Millenial Manifesto: Sustainability
To continue my rant on my generation of young men and women, I thought I take on a topic near and dear to all of us in CRE: sustainability.
In my experience, I have found that many of the more shrewd investors in the commercial property market tend to think of sustainability as a marketing ploy or gimmick. On the other end of the spectrum, there are those who think that any commercial building with the slightest carbon footprint is obviously the work of the devil or evil corporate greed and wall street is trampling on main street, blah blah blah.
Forgive me for not occupying something, but my feelings toward the environment aren’t quite so militant. I also don’t buy the stance of the first group who think sustainability is a fad that will die away like the pet rock. I think it matters, but it isn’t life or death.
Perhaps the simplest way I can put my stance on sustainability is:
I want to leave Atlanta better than I found it.
Simple enough, right?
Not so fast my friend. Everyone seems to have an opinion on the definition of “better.” Is a Silver-rated LEED Atlanta better than I found it? Well, yeah, but it’s not as better as Platinum LEED. So how much better do I want to leave Atlanta?
I will try to improve my city using sustainable practices as much as makes financial sense.
I suppose I could build a shopping center out of hemp. That would be very “green” and “sustainable” and “environmentally conscious” of me. But I would also never be able to lease any of the space, I would lose the property to the lender, my investors would lose all their money, and I would get punched in the neck by a large Italian man. No, thank you.
That may seem like a silly example, but my jest carries a simple truth: sustainability works to a certain point. Right now, that point is financial feasibility. If I lose money by implementing “green” retrofits or using sustainable materials to build, then there had better be one heck of an additional benefit or externality that I can quantify. Otherwise, I’m just losing money on my project so that fluffy bunnies can prance in this imagined utopia. Not happening.
So, let me wrap this in a nice little package:
I want to create and maintain sustainable properties and use sustainable practices to build buildings in Atlanta as long as it doesn’t bankrupt me or my investors.
So, having made clear my stance, let me weigh in briefly on a few sustainable topics:
Green Space – Heck yeah we should set aside some space to be green space! I don’t live in NYC, nor do I want to. Let’s keep some spaces for parks, keep plants around our buildings, try some green roofs, etc. I see no downside to this other than the opportunity cost of building an income-generating building on the space, but I never asked for a park on a pin-corner or even with street visibility. That’s where retail centers, office buildings, and apartments go. Put the green stuff everywhere else.
Rain water – This seems so simple it’s stupid. It’s free water! Let’s keep it! Use it to water plants or grass or cool off hot stuff. I don’t care what it’s used for, just collect your (FREE) rain water and use it. It may take a while to figure out the most efficient way to collect and redistribute it, but it seems silly to waste even a single drop of water when perhaps the largest questions facing our children and their children is: Where will they get fresh water? (glares menacingly at Alabama and Tennessee)
Motion Sensitive Lighting – Do I really need to justify this one? Why would you keep the lights on when no one is around?
Low Flow Toilets, Showers, and Sinks – I can’t remember the last time I went into a bathroom and proclaimed “Wow, this would be one great restroom if only the urinals flushed harder.”
Trees– I like trees. If I have to chop one down to build or renovate something, I will gladly plant another. Why not? They are cheap, look cool, make oxygen, and I can climb them
Electric Vehicles – I like the idea, but this won’t make sense for me until I can’t notice a difference in the performance of my Chevy Tahoe and the Chevy Leaf Tahoe. When the electric version can tow, haul, transport, and off-road as well as my gas-guzzler, then I’m a buyer. Until then, I will continue sending my paycheck to Shell every two weeks.
Trash – We dig a big hole and dump our trash in it? Seriously? That’s the best we can do after 230 years of innovation? Are you kidding?
Glass – Show me how your fancy double-paned, low-emittance glass will save me on the power bill. Give me a dollar amount. If I can say that I will hold the building for as long as it would take me to recoup the mark-up on that glass over the regular stuff, then I’m a buyer. If not, go fish.
Solar – Money! I am a buyer when it becomes cost effective. I’m not going to use the sun to power the HVAC system in my office building if it costs me 5 times as much as my electric HVAC system. I’m told that with the advances in carbon research and nanotechnology, solar tech will become much more affordable and efficient over the next 20 years. Cool. Keep me up to date. In fact, I actively keep tabs on Suniva up in Norcross because of some of the cool solar tech they have been rolling out. But until it becomes cost effective, I’m just a fan from afar.
Do you see the trend in these little musings? I use my brain (I have one, I promise). If it makes sense from both an environmental and financial perspective, I’m down. If not, try again later. I will always be open to new ideas and technologies and I hope that sustainable technologies evolve so that commercial properties only improve the local natural and human environment. Until then, I will keep one eye on the advances and one eye on the bottom line.