The Green Spotlight on BE NYC: Samantha Schoenberger

September 2, 2013

Countdown to BE NYC! With only50days until the conference, GreenHomeNYC is shining the spotlight on the experts who will be making the BE NYC an exceptional industry event!   One of the professionals participating in the conference is Samantha SchoenbergerScreen shot 2013-09-02 at 4.41.26 PM Ms. Schoenberger, LEED AP, BPI MFBA, is the Real Estate Facilities Manager for Selfhelp Community Services.  An extremely intelligent and driven young woman, Samantha grew up modestly in Newburgh, NY.  Having wanted to be an architect from the age of seven, she received a Bachelor’s of Science in Architectural Engineering from Alfred State College of Technology in 2007.  Samantha has worked since she was fourteen; her experience more recently includes positions at Habitat for Humanity NYC, Enterprise Community Partners, and an architecture firm.  She loves drawing and is an avid runner who is currently training for her seventh half-marathon.  Ms. Schoenberger was a presenter at last year’s NESEA conference in New York City, a speaker on tenant outreach at the Supportive Housing Network of New York (SHNNY) Managing Lean and Green Program, and a panel participant on Construction Management Training at Enterprise Community Partners.   Samantha is the co-chair for the Multifamily Track of BuildingEnergy NYC 2013.   What does the BE NYC Multifamily Track consist of? There are four unique and specifically chosen sessions we feel will take an owner or practitioner through today’s sustainability hot topics.  We will cover financing of multifamily buildings—specifically, complex deals with not just one investor.  Another topic will target not just how to get an audit, but the actual deep dive into the tactics of what a building owner has to do after they receive one.  We’re doing one session on water, which is one of the foremost issues right now.  Owners are getting slammed with huge water bills they have not experienced at this magnitude and are struggling to add the additional cost to their budgets.  The question becomes how do we get tenants, who are almost 100% responsible for water use, to care about their consumption.  How do we get them to understand that water isn’t free?  Anyone who is interested in conservation—whether it’s saving the planet or saving money—should be interested in sustainability in a multifamily world.   What is your passion, and why sustainability? I’m really passionate about people, safe environments, and efficient design and operation of buildings.  Sustainability is functioning at peak efficiency–whether it’s running a building or designing one.  It means making smart, informed choices that lead to being “green.”  To me, green design is just smart design, so that means building with a conscious eye toward how the structure is going to be used, what products are geographically close, et cetera.  Once design takes these inputs into consideration, new technologies can then be implemented to make an even greater impact.   What do you like about your current position? My first task was to benchmark all of the buildings in our portfolio, get to know how the buildings and staff are currently operating, and reach out to other professionals to discuss my findings.  I’m ‘geek-out’ excited to see what effect the changes we have implemented will have on energy and water use– as well as the buildings’ budgets.  I’ve been tracking every little change or suggestion to building operations I’ve made to see any correlation between what I’ve enacted and the outcome.  For example, I found out that a particular booster pump was running twenty four hours a day.  I’ve changed that, so it only operates as needed.  To know I’ve helped save energy and money: that is one of the most rewarding, tangible outcomes of my job.   Why is sustainability important for multifamily buildings? Typically, multifamily buildings in the Northeast—whether for profit or not-for-profit, four or four hundred units—pay a huge amount of their bill to heating.  Tenants aren’t the ones who are considering these costs since they don’t pay them, so it falls on the building owner, operator, or manager to care about and monitor consumption.  Tenants, on the other end, tend to complain about upgrades in their units and physical appearance.  If owners make known and follow through on putting energy cost savings toward the things tenants are griping about, incentives will be realigned in an interesting way.   How can we motivate tenants to change behavior? Kids are a huge way to induce change, and they also stand to benefit educationally from it.  If you can cleverly motivate children to do something different (for example, a magnet that says “I pledge to turn the water off when I brush my teeth”), they will get excited about it.  A child can be a driving force in a household.  Above all else, understanding a building’s tenant population before starting a campaign will make it more successful.   Why are owners hesitant to implement sustainable practices? Building owners wonder how to pay for sustainability.  If we can get owners to better track their work orders to see what they’re spending and when, they will start to notice that they’re paying less in the beginning only to spend more later.  There can be opportunities to save long-term that are missed if unexamined in the short-term.  Any dollars saved in this way can go toward financing some innovative technology or upgrades– or any of the cool things we’ll talk about at BE NYC.   What’s your advice to owners? Every building population is different and should be addressed as such.  If a particular building has strong community members who regularly rally tenants, it is good to get those people on board and make them feel heard.  If you can have a good conversation with them, they will be your sounding board to the rest of the building.  Get to know the space you’re working with, and go from there.   Talk to your neighbors– your fellow building owners.  To take a step outside your comfort zone allows you to find out how great things you’re doing may be (and give yourself a pat on the back) or learn about how to incorporate a different strategy.  In terms of tracking work, there is often no one technical on the owner’s side.  It’s important not to let your contractor be your scope developer.  Even if that person is extremely trustworthy and you have a great relationship, their best interest is not 100% your best interest.   Interested in learning more from Samantha Schoenberger? Look for her at the Multifamily Track at BE NYC. BENYC-featuredimage CLICK HERE to register for BE NYC. For more information on workshop sessions, sponsoring and exhibiting at BE NYC, CLICK HERE.   Interview conducted by Jordana Viuker.   To know more about GHNYC’s The Green Spotlight, CLICK HERE!