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Sustainability Matters

By Russell DeConti, February 2, 2021

Russell DeConti is an Associate Broker with Keller Williams Realty and a Member of Greater Portland Board of Realtors' Sustainability Advisory Group

Change is inevitable, as the saying goes, and this past year really upped the ante. A perfect storm of sorts, where a near simultaneous eruption of complicated social, political, economic and environmental circumstances came to a head to become front burner issues for the nation and the globe. Of course, the pandemic and related economic downturn remain front and center, but racial tensions, political division and global climate change all demand urgent attention. Difficult problems in turbulent times call for decisive action, creative thinking and steadfast leadership. Sweeping change is called for and business as usual simply won’t cut it anymore.

As Realtors, we’re trained to find solutions to problems, to seek the opportunities out of seemingly intractable situations, find the common ground and bring opposing sides together to close a deal. That skill set has traction right now. The need for balance, call it equity if you prefer, has never been more pronounced. Many are turning toward the principles of sustainability for guidance and potential solutions. Sustainability can mean different things depending upon the context in which it is applied. A simple example is the concept of sustainable use or yield, a management principle used in forestry and fisheries that seeks to balance the amount of trees, or fish, harvested in a given time period with the amount that can be replenished naturally. The goal is to limit harvesting in order to avoid depletion of these renewable resources. To bring about balance, close the loop. In a real estate context, sustainability encompasses a much broader perspective that includes, for example, sustainable development, energy efficiency, renewable energy generation, hazard mitigation and community resilience.

Extreme weather events both here and around the world are occurring with more frequency and severity, a climate change-related trend that is expected to worsen in future years. 2020 tied with 2016 as the hottest year on record. Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions must be reduced below current levels to help mitigate impacts from sea level rise, extensive damage to buildings, infrastructure and communities from increased coastal and inland flooding, extreme heat, drought, diminished water quality, crop failures and a host of other highly undesirable consequences. The risk is growing more apparent and is clearly unacceptable. Transitioning our economy from fossil fuels to one based on renewable energy sources has recently drawn support from many of the large banks, including Bank of America, Wells Fargo, JP Morgan Chase, and investment giants like BlackRock. Even oil and gas industry leaders have indicated their intent to shift investment toward renewable energy sources. And in an effort to become carbon neutral by 2040, GM has just committed to an all-electric (zero-emission vehicles) fleet by 2035. These are all very encouraging signs and the opportunity for new business growth is obvious. Clearly, business as usual is no longer the only game in town.

The challenges are daunting but we don’t have to wait to take action. Here are a few simple, but important, things that Realtors can do to help bring about necessary changes in the market and be on the cutting age of a new sustainable business model:

- Get educated. Help promote the value of high performance building and cost-effective energy efficiency features like heat pumps and renewable energy alternatives like solar PV power. Need help getting started? Check out the National Association of Realtor’s Sustainability Program for more ideas and useful resources.

- Go Green! NAR’s Green Designation is a great first step toward distinguishing yourself to both clients and colleagues about your knowledge of, and commitment to, sustainability issues. Other certifications like LEED AP are also available. As practitioners, we can also help to promote the value of sustainable features in the marketplace by educating our clients and customers about utility costs, rebates and tax incentives, green mortgages, and cost-effectiveness.

- Get involved. The Maine Climate Council has just released their Climate Action Plan. Maine, along with 29 other states, took this step to become better prepared to address climate-related issues and to identify potential mitigation and adaptation measures that will help communities become more resilient in the face of change. Maine also recently passed a new version of the state building and energy codes that incorporates measures to make buildings more energy efficient and proposes to phase in requirements for Net Zero Energy buildings. Both of these represent opportunities for Realtors to get behind.