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Opinion Editorials

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

Can we combat grind culture and injustice with a nap?

(OPINION EDITORIALS) A global pandemic and a climate of racial injustice may require fresh thinking and a new approach from what grind culture has taught us.

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Sleeping cat with plant, fighting grind culture.

Information is delivered to us at warp speed with access to television, radio, and the internet (and more specifically, social media). We are inundated with messages. Oftentimes they’re personalized by something that a friend or family shared. Other times we manage them for work, school, or just keeping up with news. Many entrepreneurs already wear many hats and burn the midnight oil.

During this global pandemic, COVID-19, we have also seen a rise in awareness and attention to social injustice and systemic racism. This is not a new concept, as we all know. But it did feel like the attention was advanced exponentially by the murder of George Floyd on Memorial Day 2020. Many people and entrepreneurs felt called to action (or at least experienced self-reflection). And yet they were working at all hours to evolve their businesses to survive. All of this happening simultaneously may have felt like a struggle while they tried to figure out exactly they can do.

There are some incredible thought leaders – and with limited time, it can be as simple as checking them out on Instagram. These public figures give ideas around what to be aware of and how to make sure you are leveling up your awareness.

Dr. Ibram X. Kendi, Director of the Center for Antiracist Research – he has been studying anti-racism and has several books and interviews that help give language to what has been happening in our country for centuries. His content also delves into why and how white people have believed they are more than people of color. Here is a great interview he did with Brené Brown on her Unlocking Us podcast.

Tamika Mallory – American activist and one of the leading organizers of the 2017 Women’s March. She has been fighting for justice to be brought upon the officers that killed Breonna Taylor on March 13. These are among other efforts around the country to push back on gun control, feminist issues, and the Black Lives Matter movement.

Brené Brown – research professor at the University of Houston and has spent the last two decades studying courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy. She has been listening and engaging on how racism and our shame intersect. She also speaks about how people can reflect on themselves and where they can take action to better our society. She has some antiracism resources on her website.

With all of this information and the change in our daily routines and work habits (or business adjustments), what is a fresh approach or possibly a new angle that you haven’t been able to consider?

There is one social channel against grind culture that may not be as well-known. At an initial glance, you may even perceive this place as a spoof Twitter and Instagram that is just telling you to take a nap. But hold on, it’s actually much smarter than that. The description says “We examine the liberating power of naps. We believe rest is a form of resistance and reparations. We install Nap Experiences. Founding in 2016.”

It might be a great time for you to check out The Nap Ministry, inspired by Tricia Hersey. White people are called to action, and people of color are expressly told to give time to taking care of themselves. Ultimately, it goes both ways – everyone needs the time to recharge and recuperate. But people of color especially are being told to value their rest more than the grind culture. Yes, you’re being told you need to manage your mental health and include self-care in your schedule.

Through The Nap Ministry, Tricia “examines rest as a form of resistance by curating safe spaces for the community to rest via Collective Napping Experiences, immersive workshops, and performance art installations.”

“In this incredibly rich offering, we speak with Tricia on the myths of grind culture, rest as resistance, and reclaiming our imaginative power through sleep. Capitalism and white supremacy have tricked us into believing that our self-worth is tied to our productivity. Tricia shares with us the revolutionary power of rest.” They have even explored embracing sleep as a political act.

Let this allow you to take a deep breath and sigh – it is a must that you take care of yourself to take care of your business as well as you customers and your community. And yes, keep your drive and desire to “get to work”. But not at your expense for the old grind culture narrative.

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Opinion Editorials

The actual reasons people choose to work at startups

(EDITORIAL) Startups have a lot going for them, environment, communication, visible growth. But why else would you work for one?

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Startups meeting led by Black woman.

Startups are perpetually viewed as the quintessential millennial paradise with all of the accompanying perks: Flexible hours, in-house table tennis, and long holidays. With this reputation so massively ingrained in the popular perception of startups, is it foolish to think that their employees actually care about the work that startup companies accomplish?

Well, yes and no.

The average startup has a few benefits that traditional business models can’t touch. These benefits often include things like open communication, a relaxed social hierarchy, and proximity to the startup’s mission. That last one is especially important: While larger businesses keep several degrees of separation between their employees and their end goals, startups put the stakes out in the open, allowing employees to find personal motivation to succeed.

When employees find themselves personally fulfilled by their work, that work reaps many of the benefits in the employee’s dedication, which in turn helps the startup propagate. Many aspiring startup employees know this and are eager to “find themselves” through their work.

