A lack of clear information, data, and resources about green standards, programs, and initiatives, has many in the apartment industry bewildered. Rightly so, said Courtney Moriarta, senior engineer at Steven Winter Associates; Doug Walker, senior vice president at UDR; and Scot Haislip, state and local policy manager at the National Apartment Association; during a roundtable-style discussion on green building at the AFT Conference in Phoenix, Ariz., last week.

The roundtable touched on a variety of areas in the green sector, launching the discussion with candid observations on how the now ANSI-approved National Green Building Standard and the more aspirational LEED certification program can work together. In addition, Moriarta pointed out several new standards that will be emerging in the next year, including the EPA’s Energy Star rating program for high-rise multifamily (anything taller than four stories).

A significant portion of the discussion also centered on some of the legislative challenges that will emerge during Obama’s term in office, including the cap-and-trade tax issues, increased utility regulations, and green labeling initiatives. “On the cap-and-trade end, we may find ourselves in a position where all the savings and returns that we were seeing with green will be wiped out because the utility companies have the right to pass those taxes down through to the consumer,” Walker said.

When it comes to more specific greening initiatives, Walker encouraged the group to install new light bulbs and easy-to-use programmable thermostats as ways to achieve energy savings with little up-front costs. “If you don’t do those two things, you’re missing 60 percent to 70 percent of the opportunity. That’s the low-hanging fruit,” he said. Swapping out failing appliances for Energy Star-rated ones, as well as upgrading HVAC systems, are solid second-tier green upgrades, he added.

One interesting issue emerging on the horizon is the legal and insurance challenges of green buildings. Haislip said that “green” often has an implied warranty of being healthier than traditional properties, so many in the industry speculate that lawsuits could emerge long-term. As a result, it’s important to be careful in your advertising as it relates to your green buildings and features—if you say you will lower energy bills by 20 percent, make sure to do so.

“Green is changing every day. We don’t even know how to define green yet,” Haislip concluded.