Green Retirement Communities (GRC)

Virtually everywhere, the share of “older persons,” aged 60 years or over, is increasing. The number of older people globally is projected to grow from 901 million in 2015 to 1.4 billion in 2030 to 2.1 billion in 2050.  In 2015, one in eight people worldwide were 60 or older; in 2030, this number will be one in six people, and by 2050, one in five people.

According to a report, Golden Aging, published by the World Bank in 2015, the Europe and Central Asia region has among the oldest populations in the world. Europe, in particular, is approaching the end of a demographic transition toward population stabilization, and Central Asia, although still younger, is following quickly.

Seniors in Canada are a rapidly growing segment of the population and are living longer and healthier lives than previous generations. Here is a graph which illustrates the percentage of Canadian male and female population in various age categories:

In 2014, over 6 million Canadians were aged 65 or older, representing 15.6 percent of Canada’s population. According to the chart presented above, in 2018, there were 6,319,902 (a combination of 2,882,762.3 males and 3,437,139.7 female Canadians) Canadians representing 17.1 percent of Canada’s population (36,958,491).

It is predicted that by 2030—in less than two decades—seniors will number over 9.5 million and make up 23 percent of Canadians. Additionally, by 2036, the average life expectancy at birth for women will rise to 86.2 years from the current 84.2 and to 82.9 years from the current 80 for men.

Furthermore, according to Statistics Canada projections, this trend will only increase. By 2031, the agency predicts that nearly one in four Canadians will be over 65.

source: dailyinbox.com

The Climate and Health Assessment by the U.S. Global Change Research Program found that people differ in their sensitivities to climate change and the very young and very old are particu­larly sensitive. Older people are more sensitive due to lifetime exposures, physiolog­ical changes and limited adaptive capacity. With increasing years, the body’s defense mechanisms decline. Older people also often are living with chronic health conditions and functional limitations that may contribute to frailty and disability. 

Here is a fact – climate change impacts not only physical health. According to the Climate Psychiatry Alli­ance, “Mental health is profoundly impacted by the disruptions associated with climate change.” Numerous studies conducted following disasters found “Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among persons who experience a disaster, with the extent of exposure to a disaster being the most important risk factor for the development of disaster-related PTSD.”

Like anybody else, seniors around the world are aware of the human activities, like the burning of fossil fuels, have released sufficient quantities of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases (GHG) to affect the global climate.  The atmospheric concentration of CO2 has increased by more than 30 percent since preindustrial times, trapping more heat in the lower atmosphere. The resulting changes in the global climate bring a range of risks to health, from deaths in extreme high temperatures to changing patterns of infectious diseases.

Source: camp.ca

Seniors are acutely aware of the impact of the climate change and are also interested in contributing the best possible way to save themselves and the earth at large.  They are prepared to modify their life style and consider living in Green Retirement Communities (GRC) with the focus to reduce GHG emissions in order to reduce the health impacts of climate change. For example, promoting and adopting the safe use of public transportation and active movement – such as biking or walking as alternatives to using private vehicles – could help reduce CO2 emissions and improve public health as they know that it will not only help cut traffic injuries, but also air pollution and associated respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. They also know that increased levels of physical activity can lower overall mortality rates.

Woodsedge is Miniosota’s LEED Silver Certified Green Retirement Community Source: popearch.com

Demands for GRC are growing enormously all around the world as environmental sustainability and reducing carbon footprint becoming an incredible concern for seniors and they are making every effort to take up residence in GRC.

In the context of GRC, buildings play an important role as buildings in North America account for:

  • 72 percent Electricity Consumption;
  • 39 percent of Energy Use;
  • 38 percent of all Carbon Dioxide (CO2) Emissions;
  • 40 percent  of Raw Material Use;
  • 30 percent of Waste Output;
  • 136 million tons of waste from Construction and Demolition; and
  • 12 percent of Potable Water Supplies.

The good news is that almost all new GRC are developed in North America with the focus to take advantage of green buildings certified by LEED and green practices designed to help minimize carbon emissions. LEED stands for Leadership, Energy, Environmental, and Design. It is a rating system created by the US Green Building Council (USGBC) that is accepted as a standard for the design, construction, and operation of high performance green buildings. The LEED classification is divided into the following four categories: 1. Certified (40-49 points); 2. Silver (50-59 points); 3. Gold (60-79 points); and 4. Platinum (80 + points). Here are the benefits associated with the green buildings:

  • Benefits of Green Buildings:
    • Environmental Benefits of green buildings include:
      • Protect ecosystems and biodiversity;
      • Improve air and water quality;
      • Reduce solid waste;
      • Conserve natural resources; and
      • Reduce harmful emissions.
    • Economic Benefits of green buildings include:
      • Energy and water savings;
      • Increased property values;
      • Improved employee productivity and job satisfaction; and
      • Reduced operating cost.
    • Social Benefits of green buildings include:
      • Improved Lifestyles and Recreation (Quality of Life);
      • Enhanced occupant comfort and health;
      • Minimized strain on local infrastructure; and
      • Improved air, thermal, and acoustic environments.
Senior Apartments LEED Platinum Certified Source: wodagroup.com