Nevertheless, the allure of your average startup doesn’t always come from the opportunity to work on “something that matters.”

Tiffany Philippou touches on this concept by pointing out that “People come to work for you because they need money to live… [s]tartups actually offer pretty decent salaries these days.”

It’s true that many employees in their early to late twenties will likely take any available job, so assuming that your startup’s 25-and-under employee base is as committed to finding new uses for plastic as you are may be a bit naïve—indeed, this is a notion that holds true for any business, regardless of size or persuasion.

However, startup experience can color a young employee’s perception of their own self-worth. This allows them to pursue more personally tailored employment opportunities down the road—and that’s not a bad legacy to have.

Additionally, startups often offer—and even encourage—a level of personal connection and interactivity that employees simply won’t find in larger, more established workplaces. That isn’t symptomatic of startups being too laid-back or operating under loosely defined parameters. Instead, it’s a clue that work environments that facilitate personalities rather than rote productivity may stand to get more out of their employees.

Finally, your average startup has a limited number of spots, each of which has a clearly defined role and a possibility for massive growth. An employee of a startup doesn’t typically have to question their purpose in the company—it’s laid out for them; who are we to question their dedication to fulfilling it?

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Opinion Editorials

How Peloton has developed a cult-following

(OPINION EDITORIALS) How has Peloton gotten so popular? Turns out there are some clear takeaways from the bike company’s wildly successful model.

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Man riding Peloton bike with instructor pointing encouragingly during workout.

Peloton is certainly not the first company to gain a cult-like following–in the past we’ve talked about other brands with similar levels of devotion, like Crossfit and Yeti. Now, full disclosure: I’m not an exercise buff, so while I’d vaguely heard of Peloton–a company that sells stationary bikes–I had no idea it was such a big deal.

I mean, it’s not really surprising that an at-home bike that offers the option for cycling classes has grown so much during the pandemic era (a sales growth of 172% to be exact). But Peloton has been highly popular within its fanbase for years now. So, what gives? A few factors, actually.

Vertical Integration

If your company really wants to guarantee the vision and quality you’re aiming for, one of the best ways to enact it is through vertical integration, where a company owns or controls more than one part of its supply chain. Take Netflix, for example, which not only distributes media, but creates original media. Vertical integration lets companies bypass areas that are otherwise left to chance with third-party suppliers.

Peloton uses vertical integration–everything from the bike to its Wi-Fi connected tablet to the classes taught are created by Peloton. Although this may have made the bike more expensive than other at-home exercise bikes, it has also allowed Peloton to create higher quality products. And it’s worked. Many people who start on a Peloton bike comment on how the machine itself is well-built.

Takeaway: Are there any parts of your business process that you can improve in-house, rather than outsourcing?

Going Live

But with people also shelling out $40 a month for access to the training regimen Peloton provides, there’s more going on than simply high-quality craftsmanship.

Hey, plenty of cults have charismatic leaders, and Peloton is no exception. Okay, joking about the cult leader part, but really, people love their trainers. Just listen to this blogger chat about some of her favorites; people are connecting with this very human element of training. So much so that many people face blowback when suggesting they might like training without the trainers!

The trainers are only part of this puzzle though–attending live classes is a large draw. Well, as live as something can be when streamed into your house. Still, with classmate usernames and stats available while you ride, and teachers able to respond in real time to your “class,” this can simulate an in-person class without the struggle of a commute.

Takeaway: People want to see the human side of a business! Are there any ways your company could go live and provide that connection?

Getting Competitive

Pandemic aside, you can get a decent bike and workout class at an actual gym. But the folks at Peloton have one other major trick up their sleeve: Competition. Whether you’re attending a live session or catching up on a pre-recorded ride, you’re constantly competing against each other and your own records.

These leaderboards provide a constant stream of goals while you’re working out. Small accomplishments like these can help boost your dopamine, which can be the burst of good feeling you need while your legs are burning mid-workout. With this in mind, it’s no wonder why Peloton fans might be into it.

Takeaway: Is there a way to cater to your audience’s competitive side?

Conclusion

At the end of the day, of course, Peloton also has the advantage of taking a unique idea (live-streamed cycle classes built into your at-home bike) and doing it first. Plus, they just happened to be poised to succeed during a quarantine. But that doesn’t mean you can’t learn from what Peloton is doing right to build your own community of fanatics. There are plenty of people out there just waiting to get excited about a brand like yours!

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