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Is green real estate a pipe dream or a real possibility? [opinion]

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You can’t go to a real estate convention or read a real estate blog without green/sustainable real estate development mentioned. It’s hip, it’s hot, it’s a growing sector full of buzzwords, but is it realistic? I have my hopes and my doubts.

See, I live in Austin which gives me an extremely unique perspective in that our county is the land of hippies and free thinkers that protest when old oak trees are slated to be removed and go on hunger strikes to protest the police force’s racial profiling. We’re the San Francisco of the Southwest but unlike PelosiLand, we’re not surrounded by like-minded thinkers, we’re surrounded by our more conservative counterparts (you know, the people that were chastised for grasping to their guns and bibles?). We’re full of Tea Partiers and the Super Liberals, all peacefully co-existing within miles of each other.

When it comes to sustainable development, some people believe it’s too costly or it’s dumb or things are just okay how they are right now. Others believe it’s a matter of life and death to care for the planet. Again, because I live in Austin, I live amongst both polar opposites and we tend to coexist quite well- we’re a rapidly growing city yet land is heavily protected. Some people would call our city an anomaly, but I would note that conditions for conservation are high in our city because of the public consciousness as well as local politicians aiming to preserve land.

I believe that sustainable development is only realistic in places where the consumer will buy a green product and politicians want to get reelected, so they give tax breaks for it. If you drive an hour north of Austin, the environment is most certainly no platform to run on, there are no tax incentives for sustainable building, and the public consciousness is not as highly involved with the green movement.

This month, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy released their state by state scorecard for energy efficiency as seen below:

As you can see above, some states are extremely far behind in energy efficiency overall (even Texas ranks low down there). The reason I point this out is because someone like me can get on a soapbox (which I’m not shy about doing) and scream that everyone should be environmentally minded and use green materials, solar panels, grey water retention or whatever, but in some states where it’s not a part of the public conscience, it’s just not realistic. It’s also not cost effective in some rural areas or low income areas… it’s not cheap to slap up solar panels or to buy reclaimed wood flooring or install grey water systems, even if they save money in the long term. Tell a family on food stamps that they need to install energy efficient windows on the house they got when Grandma died. Not happening.

In America, we have a challenge on our hands and I’m hopeful about it, but I believe that sustainable real estate across the board is still a few decades away. So what’s the answer? Collectively, we have to do our part to help make sustainable building methods a part of the public conscience so demand continues to rise so the prices continue to decline and builders and owners have incentives for making the choice to be green. What say you?

Lani is the Chief Operating Officer at The American Genius - she has co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH and Austin Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.

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29 Comments

29 Comments

  1. Ruthmarie Hicks

    October 21, 2010 at 12:58 am

    Hi Lani,
    The distribution is interesting. At first blush – it looks as though the “energy efficient” states tend to run along blue/red lines. But I think it might be running more along the lines of cost. CA and the Northwest had the energy crisis when the grids were deregulated c2001. The grid was gamed forcing prices sky-high. New York and New England had similar deregulation of their grids. We didn’t have the blackouts (so our issues never hit the news) but we got socked with price increases. My electric bill doubled in a matter of two months. It never went down.

    Everyone around here LOVES green tech. But I think their passion is in no small part economic. Ideology plays a role, but its not the whole story. We can’t escape that changes came here as prices of conventional gas and heating oil went up to astronomic levels. So, for good or ill, conservation and green technology will spread as the cost of heating, cooling and lighting our homes forces us seek out new solutions. So far Texas has escaped. But I think its only a matter of time for the rest of America.

  2. Sano Stante

    October 21, 2010 at 7:11 am

    Realtors are positioned at the epicenter of the consumers largest purchase decision and developers decision point respecting what to build. Realtors have the ability to provide more influence in these decisions on what to build and what to buy than any other prefession. Problem is that Realtors do not utilize this ability because we believe that we are mere salespersons and we have not taken expanded our sphere of responsibility. When you have the ability, you have a responsibility – and Realtors have yet to own up to this responsibility of educating ourselves in sustainable practice or good urban design. Our sphere of influence is only limited to that which we perceive we will influence. If you decide to influence your family, your community. your city or your world, you will.

