In 2010, Mercy Ridge became the first retirement community in the country to receive a silver LEED certification for an existing building. But for Gary Pfeifer, the director of facilities, the third-highest certification in the Operations and Maintenance Rating System (O&M) category wasn’t enough.
“During the celebration I made a comment to a few close colleagues that when we go for our recertification, we’re going to be moving from silver to gold,” he says.
When Mercy Ridge had first submitted for the certification, it was only three points away from receiving gold. This motivated Pfeifer and the rest of the staff to discover more ways their facility could be more sustainable.
By 2015, after installing higher efficiency boilers, LED lights and many other changes, Mercy Ridge submitted their project for recertification with the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) and this time achieved their objective of LEED gold.
Mercy Ridge is located in Timonium, Maryland. The retirement community has independent and assisted living units that vary in sizes from one bedroom to two bedroom apartments, and are designed so residents can live as though they were in their own homes with kitchens, personalized furniture and washer and dryers. The facility also has a continental breakfast program, fitness center and indoor pool.
“I think the best I could say [about the community] is to paraphrase a resident who commented that Mercy Ridge is like taking a cruise without ever leaving the port,” says Pfeifer.
Journey to LEED
For Mercy Ridge, becoming LEED certified was just another way to offer residents a healthy, vibrant community to live in.
However, Pfeifer was interested in sustainability long before working at Mercy Ridge. In the 1990s, he was a general manager for a custodial and maintenance service provider for Towson University in Towson, Maryland, where he helped establish the university’s first, award-winning recycling program.
Prior to opening Mercy Ridge in 2001, he became a member of the International Facility Management Association (IFMA), the world’s largest organization for facility management professionals. Pfeifer said he learned how facility managers in other industries were adopting the sustainability movement by attending IFMA’s conferences.
In 2009, he presented the idea of becoming LEED certified to his Executive Director, George Oxx. He also reached out to other co-directors in the community, explaining the marketing, financial and health benefits.
Pfeifer says one of his biggest supporters early on was the marketing group at Mercy Ridge because they saw LEED as a way of distinguishing the community. But after his presentation, “everybody in the community was hands down for it,” he says.
Mercy Ridge already had some sustainable initiatives such as recycling programs and switching from light switches to light sensors, which save energy by automatically turning off the lights when no one is in the room.
After Mercy Ridge pursued LEED, the community began to look for even more ways to become “green”, such as adding higher MERV filtration to the heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems (HVAC). The community also reduced its carbon footprint by using fewer cars on resident outings.
Going for gold
All of these initiatives, and many more, contributed to the silver LEED rating. To achieve the gold rating, Pfeifer says one of the biggest initiatives was changing the community’s “dinosaur” cast-iron boiler for a more energy efficient heating system.
Mercy Ridge also began looking for ways to recycle or reuse the building materials it tore out for apartment renovations. For instance, the community would donate the vanities, kitchen sinks, tubs or appliances removed from the apartments to Habitat for Humanity. Mercy Ridge also partnered with its carpet supplier to recycle all the carpet it removed.
“This way everything goes back into the marketplace in one way, shape or form and doesn’t have to end up in a landfill,” say Pfeifer.
The community even partnered with its landscaper to use sustainable techniques for landscaping, such as using environmentally-friendly lawn-care products.
Pfeifer says having the right partners is one of the reasons Mercy Ridge has been able to maintain and improve on its green initiatives.
“When I’m looking for service partners, whether it be HVAC, mechanical or environmental services, I look to bring folks on that will help me continue to achieve the sustainable goals that we have set,” says Pfeifer.
The community’s environmental services partner, CMS, for instance, does the post-construction cleaning after Mercy Ridge finishes renovating apartments as well as carpet cleaning throughout the common areas of the community. “They understand and support the whole philosophy of sustainable operations [and] that really makes all the difference,” says Pfeifer.
Pfeifer says residents enjoy being part of a much larger movement.
While younger generations are usually associated with environmentalism, Pfeifer says residents at Mercy Ridge are very involved with the sustainability movement. On resident even called his generation “the first sustainable generation.”
“Think about it,” Pfeifer recalls the resident saying, “During the Depression, during the World War II, we were recycling tires and paper and everything else we could. [Sustainability] is something we already understand and believe in.”
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