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Sustainable Development: Taking The Message To The Marketplace

Carole L. Jaworski

Mickie Swisher (352) 392-1869
Arlene Z. Stewart (352) 392-7854
Patti Glenn (352) 371-6100

GAINESVILLE – Home builders and real estate agents in rapidly growing Florida are learning that being green-minded can put more green in the bottom line under a new program developed at the University of Florida.

Build Green & Profit, aimed at encouraging energy-saving and environmentally efficient practices in the building industry, debuted last year. Co-sponsored by The Home Depot, it encourages builders to incorporate “green” practices into their designs, reducing the demands for energy and water. Nearly 250 Florida builders have taken the course since February.

Through the Sell Green & Profit program, which debuts in October, real estate agents will be trained to spot green features that builders have incorporated into homes – and to point them out to customers. These include passive design features that reduce heating and cooling bills; landscaping that reduces water, energy and chemical use; and features that contribute to healthy indoor air.

UF got involved in the issue because of the looming environmental crisis in the state, said Mickie Swisher, UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences associate professor. “In 1940, Florida ranked 27th in population nationwide. Today, it is fourth,” she said. “Everybody is building here. We are literally watching our environment go away – with increased pavement, increased demands for water and energy, and increased pesticide and fertilizer use on lawns.”

UF decided to target real estate agents because they are a key bridge between builders and buyers, said Arlene Zavocki Stewart, UF/IFAS educational materials designer with the Florida Energy Extension Service. “A house gets built once but gets sold several times. Real estate agents get more feedback from buyers than builders do. They know more about what homeowners want in a home and can pass that information on to builders.”

Patti Glenn, a real estate agent with Bosshardt Realty Services, Inc. in Gainesville, was one of several agents who took UF’s test pilot Sell Green & Profit course this spring. “It’s important,” she said, “because it creates a community partnership between builders, real estate agents, educators, lenders and the government to protect our natural resources.”

Polls show that about 20 percent of the U.S. population is willing to pay 5 to 10 percent more for green products, Swisher said. “Real estate agents who take our course become knowledgeable about the issues that are important to this group in our society,” she said. “Since this group tends to be well educated with a higher income, it’s an important clientele.”

Many people are willing to pay slightly more up front for a home if they understand that they will recoup their investment and much more over the life of their home in reduced operating and maintenance costs, she said.

“Real estate agents who sell these higher value homes naturally earn more in commissions,” she said. “A good salesperson doesn’t just sell you something. They educate you about the implications of your purchase. And better salespeople, who can inform the client about important issues like energy conservation, sell more homes.”

In the process, they become educators for sustainable development, she said.

In short, everybody’s a winner. “It pays to be knowledgeable about these issues,” she said, “both in terms of repeat clients, service to the community and value of sales.”

The Sell Green and Build Green materials developed in Florida are appropriate for the entire southeastern coastal plain area, Swisher said. “With slight revisions, they could be used in many states. We are quite willing for other states to use the materials, providing they use them correctly.”

But she warns that environmental sustainability is site-specific – how to site a home to take advantage of cooling breezes, for example. “One size may not fit all,” she said.

Today, most home buyers still look for the more traditional features in a house, Stewart said: a fireplace, adequate closet space, 2 1/2 baths, a two-car garage. “Basically, what we’re trying to do is add another feature: energy efficiency. If we can get real estate agents to point this feature out, we can build awareness of its value and begin to create a demand in the marketplace for it.

“When the marketplace responds to this demand, we will have helped bring about sustainable development,” she said.