The following post is by Kathleen O’Brien:
In early May, I traveled to Portland to the Cascadia Green Building Council’s annual Living Future Conference. I enjoyed the conference a lot, and especially the very practical financial focus in several of the sessions.
Moving the needle on real estate investment was the topic of a Living Future panel including Jason Twill (Vulcan), David Baker (Earth Economics), Theddi Wright Chappell (Cushman & Wakefield), Stuart Cowan (Autopoiesis). They noted that investment in sustainable real estate seems to be “topping out” in the market at this time — at LEED Platinum. Their hope is to help the market cross that barrier into higher realms of sustainable achievement, such as the Living Building Challenge.
Jason, David, Stuart, and Theddi are coauthors of “Economics of Change: Catalyzing the Investment Shift Towards a Restorative Built Environment.” The research study was funded by Bullitt Foundation, a long time supporter of environmental protection in the Northwest. The point of the study was to “provide evidence of monetized environmental and social benefits…currently not considered in conventional real estate model(s).” The authors hope to provide a defensible rationale for including these public and private benefits into investment models, appraiser methodologies, and supporting policies. This is especially important for U.S. real estate investments where ROI and IRR are the ultimate drivers of most transactions.
The report lays out the ABC’s, if you will, of Ecosystem Goods and Services, the potential Ecosystem Services that Living Buildings might provide, and finally the opportunity to measure, monetize, and value those ecosystem services. The study takes a scholarly approach, a step up from the early days when we in the green building field had to rely more on reason and intuition, since we had little real data to base our assumptions on. (Not that reason and intuition is bad…it’s what got us here, yes?).
The report also introduces the concept of integrated real estate investment modeling. From this layperson’s view, it seems to build on the conventional model, rather than replace it — an approach that makes a good deal of sense. The methodology they propose will allow many environmental and social benefits currently valued at zero to be seen as economically valuable, and therefore marketable. In the next phase of their work, they plan to produce detailed calculations and case studies of the environmental and social benefits of Living Buildings, test the impact of these values of valuation models or appraisals, and create an open source prototype of the integrated real estate investment marketing tool to “demonstrate how environmental and social benefits can be embedded within a pro forma in an new building development context.”
In addition to taking this tool out to the real estate development communities (appraisers and valuation specialists), they hope to provide a basis for changes in local, state, and federal policy that will acknowledge public benefits of Living Building development and incentivize it.
As Theddi noted, “right now investors are going for the low hanging fruit — energy efficiency — for example. We need to provide sufficient rationale if we want them to go beyond that.”
Kathleen O’Brien is a long time advocate for green building and sustainable development since before it was “cool.” She lives in a green home, and drives a hybrid when she drives at all. Having recently sold her firm, O’Brien & Company, she is now focused on leadership work with those “still in the trenches.” For more info see www.emergeleadership.net