12 Apr

We Asked, Members Answered

It May Be Easy Being Green. But Is it Affordable?

In Chambers’ club industry survey, Club ’22 — Club of the Future, we asked a series of questions about interest in and the importance of sustainability for private clubs.  Responses ranged from those who felt clubs have a unique responsibility for environmental stewardship — as pillars of their communities and major land users — to a small percentage who felt sustainability just wouldn’t be a club industry priority (4.4%).  Most fell in the “We’re doing our part but could do more” camp (65%).

When it comes to building and capital improvements, however, there seemed to be a resounding chorus of “Unfortunately, it’s just not financially feasible” for the industry.  With so much interest and sweeping skepticism, we set out to determine if that really were the case and to find out what the experts in the design and building industry might offer as options for being — and building — green.

RJ Donnelly of Donnelly Energy SolutionsRJ Donnelly
LEED AP & Vice President
Donnelly Energy Solutions 

RJ Donnelly, vice president of Donnelly Energy Solutions — the green building arm of Donnelly Construction — doesn’t yet see a tremendous emphasis on green building in the private club space. He expects a sea change when club leadership begins to transition to younger generations in the coming years who are “more aware of both the long and short term benefits” of investments in green building,” he says. Still, Donnelly makes the case that clubs can make a significant difference now, with low cost investments and those with clear and/or immediate returns on investment, and with a few behavioral changes.

Among his suggestions:

  • Specify eco-friendly products. Virtually every manufacturer carries a green product line. Curb or eliminate off-gassing (the release of volatile chemicals into the air) with environmentally healthy paints, carpeting, adhesives, sealants and flooring
  • Consider upgrading to spray insulation in older clubhouse buildings to help with air and weather sealing
  • Compost. Clubs generate a lot of food waste. “One low cost concrete composter stashed in a corner of your property can reduce your carting costs by more than half — and you can recycle the compost across your property,” says Donnelly
  • Replace old HVAC equipment with high efficiency systems. Savings over time will cover the cost, Donnelly assures

Take advantage of resources at your disposal:

  • Make sure you’re leveraging benefits and incentives offered by your state, such as New Jersey’s Clean Energy program (Donnelly’s home state)
  • Reach out to your local US Green Building chapter to see if they can provide information on how to operate your club in a more efficient manner. Donnelly’s New Jersey USGBC chapter, for instance, created a guide for the hospitality industry that educates businesses on how to operate and manage in a more eco-friendly way
  • Train your staff to operate and maintain the buildings and property more responsibly

MaryLynn Mellinger Chambers Interior DesignerMaryLynn Mellinger
LEED Green Associate & Interior Designer

Chambers Interior Designer MaryLynn Mellinger admits, “Everyone has good intentions, but in the end, costs speak volumes.” She expects that it may take legislative pressures for private clubs to significantly change their building practices, but suggests that in the interim clubs can look to lessen their impact on everything from carbon emissions to water usage. Low cost options with big impact? “Install bike racks, use mulch!”

Builders Greg Carlson and Michael ThomasGreg Carlson
Executive Vice President
Michael Thomas
Senior Project Manager
The Weitz Company

The Weitz Company focuses on environmental responsibility in every one of its building projects, says Executive Vice President Greg Carlson. While Carlson acknowledges that the process to achieve LEED certification (the U.S. Green Building Council’s green building verification program) can be costly for private, not-for-profit clubs, the paperwork isn’t as important as the effort. “Everyone wants to do the right thing,” he says.Senior Project Manager Michael Thomas, who works predominantly in Florida, is seeing progress where building codes mandate compliance. He also sees opportunity for clubs to take “reasonable steps” that can net significant impact, noting that Weitz often includes in its standard building package, “salt water pools, low-VOC paints and materials, low energy lighting and systems to control electricity use based on occupancy.”


Jennie Nolan EnvironmentalistJennie Nolan
Attorney & Adjunct Professor
of Law 
Land Use Law Center
Pace Law School, White Plains, NY 

Attorney, Professor and Environmentalist Jennie Nolan helped write the book on sustainable building — literally; she partnered with the USGBC in the development of a manual for building sustainable neighborhoods. Her advice to clubs trying to balance the desire for better environmental practices and cost concerns:

  • Don’t let LEED accreditation costs scare you. Get to know and follow the IGCC (International Green Construction Code) without focusing on certification. This is more relevant for municipalities than LEED, “which was really designed for developers,” she says
  • Simple additions and materials can make sizeable impact — introduce indoor plants to help improve indoor air quality and filter out pollutants. Specialty doormats can remove toxins from shoes
  • Look carefully at club purchasing decisions. Everything from glues to durable goods can contribute to off-gassing

Jim Goodman General ManagerJim Goodman
General Manager
The Glacier Club, Durango, CO

“I’m not an economist,” says Jim Goodman, general manager of The Glacier Club in Colorado.  Still, Goodman reasons that “some initiatives will make sense and provide ROI (return on investment) and some may never generate the return we want.” So he looks at environmental responsibility as a zero sum game. “As a whole, the pursuit of environmental initiatives can be financially viable,” he says, pointing out that the art is in the balance — that is, offsetting the more costly initiatives with ones that generate measurable financial benefit.  “We are always trying to produce programs that provide environmental benefits and generate savings that can, in turn, fund other initiatives that may not net the same kind of financial results.”

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