  3. Brad Nix

    October 21, 2010 at 9:20 am

    I think people would rather make Smart Living decisions instead of ‘green’ living decisions. I know it sounds like semantics, but it’s a real difference when you start to include ‘reuse’ and ‘return on investment’ in addition to recycle and sustainable. I also think it will take bold steps by innovative companies to disrupt the current consumer mindset. More like this woodstockcommunityguide.com/smarter-living/ and less like ‘buy green because it’s trendy’.

  4. Bruce Lemieux

    October 21, 2010 at 9:20 am

    Ultimately, 95% of us make decisions that are based on our own economic self-interest. I would guess that the areas with the highest energy costs are also the most efficient.

    I have never had a buyer who specifically guided a search for a ‘green home’. The top 3 are always Price, Location, Schools. When energy prices went nuts a couple of years ago, buyers actually looked at a home’s energy costs, and put a higher premium for ‘closer-in’ homes given high gas costs. Not so much now.

    I would guess that the average home in the UK is twice as efficient as the avg American home since the cost of energy is multiples higher than it is here. The government taxes energy much higher there giving everyone an economic incentive to be efficient.

    You want people to be efficient and go green (to me, these are the same things), then politicians must dramatically raise taxes on energy. Which won’t happen.

  5. Anna Altic

    October 21, 2010 at 10:32 am

    Hi – I enjoyed the article. I wanted to speak to a few misnomers about efficiency. I’m a fan of systems like solar, geothermal, and energy efficient windows. However, I wanted to point out that some of the biggest return on investment for making a home more efficient really have to do with sealing the walls, attic, and duct work. Much of this can be done with caulk, mastic, and better quality insulation. Many utilities offer major incentives to make these changes and landlords can also get some help to do this in affordable housing.

    In addition, another huge “free” approach is to simply look at your daily habits and figure out where you are wasting. Many utilities offer the ability to track your peak use and often you can find very impactful affordable changes you can make such as programmable thermostats or faucet aerators, or simply attaching your major technology like TV’s, computers, DVD player to power strips that can be turned off completely when not in use. Anything with a small box at the plug or on the chord draws power and if 50 million families made that simple change, imagine the impact.

    I agree that some of the sexier green systems may be a ways away, I hope sooner than decades but we as Realtors can have a tremendous impact on improving our energy efficiency as a nation right now. Knowing what incentive programs are available locally, sharing with buyers and sellers the low hanging fruit as a part of their presentations, advocating for for smaller and better built homes in their community are all things that would tremendously impact the colors on that map today.

  6. Liz Benitez

    October 22, 2010 at 2:01 pm

    I grew up in a 4 bedroom 11/2 bathroom rambler in southern CA. The whole house was electric. It was on a well and had electric fences for the animals. When my parents purchased the home they looked into converting over to gas. It was $500.00 that they didn’t have. 15 years later they were paying upwards of $900.00 a month for there electric bill.

    I guess my point is, The big picture isn’t always clear or easy to believe in. Right now I am looking into the ipad. No more paper signing contracts, no more having stacks with just one signature lay around my office. In the long run it will save on not only paper but ink and energy but it is a lot of money to just spend for little immediate return.

  7. Troy Roark

    October 24, 2010 at 12:08 pm

    I don’t want to drop a link into your comments without permission, so I’ll encourage you to search “Smart Home Brews Your Coffee” at CNN.com . It’s a project they are pursuing at Virginia Tech where they have built a completely sustainable and solar powered home. Very nice.

  8. Les

    October 25, 2010 at 3:38 pm

    If you believe that Carbon is the enemy then you will feel an urgency to be energy independent. If you see how energy efficient buildings provide lower maintenance costs, it just makes sense to go green.

    Going green at the expense of traditional methods is a mistake though. We need traditional building supplies as well as green to be effective in the US and abroad.

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Opinion Editorials

The secret to self improvement isn’t always about improvements

(EDITORIAL) Self improvement and happiness go hand in hand, but are you getting lost in the mechanics of self improvement?

