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New Textbook Covers Sustainable Property Management Practices

Openly-licensed textbook on sustainability covers energy efficiency, water efficiency, waste management and indoor air quality   April 5, 2024

By Jeff Wardon, Jr., Assistant Editor

Sustainability in the built environment has become a priority for many facility managers, both present and future. Aiding in this is education, which lays the groundwork for facility managers’ knowledge and understanding for their profession.  

FacilitiesNet recently spoke with Erin Hopkins, associate professor of property management in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences at Virginia Tech, about her openly-licensed textbook “Sustainable Property Management.” This book is about sustainability practices in property management such as energy efficiency, water efficiency, waste management and indoor environmental quality. 

FacilitiesNet: What does this open textbook cover in depth? 

Erin Hopkins: When we see the term sustainability, I think that conjures up something a little different for everyone. So first, it is about operationalizing that term within property management. Although sustainability as used in the real estate context is about preserving the environment, it is more than that. That is what this book really covers – sustainable property management.  

Sustainability encompasses three spheres: environmental, social and economic. We look at them separately and then we talk about how we can reconcile these three spheres throughout the operations and maintenance phase of the building life cycle. That is done in such a way that balance is achieved between economic development, which we know that economic bottom line is so important, the protection of the environment and then social resources as well.  

However, that might not always be the case. We might not be able to balance all three of those spheres. So, an example would be something like installing LED lights in the building lobby. That would apply to all building types – if they have a lobby – so environmentally that is positive because we are using less energy.  

When we think about LED lights from a social perspective, it is kind of neutral. The lights are always on, so tenants do not have to really wait for the LEDs to warm up and they will likely not really notice the difference. Then on that economic sphere, it is positive because LED lights, although they are more expensive to purchase, they are more efficient and will reduce energy bills over time. 

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That is just an example that you can talk through about those different spheres and what makes sense. It is about thinking through each of the spheres instead of just looking at the environment or just looking at economics. When we think about sustainable property management, this book specifically looks at the nuts and bolts of property management operations from a sustainability lens. So, it goes through the main functions of property management boots-on-the-ground operations such as human resources, relationship management, finance and accounting, maintenance, risk management, marketing and leasing. Again, it is about how we can perform these core functions in a sustainable way, and can we balance all three spheres of sustainability while performing these functions. 

FN: What do you hope this open textbook will do for those who read it? 

Hopkins: This textbook aims to link sustainability to real estate and property management, which are inherently place-based disciplines. So, the hope is that future property management leaders will be equipped after being provided as students with a holistic perspective throughout the chapters of this book. The chapters all really look at sustainability, property management across property types and how that contributes to human and ecological health.  

The other hope is for them to also be able to recommend specific strategies to make buildings more sustainable both at an asset level and company level. So, I hope it gives a fresh perspective when evaluating the property management function, so they realize the benefits of the environment, the building occupants and the community. It is really about trying to find a way to benefit all three of these stakeholders. 

FN: What inspired you to make this open text? 

Hopkins: The first and foremost reason for this was to enable a broader range of students, especially those with challenging financial situations, to have an equal opportunity in our property management program here at Virginia Tech. As anyone that has taken courses knows, textbooks can be expensive. Some students do not obtain the required textbook for a course simply because of that price barrier, so the idea was that I can offer students a free required textbook in my class.  

That is the reason why it was an open textbook. I really wanted to develop a high-quality resource to really equip our future property managers by introducing them to essential concepts regarding ecological sustainability, as it really relates to property management operations. I also really wanted to consider diversity, inclusion and accessibility related issues in property management. So, things such as links between environmental issues and place based economic disparities, universal design, etc. These things address the accessibility for the built environment and building management. Then it also addresses the role of buildings regarding greenhouse gas emissions and property managers ecological responsibilities.  

When we talk about open textbooks, or open educational resources (OERs), I really wanted to hopefully make this textbook inspire others at Virginia Tech and at other higher education institutions to create more of these OERs for students. Doing so would lower that financial barrier and allow more access to the required material in their courses. 

So, having this out there for anyone that reaches out to talk through how open licensing and sharing benefits students, faculty and their departments is exciting. It is the first comprehensive, up-to-date resource that really focuses on the important topic of green real estate management. It significantly enhances that learning and sets students up for success upon graduation because they have had a full course on sustainable property management. 

Jeff Wardon, Jr. is the assistant editor for the facilities market. 


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