much higher energy code standards.
But the siting and orientation, specifics of the building design (e.g., size and orientation of windows), construction systems used, and the age of the mechanical systems (HVAC and plumbing) mean that analysis of utility efficiencies is best done on a building-by-building basis. For example, he once replaced all toilet flush mechanisms in a 300-unit apartment building in Miami. It ended a widespread problem with leaks—and the investment paid off in less than four months.
Despite this microtargeting of building-by-building data and analysis, Laughman also factors for something much larger, broader, and impactful: time. He understands well the long-range implications of carbon and is personally and professionally determined to reduce how much of it goes into the atmosphere. “My wife and I have two children, and that really changed my worldview,” he says. “I don’t want the kids of today to one day question if we tried.”
And, what of the social and governance parts of ESG? “We might have it backwards,” he admits. “The G should be first because good governance is about policies, procedures, risk tolerance and guiding the organization to ensure your organization is consistently delivering and reducing its impact. The S is important because if we prioritize taking care of people, the rest will take care of itself. Empowering employees, residents, and the community to make a difference is a powerful thing, and when we combine that with diversity, we get better ideas and innovation.”
A US-based real estate investment trust that owns apartment complexes and is a customer of Conservice has rolled out smart water management systems at 61 of its sites. It is using HydroPoint’s smart irrigation controllers and its water analytics and leak detection services, saving the company 143.4 million gallons of water and $1.2 million in water costs last year. Employing these smart water management solutions has also helped the trust maintain curb appeal and thriving landscaping, all while reducing its water use and achieving recognition as a Residential Sector Leader by GRESB.