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Environmental Concerns

Painting Retirement Green

Older Americans find ways to reduce their carbon footprint





giant wind turbines

— Photo by David McNew/Getty Images

Robert Lane, 91, traces the start of his environmental activism to 2006, when he and a friend screened An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore’s documentary on the climate crisis, at his continuing care community near New Haven, Conn.

“We found quite a bit of interest in it,” says the retired Harvard political scientist. “Residents wanted to take action, starting with where they live.”

Take action they did. They formed a “Green Council” to explore how they could make the Whitney Center a more eco-friendly human habitat. Management at the retirement home made it clear that dollars and cents had to be conserved along with the environment, Lane says, so the Green Council looks for ways to save both. “We are always pressing management to take certain action,” Lane says. “They’ve been wonderful on recycling.”

Today, the Whitney Center is expanding and, to the satisfaction of Green Council members, the new construction will be built according to the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) guidelines, a national standard for green construction established by the U.S. Green Building Council.

“The next stop is to reduce driving,” says Lane. “We have to learn to think not in terms of money, but of carbon.”

Rising green tide

Lane and the Whitney Center’s Green Council are not alone. An activist fire has kindled in the bellies of Americans over the age of 50. It’s an activism born of increasing concern for the environment—for what sort of Earth they will leave future generations and for what makes their own surroundings healthy to live in now. Many of them had recycled and tried to conserve fossil fuels while living in their own homes. Now, after moving to retirement and continuing care communities, they’re forming green committees with like-minded neighbors and blazing a bright green path.

Beyond working with the Whitney Center to step up recycling and energy efficiency, the Green Council reached out to other continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs), wrote a handbook on conservation for CCRCs and even created the National Senior Conservation Corps, a network of about 40 retirement homes across 10 states. Last year the council won a Connecticut Climate Change Leadership Award.

Whether to cut energy costs or to better position themselves in the increasingly competitive housing marketplace for the over-50 set—or even to help save the planet—developers and property managers are jumping on the green train, too. According to the U.S. Green Building Council, only one senior-housing developer registered to seek LEED certification for new construction each year from 2005 through 2007. In 2008, seven did.

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