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December 2, 2011
Firm: Yudelson Associates
Jerry Yudelson is the author of 12 books on green buildings, water conservation and green development. “Greening Existing Buildings,” a guide to implementing the LEED-EBOM rating system, was published in 2009, and has become the must-have reference for converting existing buildings from standard to LEED-certified status.
In 2011, Yudelson was named to the inaugural group of LEED Fellows by the U.S. Green Building Council, one of 34 people nationally to receive this honor.
From 2001 through 2009, Yudelson trained nearly 4,000 people in the LEED Green Building Rating System. He is one of the original LEED trainers for the U.S. Green Building Council and a former board member.
Yudelson is a professional engineer, obtaining his engineering degrees from Caltech and Harvard University, and obtained his MBA from the University of Oregon.
Q: Wired Magazine recently dubbed you “The Godfather of Green.” How do you feel about the moniker and does Al Gore know about this?
A: Feel great. Didn't notify Al about it. Obviously, Wired is free to give anyone a headache!
Q: You've been in the sustainability world for 15 years. No doubt you've faced your fair share of skeptics, but you're obviously in it for the long haul. What keeps you motivated?
A: Motivation is from the work itself and its importance, but even more vital is the incredible group of people working to create a more sustainable built environment; no quitters among them and a group of fun-loving, insightful people.
Q: Speaking of skeptics, what's the most cynical reaction you've had about going green?
A: I guess I wouldn't recognize it if I heard it, but the best comments are always questions like “how does this play in the marketplace?” This was especially true working in green retail, starting in 2007, where there's such a clear incentive to keep costs down and no real data about how consumers make buying decisions based on how “green” a shopping center or retail store is. In the office environment, the leaders in the field have been all in since 2006, so it hasn't been a hard sell.
Q: One of the emerging trends you cited for 2011 was performance disclosure. Seattle now enforces regulation that requires building owners to fully disclose building performance to new tenants and buyers (come Jan. 1, all commercial buildings over 10,000 square feet). This sounds like a can of green worms. How do we keep the benchmarking process honest?
A: This is a great question and one that will take a few years to work out. The best bet is to work with groups like New Buildings Institute, UW and Cascadia Green Building Council to come up with methods that take into account things like data centers, percent of occupancy, amount of retail versus office, etc. The commercial real estate industry will have to get used to full disclosure, bottom line.
Q: This chaotic economy has stalled sustainability initiatives, yet most people acknowledge we need to take heed and get on with the “new normal.” When do you see that kicking in?
A: The “next normal” is my phrase, and it's already here. If you don't get on board with sustainability, you're going to see value erosion in an entire portfolio, as investors, tenants, buyers, operators and lenders start ratcheting up the pressure to “go green” in each and every building and property.
Q: What one thing can a landlord do to encourage tenants to think green?
A: Feedback is number one, so there needs to be more submetering and direct feedback on energy use, on a real-time basis, to change tenant behavior. Lots of reliable studies show this can be done easily technically. And relatively inexpensively at that.
Q: What can a tenant do?
A: Put pressure on the landlord; make energy costs an issue in the next lease negotiation. Move to a greener building.
Q: How about a commercial real estate broker?
A: Brokers need to stay informed about greening of existing buildings, use the data and education that is out there and take the lead in the conversation, especially when representing tenants.
Q: The bottom line is, well, the bottom line. Environmental consciousness aside, how does going green add value to a property?
A: Higher rents (proven), higher occupancy (proven), greater resale value (generally proven in various large urban markets), faster lease-up of new or renovated buildings (generally proven).
Q: What are you seeing as the latest and greatest green innovation and/or technology in the built environment?
A: Software for building management, especially that uses cloud computing; great tools for portfolio management. Products like BuildingIQ for managing large buildings, EcoInsight for portfolio management, many others. Wireless sensors for quickly transmitting information, such as occupancy, to lots of devices.
Q: What one thing that has happened in your business life has made the biggest impact on who you are today?
A: I've always had great mentors, including politicians, but the biggest impact always comes from within, from being clear about what you want to do with your life. In that respect, meditation and yoga have had by far the biggest impact, giving me energy to keep going and total respect for everyone I meet.
— Interview conducted by Barbara Travers