Here is a brief description of Green Buildings as well as Green Practices:

  1. Green Buildings:  According to Global Green USA, a green building is defined as a supportive infrastructure that reduces the use of resources, create healthier living environments for people, and minimize negative impacts on local, regional, and global ecosystems. The elements of a green building include:
    • Sustainable site development;
    • Water conservation and savings;
    • Energy efficiency;
    • Resource Efficient Materials; and
    • Healthy Indoor environmental quality.
  2. Green Practices:  It is unbelievable that every year, Americans throw away: More than 30 percent of the waste is packaging materials. Where does it all go? Some 85 percent of the garbage is sent to a dump, or landfill, although it’s quickly running out of space. Therefore, there is a need to practice the 3 Rs of the environment. In a nutshell:
    • Reduce: Purchase products that require less packaging or to limit the waste you are producing;
    • Reuse: Use a travel mug or reusable water bottle and avoid single-use bags; and
    • Recycle: Paper, plastic, glass, magazines, electronics, and more can be processed into new products while using fewer natural resources and less energy. This is the 3 R’s mantra.
Source: multifamilyexecutive.com

It sounds just great but the fact of the matter is that seniors cannot afford to ignore the question of affordability in selecting a green retirement community. The reality is that:

  1. For the first time ever, seniors made up a bigger share of Canada’s population than children. But the margin is close – In 2016 children aged 14 and under made up 16.6 per cent of the total Canadian population, while seniors made up 16.9 per cent. This doesn’t appear to be uncommon, as the senior populations around the world are growing at an alarming rate and as a result, it is going to take a long time to bridge the gap between the supply and demand for GRC.  In the meanwhile, seniors with money may have to consider settling down in conventional retirement homes;
  2. It is not only in Canada but there is a growing concern across the world that more and more seniors are experiencing money problems.  It has partly to do with the fact that seniors are assisting their children into their adulthood which indeed places significant financial pressure on them.  Unfortunately, adult children not only staying at home with their parents well into their 20’s even 30’s but when they do leave home, they are relying on their senior parents to shore their finances. This indeed depletes resources that seniors need for a secure retirement. In other words, doesn’t matter how much they like the idea of spending their remaining lives in GRC, they may not be able to fulfill their dreams due to lack of adequate finances; and
  3. There are plenty examples of senior couples almost in every society in every country where they worked hard all their lives and got retired from the companies that offered no union protection or pension plans. If they happened to be living in Canada, they must have contributed throughout their adult lives, directly or indirectly, to the government health care, Canada Pension Plan, and Old Age Security which will allow them to reap the benefits when they turned 65.  However, the money they get from the government every month may not be enough to afford the luxury of a green retirement community. This is no different for the self-employed Canadians who represent a significant percentage of the population. They may not have any other choice but to sell the house that they bought and lived in for years. The money from the house may help subsidize their expenses for a while. But they are faced with the most critical question: Wat will happen if they outlived their finances?. 

The question is: Where can they go from here? Here are a couple of hints which may be worth considering:

  1. Better planning for the retirement:  Financial advisers often describe a “U” shape when discussing retirement spending: It starts with an active lifestyle early in retirement, which many fail to take into account in their planning; spending typically levels off as they get older; and finally spikes in later years when health issues become more frequent, persistent and expensive. In plotting out a 20- or 30-year retirement, people need to be honest about what they want out of life. Calculations can’t just be based on basic needs — “finding your number” for what you need to save for retirement needs to also include discretionary spending.  What constitutes a dream retirement and how much will it cost? More importantly, the question needed to be answered – can you afford it?; and
  2. Cost efficiency for the retirement homes:  GRC have a tremendous advantage over conventional retirement homes when it comes to cost effectiveness as LEED certified green buildings no doubt cost more to build, but these buildings are considerably cheaper to maintain.  There is always a huge potential for improving cost effectiveness, if the people who are responsible for managing GRC to consider reengineering their administrative/support processes, deploying new techniques and technologies. This will provide them an excellent opportunity to optimize the performance of their resources and minimize their operational expenses substantially. This will also empower them to lower their monthly rates for seniors, creating a win-win situation.

Generally speaking, it is not cheap either to live in a conventional retirement home depending upon where the homes are located. However, there must be some cost-conscious managers responsible for these homes, who are doing their best to minimize their operational overheads with the objective to make their organizations affordable. Unfortunately, the majority of seniors in every country end up in the government supported retirement homes with limited amenities and unlimited restrictions.

4 August 2019 – Ottawa, Canada