Center for Real Estate symposium portrays role of sustainability in new business opportunities


"Green" development is not only good for the environment, it's increasingly good business. That is the message that guests heard repeatedly at a symposium on sustainable real estate sponsored by the MIT Center for Real Estate (MIT/CRE) Alumni Association.

Held at the MIT Faculty Club on May 11, the symposium attracted a large crowd of real-estate industry professionals, finance professionals and MIT/CRE students who heard prominent business leaders--including Mark Buckley, vice president of environmental affairs at Staples; Tedd Saunders, president of EcoLogical Solutions and co-owner and executive vice president of Saunders Hotel Group; and Robert Ansin, president/CEO of MassInnovation--affirm that the growing demand for environmentally sustainable building represents an opportunity for businesses to benefit, often richly.

"Real estate is the largest energy consumer in the United States, bigger than transportation or industry," said David Geltner, director of the MIT/CRE, as he kicked off the program. "More than half the people living in cities by the year 2050 will be occupying new space. The real estate industry has a huge responsibility to design and construct more energy-efficient buildings. By the same token, the urgent need creates tremendous opportunities."

MIT alumnus Marc Rosenbaum, founder of Energysmiths and keynote speaker for the symposium, echoed Geltner's point. "We're probably approaching the point where half of the world's carbon dioxide emissions are linked to buildings," he said. Yet he was quick to affirm that interest in green building has been growing. His company, founded nearly 30 years ago, is prospering by developing buildings that are not only resource-efficient, but also comfortable, durable and adaptable for the future.

"In January, 27 percent of the U.S. trade deficit was for petroleum imports," Rosenbaum said. "Building green keeps jobs and money in the United States." Rosenbaum's portfolio of projects, many of which he showcased during his presentation, includes private homes, new and renovated academic buildings and old industrial space renovated for residential use. Underscoring the fact that sustainable construction not only can be but should be compatible with consumer comfort, the buildings are more than simply energy-efficient. They are "buildings people love," he said.

It was a message reaffirmed by Buckley, Saunders and Ansin, each of whom described how his company had adopted sustainability as a key operational component, and all of whom said doing so had been a successful business decision. The symposium also featured a "You Can Do It" roundtable, moderated by Professor Sarah Slaughter of the MIT Sloan School of Management. Participants John Dalzell of the Boston Redevelopment Authority, Jim Christo of Mass Technology Collaborative and Kim McLaughlin of Bank of America told participants how their respective organizations can help businesses, real estate investors and developers benefit by building, renovating and operating with sustainability in mind.

The symposium is only the latest reflection of the MIT/CRE's commitment to and leadership in encouraging a culture of social responsibility within the global real estate industry. "The growing interest in sustainability reflects the increasing concern about the impact on our environment, the rising cost of energy and the mounting evidence of the holistic benefits of building green," said Geltner. "The structures built by the real estate industry comprise over a third of the world's tangible wealth and are responsible for over a third of the world's energy consumption and CO2 emissions. For the industry to maintain its responsible leadership in the global community, it must encourage a culture of sustainability and innovation that meets the challenges of an increasingly interconnected world."

In addition to the symposium, the center regularly visits the issue of sustainability in all of its courses and fieldwork. New educational offerings that pointedly explore the challenges and opportunities inherent in "green" development are also being developed. For more information about the sustainability symposium, visit the MIT Center for Real Estate web site at web.mit.edu/cre.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on May 23, 2007 (download PDF).


Topics: Business and management, Energy, Alumni/ae, Special events and guest speakers

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