Donny Disbro at PCM “gets it done” when it comes to saving energy

April 18, 2012 | By | 2 Replies More
Professional Community Management company, PCM, is the third largest property management company in the United States, and with CEO Donny Disbro at the helm, the changes this company has made over the past decade to its own offices pale in comparison to the sensible energy saving changes it believes it can help make in the communities and properties it manages. 
In my interview with Mr. Disbro, I could not help but become excited as he enthusiastically shared his vision with me. He does have the advantage of having begun his interest and experience in preserving the environment over ten years ago, and the fact that his company manages over three hundred homeowner associates with a combined portfolio of over 127,000 housing units means it is actually entirely possible for him to follow through with his vision.  
Thank you for making the time to see me, and I am so glad you have decided to share your ideas in our IEA business spotlight. I am certain from what I already know about you and your company that your knowledge can help educate and influence others to use good sustainability practices, especially when it comes to energy. 
Do you think sustainability is important, and if so, why is it important to you?
In general, it’s the right thing to do, that’s for sure. On top of that, right now at this time, in so many areas it’s starting to make sense from a financial standpoint. Part of our responsibility as a property management company is to keep absolutely up to date on any changes that could be beneficial to our clients and then bring these beneficial changes to the communities we manage. With good sustainability practices we can help the communities we manage save money while at the same time help our planet. It’s great that we have reached this point at which sustainability practices are becoming more sensible and mainstream. 
How have the opinions of your clients changed over the years in regards to sustainability?
Years ago, if we mentioned sustainability, there wasn’t much interest since the decision makers within the communities we manage couldn’t justify the additional cost that sustainability practices always came with. Even just two years ago, bringing up sustainability ideas provoked a lot of debate. But today, it’s all changing. The communities we manage are now anxious to do what they can to implement sustainability practices and we are happy to show them how to save money. 
When was it that your company first had an opportunity to practice sustainability in a larger way, and how did that opportunity lead to energy savings?
From April 2003 going forward we began to scan all paper documents. Old documents were boxed up and sent off to a storage facility. The amount of paper we were going through before was insane. Now everyone can pull the documents up on an iPad. To give you an idea of how much paper we were going through, after we went paperless we were able to sell eighty file cabinets and reclaim thirteen work surface areas. Because we had to produce so many duplicates of each document, if you want to imagine how much paper we were responsible for going through, multiply the amount of paper we sent to storage by ten. 
It’s not just about saving paper. Paper indirectly consumes a lot of fuel and energy. Trees are cut down, logs are hauled and processed, paper is produced, paper is then shipped all over the country, and finally the paper is picked up by consumers who mostly drive to pick it up from a store. It takes energy to produce the paper and then energy to ship.
In addition to saving paper by going paperless with our documents, out of about 130,000 clients that we have, about 2,500 have opted for e-statements, and about 15,000 have signed up for Auto Debit. Now it requires a lot less labor to manage the payment end of the business. It requires less energy since the statements don’t have to be delivered to homes. Our newsletter that we produce for the clients in our managed communities is also available online.
So is there some sort of process or procedure you go through in helping property owners make changes?
One of the first things we do with the communities and facilities we manage is to bring in consultants such as our friends at Eco-Stride who then arrange for experts to come in and perform sustainability audits. We might be looking at ways to reduce energy use, reduce water use, or reduce paper waste. We also look at potential renewable energy sources, alternatives to water use, and alternatives to paper use. 
Once the audit is over, we analyze the audit data looking for ways to improve practices and save money. Sometimes the changes we can make are big, but many times they are smaller changes and those small changes add up quickly when so many people and communities make those smaller changes.
New clients are usually very interested in beginning this process as soon as possible. We are also working to help our existing long-term clients with this process.
How long does it take to fully recover through energy savings the cost in energy savings to pay for the solar setup?
Typically one hundred percent return on investment for pool thermal or any solar panels is 2.5 years. It will reduce or eliminate the heaters in southern California and extend the pool season by three to four months for pools that are only heated in summer. Pool solar is not that cost effective in the off season unless of course it’s hot outside during winter months. During those months the pool would be heated using both solar energy and natural gas. 
Is there anything sustainable related in your company right now that you are particularly excited about?
Yes, and there are actually two things. First, recently we had a clubhouse in one of our communities LEED certified. It was in the Village Greens at Laguna Woods Village in Laguna Woods. It is our very first LEED certified building. 
Second, we have been invited to China to meet with prospective clients. I remember visiting there when I was pursuing my MBA. It was so beautiful there and different. Never at that time did I think that my company might be doing business in China. 
We have been out to the city of Tianjin which is east of Beijing. There is a need for “Senior Housing” in China. This is because it is now forty-five years after the single child act, and now there are many wealthy seniors who don’t have anyone to take care of them. There is great interested in developing senior communities with care facilities and medical services close by. I feel that we are up to the task since we in fact are a national leader, ranked the third largest manager of senior housing by the National Association of Senior Housing. 
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Remember that we only manage the common areas for communities and property owners. However our influence does end up extending into the homes as well. When a community is open to creating or expanding its sustainability practices, it’s because the home owners want to since ultimately they are the ones who vote on what we do. We also try to influence good practices within the individual homes by including sustainability information in our community newsletters to the homeowners.

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Category: Business Spotlight, Large Businesses

About the Author ()

I am in my second year of a five year combination BS physics/math and MS systems engineering program offered jointly through Haverford College and UPenn. Helping my community is a lot of fun and means a great deal to me. Through the IEA and other efforts, I've come to learn how much power many can have when there is a clear positive vision, motivation and momentum. "There is no sadder sight than a young pessimist." — Mark Twain

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  1. Charlie says:

    Keep functioning ,splendid job!

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