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BUILDING A MORE SUSTAINABLE FUTURE FOR SENIOR LIVING, Part 6: Winning Scenarios in Senior-friendly Community Planning


The rationale for communities adopting sustainable senior living policies, regulations, and practices is as much economic as it is social. The beauty of such a movement is that everyone, not just seniors, benefit in terms of personal savings, health, and social connectivity. By acting sooner rather than later, the costs of change will be lower and accrued savings may be reinvested into future sustainable senior living programs and infrastructures. McKinsey Global Institute researchers’ rigorous argument for carefully targeting cost-effective opportunities to boost energy productivity (McKinsey Global Institute, 2007) is a key to financing sustainable senior living com-munities. McKinsey focuses on boosting productivity by making existing technology work more efficiently. Simply, building and home owners get more production from the energy they currently use, or they continue their existing level of output with less energy. They realize savings which can then be invested in more advanced energy saving technology. Applied at a global scale, and based on a 10% rate of return, there is the ‘‘potential to cut global energy demand by—the equivalent of 64 million barrels of oil per day, or almost 150% of the entire U.S. energy consumption today’’ (McKinsey, 2007, p. 17).

Applied to the design and construction of built environments that foster sustainable senior living, we can multiply a community’s return on investment. McKinsey’s approach to boosting productivity within individual buildings and realizing savings can also be applied to the other trends. If an existing community becomes more compact and as a result saves water, reduces greenhouse gas emissions and its carbon footprint, improves the health of the public, and employs seniors’ energy and talents, than the municipality should be able to finance the changes. Less energy would be needed to do what the community already does. Water capture and reuse would lower the costs of purchasing water lost down storm drains. Improved health would help increase productivity as absenteeism drops and opportunities for seniors to contribute to their communities would reduce the impact of a growing workforce gap.

Communities that reduce their citizens’ automobile dependency through higher density mixed-use built environments that invite a multigenerational mix of residents will, in turn, foster increased social capital (Putnam, 2000). The current growing isolation of seniors in suburban environments would give way to productive multigenerational environments capable of blending the best of the community’s youth with seniors’ wealth of practical knowledge gained from years of experience. Such a joining of minds, talents, and energy would prove healthier for both ends of the age spectrum.

And finally, given all the benefits gained by sustainable senior living, NIMBYs would be wise to consider the fact that they too are aging. And someday, sooner than they think, they too will be seniors, will wish to age in place, and will likely be happy if they supported sustainable senior living.


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