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fitness happiness

Think back to your New Year’s resolutions. Now that it’s summer, how many of them are you still keeping? Think about which ones stuck and what went by the wayside.

If you’re like most of us, you had big plans to make yourself better but didn’t stay the course. I’ve only managed to keep one of my resolutions, but it isn’t always easy.

I want to take a look at why we can’t keep our goals. I think we’re always on a journey of self-improvement. It’s easy to get obsessed with reading self-help books or trying to learn new things. We want to be better. This spring, I went through a Lent study with a group of people. Lent is a time of growth and self-reflection, just six weeks. And yet many of us are struggling to keep up with the daily reading or maintaining a fast of something we willingly chose to give up.

Why do we fail?

I think we fail because of three things.

You might think I’m going to say something like we fail because we don’t have willpower, but I think that is the farthest thing from the truth. I’m no therapist, but I’ve read the literature on alcohol and drug rehab. It’s not willpower that keeps a person sober. It’s community. One reason I think we fail at our goals is that we don’t have a cheerleading team. I believe that we need people on our side when we’re trying to improve.

Secondly, I think we fail because we want immediate results. We have this mentality that things should happen quickly. I’ve written about this before. It’s like you workout once and want that swimsuit body. We get frustrated when we don’t see results right away. So, we move on to the next pursuit.

Do your goals lead to happiness?

Failure can also be because self-improvement goals don’t always lead to being better person. We do a lot of things because “we should.” Your doctor might think you need to lose weight. Maybe your boss wants you to be a better speaker. Meditation should make you a better person. Maybe you ran a marathon, and now you think you need to run an ultramarathon because that’s what your best friend did.

What makes you happy isn’t always what you should be doing.

Your doctor might be right, but if you’re choosing to lose weight because you want to make your doctor happy, you’re probably not going to stick with a program. If you’re trying to learn Spanish to make your boss happy, again, you’re probably not going to enjoy it enough to really learn. If you’re chasing after goals just to say you’ve done it, what value do your achievements bring to your life?

If you’re obsessed because you “should” do something, you’re going to get burned out and fail. Whether it’s New Year’s resolutions, a self-improvement project or giving up meat for Lent, you need solid reasons for change. And if you give something a try that isn’t for you, don’t soldier on. You don’t need to spend years taking yoga classes if you don’t enjoy it.

When something becomes a burden rather than bringing benefits, maybe it’s time to take a look at why you’re doing it.

When you don’t know why you’re knocking yourself out to be better, maybe you need to figure out a reason. And if you feel as if what you’re doing isn’t enough, stop and figure out what will satisfy you.

I’ve been doing a lot of meal prepping on the weekends. Sometimes, I want to quit. But it pays off because I have less to do throughout the week. It might seem like a burden, but the benefits outweigh the burdens. I’ve been able to eat much healthier and use more vegetables in my meals, which is the one goal I’ve been able to keep. I have some good friends that help me stay on track, too. I choose to eat more vegetables for my health. I think it’s a combination of all these things that is helping me meet my goal this year.

Don’t give up on making yourself a better person. Just don’t become obsessed over the program. Look at the outcome. Are you pursing happiness on a treadmill or are you really working to find happiness?

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Opinion Editorials

What I wish I knew about finances in my 20s

(EDITORIAL) They say money makes the world go round. So, let’s discuss how to be smart with finances before it’s too late.

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finances

Being in my early twenties, something I’m still getting used to is the fact that I’m making my own money. This is not to be confused with the babysitting money I was making 10 years ago.

Twice a month is the same routine: I get my paycheck and think, “Wooo! We goin’ out tonight!” but then I snap back to reality and think about what that money needs to be put towards. The smallest part of it going towards fun.

It’s been tricky to really start learning the ins and outs of finances. So, I do what I usually do in any type of learning process? I ask for advice.

I used to be fixated on asking those more advanced in age than I what they wish they knew when they were my age. Now that I’m determined to learn about finances, that question has been altered.

I reached out to a few professionals I know and trust and they gave me solid feedback to keep in mind about building my finances, about what they wish they had known in their 20s. However, I don’t think this only applies to those just starting out, and may be helpful for all of us.

