Green building is a thing. It’s a worthy cause and there are some wonderful examples of green building around the world, but I believe it’s still struggling to find footing, especially in the residential sector.
When I began in the real estate business in the late 90’s as a low-level staff accountant I never heard discussion of green building nor paid any invoices to consultants who were helping companies achieve results in that realm. By the time we were rolling on California developments in the mid-2000s everyone was talking about green building.
It helped that the owner and leader of our company had gone off to serve a term as President of the Urban Land Institute and green building was something he championed in that role. We tried, but it never quite stuck.
We hired a Director of Environmental Initiatives. As far as I could tell that was progressive to create a role in a development company for someone whose job it was to bring sustainable initiatives, training, and education to everything we did. He drove a hybrid company car long before they were common. Of course, after a couple of winters in Tahoe snow he realized he got a raw deal. The other team members with company vehicles were driving SUVs and Audis with all-wheel drive. He was chaining up his Honda Civic with every new snowfall in a time when there weren’t many electrics or hybrids to choose from.
His car story kind of parallels my overall impression of green building. It’s a great idea, a great story, makes everyone feel good, but it might be a little forced in a way that’s not really paying off for those trying to make a difference.
We were into green building with our new California projects because we thought it was the right thing, thought it would help win project approvals in the town and county, thought it was a good marketing story for the Bay Area consumer, and were genuinely excited to be on the cutting edge of design and construction.
I think green building’s problems are similar to the growing pains we saw in organic produce. I bought and buy organic but saw the battle over who gets to certify something as organic play out on the grocery store shelves. It was obvious that some organic claims were pure marketing, and some were real, but hard to pay the organic price when you can’t trust it. I think the state of Oregon standards were the best, but I can’t remember. That battle seems to have been solved, or at least removed from the headlines.
Likewise, green building was a free for all, though the United States Green Building Council seems to have emerged as the arbiter of green. I remember however they didn’t make anything easy. It’s fine that to get certified green means meeting high standards but based on what I witnessed with our team it seems the USGBC was only slightly easier to work with than the IRS. They sound governmental, but I hope they’re not. Frankly, I’m still not sure. They do produce a nice magazine for you if you’re a member.
Plenty more to cover on green building but will leave that to a future blog. If you like (or hate) my writing, please follow my blog. Also, please connect with me on Twitter of LinkedIn. Thanks.