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Valle Verde of Santa Barbara Receives ICAA’s Inaugural Green Award

The retirement community is recognized for its team-based sustainability efforts

The International Council on Active Aging, an association that leads, connects and defines the active-aging industry, announced that Valle Verde Retirement Community in Santa Barbara is its first-ever winner of the ICAA Green Award, a new category in the ICAA Innovators Awards program.

ICAA’s annual awards honor those in the active-aging industry that are leading the way, setting new standards and making a difference in the lives of older adults. The Green Award specifically recognizes organizations that encourage environmental stewardship by creating and/or implementing eco-friendly products, services, processes, designs or programs in their settings.

An American Baptist Homes of the West continuing care retirement community, Valle Verde “embarked on an ambitious path beginning in 2004 to become a model, sustainable community with an overall goal of carbon neutrality by 2030,” Executive Director Ron Schaefer said. “Through the collaboration of staff, residents and community board members, Valle Verde has reduced electricity use, decreased waste and increased recycling. At the same time, we are also generating more solar electricity, using reclaimed water and buying food from local farmers.”

Valle Verde’s Green Initiative expands every year. From using electric carts and an electric-and-solar-powered tram on campus, to the replacement of two 1 million BTU water boilers with high-efficiency units, to participating in the City of Santa Barbara’s Foodscraps composting program, the nonprofit community’s collaborative efforts are helping the environment and improving quality of life on campus. A measure of the initiative’s success is utility cost savings that average more than $210,000 per year, according to Schaefer.

Importantly, Valle Verde is not a new construction. Many improvements made by the 43-year-old community result from retrofitting existing structures to a greener standard and innovative thinking about how to reduce the community’s environmental impact.

The “green” collaboration of residents, staff and board members “has a clear mission of making long-lasting benefits in the areas of water consumption, waste reduction and air pollution by making small, implementable steps,” Schaefer said. The initiative succeeds, he added, because it involves everyone “in a better future.”

ICAA founder and CEO Colin Milner finds there is a much greater — and deserved — focus on environmental wellness today.

“The environment we live in, whether built or natural, has a huge impact on health and well-being,” he said. “It’s really an integral part of wellness.”

At the start of 2010, ICAA expanded its multidimensional wellness model to include the environmental dimension, recognizing it as essential to wellness. ICAA’s GREEN Plan, launched in conjunction with that development, provides new environment-focused publications and opportunities for ICAA members, including a preconference series at the annual ICAA Conference. Finally, through the new Green Award category, the association honors those that strive to be better stewards of the environment, contributing to a healthier world.

“On behalf of ICAA, I congratulate Valle Verde on winning the inaugural ICAA Green Award,” Milner said. “We were especially impressed by the comprehensiveness of Valle Verde’s Green Initiative, and the involvement of the whole community in these environmental stewardship efforts. Among other things, remodeling existing homes to a higher eco-friendly standard is a more complex undertaking than building new structures that incorporate today’s green-building practices. Valle Verde can serve as both a model and inspiration to others in the active-aging industry that want to improve their environmental commitment.”

As the winner of the ICAA Green Award, Valle Verde will receive a crystal award of recognition. In addition, an in-depth profile of the organization and its Green Initiative will appear in ICAA’s flagship publication, the Journal on Active Aging, in 2011.

— Kirsten Ayars is a publicist.

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