“It’s important to simply know the value of money,” says human resource expert, Nicole Clark. “I think once you start earning your own money and are responsible for your housing, food, etc. you realize how valuable money is and how important it is to budget appropriately and make sure you’re watching your spending.”

Law firm executive director, Michael John, agrees with Clark’s sentiments. “I wish I had kept the value of saving in mind when I was younger,” explains John. “But, still remembering to balance savings while rewarding yourself and enjoying what your efforts produce.”

There are so many aspects of finance to keep in mind – saving, investing, budgeting, retirement plans, and so on and so forth.

In addition to suggesting to spend less than you make and to pay off your credit card in full each month, Kentucky-based attorney, Christopher Groeschen, explained the importance of a 401k.

“Every employee in America should be contributing everything they can into a 401k every year, up to the current $18,000 maximum per person,” suggests Groeschen.

“401ks present an opportunity for young investors to 1) learn about investing and 2) enter the market through a relatively low-risk vehicle (depending on your allocations),” he observes.

“An additional benefit is that 401ks also allow employees to earn FREE MONEY through employer matches,” he continues. “At the very least, every employee should contribute the amount necessary to earn the employer match (usually up to 4%) otherwise, you are giving up the opportunity to earn FREE MONEY. Earning FREE MONEY from your employer that is TAX FREE is much more important than having an extra Starbucks latte every day.”

Whether we like it or not, money is a core aspect of our daily lives. It should never be the most important thing, but we cannot deny that it is, in fact, an important thing. It’s tricky to learn, but investing in my future has become a priority.

This editorial was first published in May 2018.

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Opinion Editorials

How strong leaders use times of crises to improve their company’s future

(EDITORIAL) We’re months into the COVID-19 crisis, and some leaders are still fumbling through it, while others are quietly safeguarding their company’s future.

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strong leaders

Anthony J. Algmin is the Founder and CEO of Algmin Data Leadership, a company helping business and technology leaders transform their future with data, and author of a new book on data leadership. We asked for his insights on how a strong leader can see their teams, their companies, their people through this global pandemic (and other crises in the future). The following are his own words:

Managers sometimes forget that the people we lead have lives outside of the office. This is true always, but is amplified when a crisis like COVID-19 occurs. We need to remember that our job is to serve our teams, to help them be as aligned and productive as possible in the short and long terms.

Crises are exactly when we need to think about what they might be going through, and realize that the partnership we have with our employees is more than a transaction. If we’ve ever asked our people to make sacrifices, like working over a weekend without extra pay, we should be thinking first about how we can support them through the tough times. When we do right by people when they really need it, they will run through walls again for our organizations when things return to normal.

Let them know it’s okay to breathe and talk about it. In a situation like COVID-19 where everything is disrupted and people are now adjusting to things like working from home, it is naturally going to be difficult and frustrating.

The best advice is to encourage people to turn off the TV and stop frequently checking the news websites. As fast as news is happening, it will not make a difference in what we can control ourselves. Right now most of us know what our day will look like, and nothing that comes out in the news is going to materially change it. If we avoid the noisy inputs, we’ll be much better able to focus and get our brains to stop spinning on things we can’t control.

And this may be the only time I would advocate for more meetings. If you don’t have at least a daily standup with your team, you should. And encourage everyone to have a video-enabled setup if at all possible. We may not be able to be in the same room, but the sense of engagement with video is much greater than audio-only calls.

We also risk spiraling if we think too much about how our companies are struggling, or if our teams cannot achieve what our organizations need to be successful. It’s like the difference in sports between practice and the big game. Normal times are when we game plan, we strategize, and work on our fundamentals. Crises are the time to focus and leave it all on the field.

That said, do not fail to observe and note what works well and where you struggle. If you had problems with data quality or inefficient processes before the crisis, you are not fixing them now. Pull out the duct tape and find a way through it. But later, when the crisis subsides, learn from the experience and get better for next time.

Find a hobby. Anything you can do to clear your head and separate work from the other considerations in your life. We may feel like the weight of the world is on our shoulders, and without a pressure release we will not be able to sustain this level of stress and remain as productive as our teams, businesses, and families need us.

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