Kelly Vickers, vice president of corporate social responsibility at Alliance Residential.
Kelly Vickers, vice president of corporate social responsibility at Alliance Residential.

Alliance Residential, the largest multifamily developer and No. 4 multifamily manager in the nation this year, is doubling down this year on its efforts to reduce waste across its organization, including its portfolio of over 450 properties across 36 U.S. markets.

The developer’s yearlong campaign includes property-level waste analyses, new recycling and composting programs, and educational resources and support for employees and residents alike—starting with a “zero-waste” event at the company’s annual employee conference in February. Alliance has also been awarded a Phoenix Green Business Leader platinum-level certification from the city this year, in recognition of its sustainability efforts. It is the first multifamily company to earn this designation at any level.

MFE caught up with Kelly Vickers, vice president of corporate social responsibility at Alliance Residential, to learn more about the company’s waste management campaign, reduction strategies, and awareness and education methods.

MFE: When did Alliance Residential begin its waste reduction program, and how has it evolved over time?

Vickers: Our waste reduction efforts have definitely evolved over time. We’ve had waste guidelines as part of our sustainability program for more than seven years, but we hadn’t been able to wrap our arms around our waste stream or been able to understand our diversion rate and set goals. This is happening now, and we are really excited about the direction we’re headed.

Waste is a major issue in our industry, and—as one of the largest privately held multifamily companies in the country—we have a responsibility to do something about it.

MFE: How will Alliance’s properties reduce waste at the individual level? What strategies will they use?

Vickers: We have a national accounts program with a partner who analyzes each property’s waste stream. They look at current hauler services, rates, and right-sizing opportunities; scrub for billing errors; assess opportunities to further reduce waste by improving contamination issues via resident education; help with implementing recycling and composting programs where they aren’t yet in place; and flag compliance issues such as proper recycling of e-waste, household batteries, etc. We are also in talks with Valet Living to increase composting efforts in markets where this is feasible.

Many of these efforts are driven at the corporate level. Centralizing our focus around waste as a top sustainability initiative for 2019 was the first step, and adding more support and educational resources is the second big piece. We want our teams to be able to focus on this specific area and engage with our ongoing communication on this topic rather than feeling pulled in multiple directions across many sustainability efforts. Our company-wide campaign throughout the rest of the year will deliver education on waste-related terminology, show our associates how to find and use data in our partner's portal, provide suggested methods to improve waste reduction efforts, etc.

We want our operators to not only take more ownership over their property’s waste but also better understand the waste stream and diversion rates and start setting goals to improve those diversion rates. We then plan on continuing the conversation and waste reduction focus into 2020 and will dive even deeper into improving diversion rates.

MFE: At the institutional and corporate level, what strategies will Alliance Residential use to reduce waste across its portfolio?

Vickers: We’re working very closely with a partner to onboard properties to the national accounts program, monitor our waste-related KPIs, improve education around contamination, and provide more resources to our teams. Awareness and education for both our associates and our residents is top priority this year. Through our yearlong waste campaign, supported by streamlined, consistent communications and better resources, we are confident that we’ll make a difference. And then we’ll go deeper into waste reduction and waste diversion.

MFE: How did Alliance carry out its “zero-waste" event at its annual employee conference this year? What did this event entail?

Vickers: Because we’re focusing on waste so heavily this year, we decided to kick off the waste conversation and get our associates engaged by going zero-waste at ARCX, our annual employee conference. It was a great opportunity to show our associates that, as a company, we are walking the walk and are as focused on our own diversion efforts as we are on the diversion rates of our properties.

So, what did that entail? Well, zero-waste means nothing goes to landfill and, of course, that was our goal. We first focused on areas where we could eliminate waste. Examples included banning packaged snacks, plastic straws, plastic stir sticks, sugar packets, other single-use items, and disposable dishes/silverware. We also drastically reduced the paper materials used throughout our conference by amping up our digital signage and relying heavily on our conference app for communications (to include a messaging series about what we were doing to be zero-waste and encouraging our associates and vendor sponsors to do their part).

Next, we looked at where we could repurpose/reuse items. We reused some decorations from other events during the conference and invested in branded wooden drink tokens to replace the paper tickets used in prior years so that we could collect back and use again (and we branded as Alliance versus ARCX so that they have flexibility to be used for other corporate events as well). We also collected all used and partially used toiletries from our hotel rooms and partnered with Clean the World to recycle these items to be made into new hygiene products that help combat hygiene-related deaths in developing countries.

We ensured all food waste was either donated or composted and cooking oil was recycled into biodiesel. We didn’t have trash cans anywhere in the conference area; instead, we had composting and recycling bins. We also ordered zero-waste recycling boxes from Terracycle for items that couldn’t be traditionally recycled or composted.

MFE: Can you tell me about some more of your corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives?

Vickers: Our CSR initiatives span sustainability, volunteering and philanthropy, and employee wellness. Focus Green is our company-wide sustainability program, which we rolled out back in 2012. The goals of this program are to reduce our consumption of energy and natural resources, and engage our properties and residents in more sustainable lifestyles and operations. It is structured around six categories that address energy efficiency, water conservation, waste reduction, sustainable purchasing, building and occupant health, and engagement.

Alliance Cares is the charity arm of the company, rooted in making a positive difference through volunteer work and philanthropy. It is structured around three categories that are very much aligned with our business model and collective passions: (1) supporting those in vulnerable housing situations, (2) community advocacy, and (3) protecting the environment. We see these three segments as interconnected, impacting the concept of “home,” as well as our local communities across the nation, and our larger community on planet Earth.

aLIVE, our wellness program, is about creating a culture that inspires the Alliance team to discover new approaches to well-being at work, at home, and everywhere in between. Through communication, education, activities, and incentives, we are focused on improving productivity, morale, safety, community activism, and health-care savings. Its pillars include: Live Well (physical and mental well-being); Live Responsibly (financial well-being); Live Focused (career well-being); Live Together (social well-being); and Live to Give (community well-being).