Elaina Tattersdale believed that one person could make a difference. She dreamed of creating a better world by working in sustainability to improve the impact that buildings have on our environment. Sadly, Elaina was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer and passed away on June 5, 2019, at just 35 years old.
Her parents—2020 IREM President Cheryl Gray, CPM, and Rick Gray, CPM—set aside funds for special treatment, but the cancer acted quickly. “It was important for us to honor her and create something that had meaning to her,” Cheryl said.
Cheryl met with the IREM Foundation Executive Committee and shared her idea. The Gray family would donate $50,000 to seed a fund that would support sustainability in Elaina’s name. There were very few stipulations: The name of the fund should be simple. The funds would support innovation or adoption of sustainability or wellness initiatives in the real estate industry. Applicants should not be limited to just members, or even real estate managers, since Elaina believed that anyone could make a difference. The fund should live on in perpetuity. The Foundation would define the rest.
The Executive Committee eagerly and emotionally accepted the proposal, honored to be entrusted with Elaina’s legacy and the creation of a meaningful program that betters the impact of commercial real estate.
Starting from scratch
The Foundation was new to supporting sustainability, but IREM had been operating its own Certified Sustainable Property program since 2015 and had a roster of experts that the Foundation was able to leverage. A task force of sustainability experts and Foundation board members was created to define the parameters of this new program.
“A significant challenge was to establish a grant program that would both encourage adoption as well as innovation,” says Randy Woodbury, CPM, chair of Elaina’s Sustainability Task Force. “Innovation can be expensive, so it’s often the larger, well-resourced companies that are able to innovate. Yet, the intent of the program is really to help get projects off the ground that might not happen without funding, even if it’s something as simple as implementing a recycling program or planting a community garden.”
Under Woodbury’s leadership, the task force established a set of criteria intentionally designed to be inclusive. Where a large company may get extra points for innovation, a smaller company might earn extra points for demonstrating a need for funding or for proposing a project where the grant would fund a majority of the cost. To encourage the applications for projects both large and small, the task force established three distinct categories: innovate, adopt, and research, with specific ideas for initiatives outlined under “adopt.”
Awaiting the unknown
There was no benchmark for what to expect once the application window opened. Elaina’s Fund had inspired a lot of people, raising an additional $40,000 in its first year, but there was no way to predict what requests would come in or if the applications would align with the intent of the program. When the application window opened in early November, the Foundation received six applications in the first week. It was clear there was interest, and the Foundation eventually received a wide range of applications. By Jan. 31, 2021, 31 applications had been submitted, 25 of which met the criteria to be officially considered.
The selection committee reviewed and scored the applications based on the criteria defined by the task force. “The scoring process gave our committee an objective, unbiased view of which applications truly stood out,” says Jo D. Miller, IREM Foundation board member and chair of the Selection Committee. “There were so many wonderful projects to consider, but with limited funding, the committee needed to make some tough decisions.”
After two rounds of meetings, requests for additional information, and vetting of the candidates, five global grant recipients were chosen, with projects ranging from $500 to $5,000.
Elaina’s passion has indeed lived on through the creation of this program, and the Foundation is truly honored to steward her legacy. The following is a list of the five 2021 Elaina’s Sustainability Fund Grant Recipients, which represent a range of initiatives, scopes, and geographies. We look forward to following the success of these initiatives throughout the year. Check irem.org/elaina for project updates, application information, or to donate.
In Africa, waste is often disposed of inappropriately, posing a threat to human health and the environment. While organic waste can generate compost, smallholder farmers, who make up 70% of the population in Africa, can’t afford fertilizer, which results in soil nutrient depletion and low harvest yields. Wastezon is a cleantech startup that is creating a scalable win-win solution for farmers and registered users. Users receive a Wastezon Smart Bin that automatically sorts biodegradable waste and directly decomposes biowastes into fertilizer in just seven days. The Smart Bin sensors notify the user directly through the app, which then allows them to request collection from a registered farmer in need of fertilizer. The grant from Elaina’s Fund will support the creation of 30 Smart Bins, all of which are equipped to track data on reduced carbon emissions.
The Vietnamese American Community of Austin, Texas (VACAT)—$5,000
According to VACAT, “The majority of Vietnamese own their own homes but lack understanding of what to do to conserve energy or how to detect leakage.” $5,000 will enable VACAT to provide educational materials, including videos to educate more than 12,000 Vietnamese residents in Austin, Texas. Five hundred families will be targeted to participate in a survey to test their knowledge and win prizes, and additional funding will be raised to perform minor fixes to senior homes that support energy conservation.
Riverview Apartments, Inc, Pittsburgh—$500
This senior HUD-subsidized housing recently underwent a significant renovation adhering to Green Communities standards. As part of the renovation, Riverview secured raised gardening beds and plans to purchase gardening tools, soil, and plants so residents can grow herbs, vegetables, and flowers to use and enjoy in their own homes. Research supports the healing and calming attributes of gardening, and these raised beds are conducive to accommodating the physical capabilities of Riverview’s aging and at-risk residents.
Zion Christian Academy, Ogbomosho, Nigeria—$5,000
Nigeria has one of the largest wealth gaps in the world, and this gap is reflected in the appearance and quality of commercial properties. Hundreds of thousands of people in the Ogbomosho area live without access to education and electricity, and solar panels are a rare commodity typically afforded only to the upper class. This grant will provide 25–35 solar panels, allowing for access to a clean source of electricity for disadvantaged youth and faculty members at Zion Christian Academy. The solar panels will reduce the property’s dependance on generators for power and provide a life-changing impact to more than 200 students.
Erin A. Hopkins, PhD, assistant professor of Property Management, College of Liberal Arts and Human Services, Virginia Tech University—$5,000
Apartment rentals represent $1.3 trillion in the United States economy, and with the possibility of 5 million new rental units entering the market by 2023, there is a tremendous growth opportunity for sustainable management practices. IREM’s Certified Sustainable Property (CSP) program offers a roadmap for implementation of green real estate management practices, yet capital constraints, regulatory issues, and marketing concerns may diminish interest in green building certifications. This research will provide multifamily stakeholders with best practices that contribute to the success of green building certifications and management practices.