As we work within our universe of utility management, our job descriptions often require us to be at least some part asset manager, regional supervisor, property manager, service manager, project manager, financial analyst, auditor, accountant, sales, marketing, IT, and (increasingly) environmentalist. The cool kids’ word of the day is “sustainability,” and though we know the definition, we struggle with its exact meaning.

Think of the word “red.” We all know what red is, right? We’ve known what red is before kindergarten. And yet, how do you describe red to someone who doesn’t know what red is? We point to a red car. We point to a red apple. Perhaps we point to a red marker, and say, “those things are red.” And yet, the shade of a red car, an apple, a red marker, are all slightly different.

Some might argue that certain shades of red are more orange and not really red at all. How do you even begin to describe red to those who cannot see red and instead see what we would consider grey/green?

In the same vein, sustainability means different things to different organizations. Even within an organization, sustainability within the portfolio may look different from one region to another, from one asset to another. Recycling is sustainability—would anyone disagree? Benchmarking is sustainability—would anyone argue that more data is useless? Herein we point to things within our universe of utility management and say “these things are related to sustainability.” We may disagree about the execution of sustainability, but we’re already talking and acting on it… it’s all some kind of red, maybe a bit of orange. And it’s all progress.

Many organizations now consider utilities a controllable expense, in some measure, through systems, people, and processes. It’s an exciting time when the historically-contrarian objectives of NOI and rate of return begin to align with those of residents, sustainability, and environmentalism.

Many of us have the power to impact a large portion of an asset’s financial performance with decisions we make and programs we manage. As Uncle Ben said to Peter Parker: With great power, comes great responsibility. Now go out there, be a utility management hero, and save the world.

Oh great. One more thing to add to the job description.

Peter Chan, Fairfield Residential, Director of Ancillary Services and Journal Guest Editor

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