Saving millions at the flip of a switch

At a glance…

By creating an energy council, Brookdale Senior Living is saving huge amounts on monthly utility expenses while staying true to “green” principles.

When you enter a room and switch on the light, does your mind focus on the costs occurring at that very moment? Brookdale Senior Living, one of the nation’s largest senior living providers, recently implemented a company-wide lighting initiative that addresses this simple action of “flipping the switch,” reaping environmental benefits and savings in the process.

In early 2009, Brookdale formed its Energy Council-a handpicked team of company executives representing various departments, including: clinical, interior design, asset management, finance, procurement, operations, and Optimum Life,®*

Optimum Life is a wellness philosophy envisioned by Brookdale and practiced by residents and associates.

-that investigates and prioritizes opportunities of energy demand reduction and monitors results and progress. The team’s ultimate goal is to take responsibility for the company’s energy usage, both for this and future generations, by tracking, reviewing, and reducing it anywhere possible.

Focal point: Illumination

One of the Energy Council’s first initiatives was to change to more energy-efficient lighting in Brookdale communities-altogether, more than 560 communities in 35 states accounting for 500,000,000 kilowatt hours each year.

Upon completion of the initiative, Brookdale increased community lighting while reducing the energy consumed. Through collaboration with E. Sam Jones, Brookdale’s national vendor contractor for light bulbs, the right product specifications for Brookdale communities were determined; a warranty tracking process, which saves the maintenance team time and money, was implemented; and a ship schedule plan for the new bulbs was rolled out to keep from disrupting the communities. Because of these steps, energy savings are expected to exceed $5 million per year.

Before making any alterations, Brookdale conducted extensive research into industry standards, the psychology and physiology behind lighting levels, and building and company standards, to name a few points of interest.

“Everything we do is research-based, and design is a critical factor as well,” says David Hammonds, senior vice president of asset management for Brookdale. “Residents and associates will reap benefits from the changes made, both in an obvious and a subtle manner. In addition, we rely heavily on direct feedback from residents, families, and staff,” he adds.

A poster promoting Brookdale’s lighting initiative

For example, after changing lighting levels at Sterling House Goodlettsville, an assisted living community in Tennessee, a nurse commented that the new lights gave her headaches. The Energy Council listened, researched, and responded by looking at alternative products that better met the company’s needs as well as the nurse’s well-being.

Tips for the smaller provider

Scale has certainly helped enable Brookdale’s current energy strategy, but even if a company is smaller in size it can do some things to help the environment and lower electric costs at the same time. Here’s useful advice for any provider:

  • Electric usage will go down by 10% on average when focusing on the lights in common areas or the ones that are running the most in a community. Replacing bulbs that don’t run often (for example, in closets) still saves money, but it also increases the payback period. Don’t forget about outside lights in the parking lots-they generally consume a large amount of electricity.

  • Pay attention to the bulbs you buy. Cheaper is not always better. The brand Brookdale uses is Sylvania and, in general, the company has a two-year warranty or more on the bulbs. Cheaper bulbs will wear out faster and decrease overall savings.

  • Consider partnering with a third-party company that will track, manage, and process any rebates offered by the utility companies. The rebates vary by utility company; depending on the utility and the rebate incentive, the savings could be anywhere from $2 to $5 per bulb or ballast.

  • Brookdale’s Asset Management and Interior Design group developed the specifications for which type of bulb to use and read the lamp levels to make sure new bulbs were not too dim or too bright. If you don’t have the equipment to read lamp levels, ask your distributor to assist with that part of the project.

Late in 2008, Brookdale developed a strategic partnership with Advantage IQ, an expense management service, to process and pay its utility bills. Their systems and tools now give Brookdale the ability to track and monitor energy usage and spending on a site level. These reports allow the senior living provider to identify where it has additional opportunities to reduce energy consumption by using square footage and community product type for comparing one site to another.

One final suggestion is to always be searching for energy savings. During Brookdale’s quarterly business review with key suppliers, the procurement team investigates new ideas in appliances, water irrigation, light-sensing monitors, and solar hot water, which are then brought to the Energy Council for further discussion and evaluation and are prioritized against other projects.

“This initiative is a change in culture. We need to always be thinking of how to be responsible in every aspect of community living,” Hammonds says. “We hope this resonates not only with staff, but also with residents and family members, empowering them to start thinking the same way.”

Jeff Patton has been the vice president of procurement at Brookdale Senior Living for the past five years. He has 20 years of experience in supply chain management and procurement, and prior to coming to Brookdale, was with Kraft Foods. He also leads the Brookdale Energy Council with David Hammonds. Mr. Patton can be reached at

To send your comments to the editor, e-mail

Long-Term Living 2010 June;59(6):53-54

Topics: Articles , Facility management , Finance