Will green building initiatives eventually become profit drivers as opposed to cost centers? That was the question posed to three multifamily sustainability experts on the "Seeing Green" panel held at the Multifamily Executive Conference moderated by Greenwood Village, Colo.-based Laramar president and CEO Dave Woodward.

The panelists?Newport Beach, Calif.-based Wood Partners Director Rick Mercer; Highlands Ranch, Colo.-based UDR senior vice president of asset quality and green initiatives Doug Walker; and Washington, D.C.-based National Association of Home Builders senior vice president of multifamily Sharon Dworkin Bell?agreed that "green" is fast becoming a profit opportunity for multifamily players, particularly those willing to embrace straight-forward initiatives.

UDR, for example, has decided to replace more than 1.2 million incandescent light bulbs across the company's portfolio and add programmable thermostats to all units. The expected energy savings is roughly $50 per month directly to residents. In turn, UDR is marketing the initiative and hopes to get a $20 rent premium for being green-minded. Sound far-fetched? A survey of UDR residents indicates that over 82 percent are ready to pay up.

"Four years from today, green building is going to be just like a clubhouse," Mercer said. "You won't be able to design, finance, or build any multifamily project in America without it. We want to get out in front of that." Mercer previewed the Wood Partners Green Evaluation Model (G.E.M) and emphasized that regardless of which green building certification standard is sought, multifamily developers and owners can find incremental cost savings by going green, and should likewise explore opportunities in an incremental fashion, and shoot for achievable action items and lower demand systems such as Energy Star, rather than overwhelming themselves with larger or more demanding certification processes.

Dworkin Bell additionally gave conference attendees an update on the status of the NAHB's National Green Building Standard. Developed with several industry stakeholders, including the National Multi Housing Council, the standard is written in simple building code language and is designed to be straightforward and less expensive than existing standards to implement. The standard has passed several public comment periods and is currently being reviewed by ANSI for an expected approval either by the end of this year or early in 2009. ANSI does not provide approval dates or timelines to organizations seeking certification of their programs.