When you see an apartment building constructed in the 1980s, you might think that it’s an environmental liability.  Not necessarily so.

Here’s what one eco-conscious property manager has done to make her ‘80s-era properties more green, and at the same time inspire her tenants to be greener too.

Monika Caemmerer manages five three-storey apartment buildings on Tomken Road in Mississauga. When she took over management of the 68 units four years ago, she was determined to do what she could to put them on a more sustainable path. Horrified by the small mountain of waste produced by the tenants’ annual bar-b-que, she set out to make some changes, large and small. 

Tomken Manor
Tomken Manor Apartments

Here’s what she’s done so far:

  • Placed a bulletin board in each of the five buildings urging residents to buy locally and reminding them of the many everyday items that can be repurposed instead of thrown out.
  • Scrapped the plastic (and non-recyclable) gift cards that were the landlord’s holiday present to the tenants. Instead, she wrote to the tenants telling them that money spent on the gift cards, and more, would be directed instead to local charities, including charities devoted to protecting the environment.
  • Enrolled the apartment complex in Bullfrog Power, ensuring that the buildings’ electricity and fuel costs would be offset by an investment by the landlord in renewable energy.
  • Replaced the worn carpets in the tenants’ apartments, which would otherwise have ended up in landfill, with carpeting manufactured by a “cradle-to-cradle” manufacturer whose carpets are made to be recycled.
  • Installed Electric Vehicle (EV) charging stations in the parking area for tenants who might want to switch to EVs.
  • Invested the money in the complex’s reserve fund (intended to pay for necessary repairs) in an investment fund directed exclusively to sustainable investments, such as information technology or health care.
  • Revamped that waste-producing bar-b-que. For the following summer’s event, Monika asked the tenants to bring their own reusable plates and cutlery and she expanded the menu to include vegetarian and vegan choices. She provided a green bin (not yet part of Mississauga’s services to apartment buildings) to collect the organic waste.
Bullfrog Power
Monika enrolled the Tomken Manor Apartments with Bullfrog Power, a green energy company

That’s not all Monika wants to do. Here’s what she has planned for the future:

  • Monika will ask the tenants for suggestions as to which charities they would like to receive the funds re-directed from their holiday gift cards.
  • Because the buildings’ roofs are not suitable for solar panels, Monika intends to install panels on the roofs of carports that will be built in the parking area. She hopes the panels will provide the energy for the EV chargers and more. The carports will shade the cars, reducing the need for air conditioning on hot days and keeping them ice and snow free in winter (reducing idling time when they are cleaned).
  • To further encourage the tenants to switch from gas-powered cars to EVs, bicycles or public transit, Monika will begin to charge tenants for their parking spaces. Up until now, tenants have been entitled to one, sometimes two, free parking spaces per unit. Now they will have to pay to park and any tenant surrendering a parking spot will have $30 deducted from rent. Also, a basement room in one of the buildings will be set aside for bicycle storage, relieving the tenants of the need to store their bikes in their apartments. There will be electric chargers in this room to charge electric bicycles.
  • Monika wants to start a car-sharing program. The landlord will buy an EV and make it available for sharing by the tenants.
  • A space will be provided for a communal vegetable garden with a composter for the tenants’ organic waste. The compost produced will be used to enrich the garden’s soil.

By making these changes Monika hopes not only to make her complex greener but to point the way for her tenants to adopt sustainable practices. As well as giving up their gas-powered cars, she would like to encourage them to separate organic waste and become more aware of reducing waste in general. Some of her tenants, after initially resisting the changes, have told her how grateful they are.

This blog was written by Margaret Slaght, a writer and former television producer who was a Board Member of Environmental Defence between 2012 and 2021.