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The Many Ways REALTOR® Associations Go Green

January 1, 2008

By Amy DuBose, Bridget McCrea, and Kevin Fritz

The push for greener homes—new and existing—is a clear industry trend that homebuyers and homesellers have embraced with fervor. As REALTORS® carve out their niches in the green home market, many are turning to their associations for education, support, and resources. Answering the call, associations are developing programs to teach members about energy-efficient and environmentally conscious home features, plus enabling members to become more active in protecting the environment in which they live and work.

Sponsor Green Education
At the Santa Cruz Association of REALTORS®, Calif., Karen Kirwan, director of education and professional services, says the group has “kicked around the idea” of a green educational program for several years and is now putting its plan into action. Kirwan sends out a weekly e-mail that includes a “green tip” (on the value of installing low-flow toilets, for example) and held the organization’s first “green bag lunch series” in July 2007.

At the event, the head of the city’s planning department discussed building permits as they relate to the environmentally conscious movement. In October, the organization will hold its first, three-hour “Green Building for Real Estate” class, followed by a green expo, where members will learn about the various eco-friendly products available in today’s market.
In the future, expect to see more associations jump on the bandwagon to fulfill their role as a wellspring of all things green, providing valuable education, information and resources to their members and the public.

A Portal for Green Info
Getting members the information they need to be green-savvy can be as simple as sharing what is already available, especially from established local and national green organizations.

Taking that approach, the New Jersey Association of REALTORS® culled an array of information to help educate members and the public.

Finding the most pertinent and reliable information on the green movement took some time and effort, according to Amanda Sacco, NJAR’s communications director. NJAR decided to scout out online material from reputable sources affiliated with the state government, the U.S. Green Building Council, Energy Star, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

All of the material now resides in a categorized section on the NJAR Web site, njar.com, devoted to consumers. The robust menu of links, definitions, and articles also includes an area referring members to ReGreen, which are new energy-efficient and green building practices specific to remodeling.

Recycle, Reuse, Resist
Associations across the country, like the Wilmington Regional Association of -REALTORS®, N.C., are tapping into community resources to promote recycling programs. By placing recycling bins wherever there are trash bins, WRAR encourages its members to more carefully consider their waste.

“We definitely realize now how much we were wasting before,” says Dana Laymon, member services administrator for WRAR, of the would-be refuse that is taken to the local recycling center. “It’s something easy and inexpensive that -every association can participate in to help the environment.”

The Baldwin County Association of REALTORS®, Ala., is another association doing its part. Beyond what is accepted by the local recycling center (paper, glass, metal, and plastic), they also recycle their printer and fax cartridges. Office supply stores across the country provide recycling programs for these cartridges and, in many cases, will even give you a coupon off your next purchase.

“When we print something that we can’t use, we put the paper in the fax machine and reuse it there,” says Martha Taylor, executive vice president for BCAR. These efforts can help cut down an association’s use of paper, as can the purchase of recycled paper for copier and printer use, which many office supply companies are now offering at prices comparable to their non-recycled counterparts.

Promote Green Certification for Members
John Beldock, CEO at EcoBroker in Evergreen, Colo., has worked with more than 40 REALTOR® associations to provide three-day training programs for members to become certified EcoBrokers. “The associations have been very supportive of the green movement,” says Beldock. “In fact, a lot of their members are demanding it of them.”

Kerry Mitchell, president at Green Real Estate Education in Tampa, Fla., has taught green courses at 20 REALTOR® associations nationally and offers a certification course that provides three hours of CE credits for students in some states. In the course, Mitchell reviews green building, discusses appropriate materials and shows how to accurately represent the green movement. To give the courses a “community” feel, she invites experts (such as city officials and vendors of green building products) to come and speak at the classes.

“REALTORS® need a little something to help them stand out in their markets right now,” says Mitchell. “Giving compact fluorescent bulbs as settlement gifts instead of chocolates and flowers can help them gain an edge.”

NAR to Launch Green Designation
After months of market research NAR’s affiliate REBAC (Real Estate Buyer Agent Council) plans to offer a green designation covering green communities, homes and building, buyers and sellers and how to practice green real estate. “We’ve found that there is a growing demand for REALTORS® to understand green, how green is transforming the needs and concerns of buyers and sellers, as well as how REALTORS® can adopt and implement green practices in their day-to-day businesses,” says Kristen Short, managing director of education for REBAC. Look for the two-day core course at the NAR Annual Conference and Expo in Orlando.

Don’t print this message
“Please consider the environment before printing this e-mail.” This is the message Terry Penza, CEO of the North Shore-Barrington Association of REALTOR®, includes at the bottom of all e-mails to members and directors that contain documents for review. “Our REALTOR® get so many e-mails and this is a friendly reminder to them to prioritize what they print,” she says.

Providing information to members and committees on a CD rather than in a printed packet is another great way to reduce paper usage.

The Prince William Association of REALTOR®, Va., provides their Grievance -Committee member packages via a rewritable, password--protected CD.

“We ask them to bring the CDs back to the meetings for reuse for the following month’s cases,” says Denise Roosendaal, chief executive officer of PWAR. “We encourage the members to read the cases on their computer and not print them out.”

Member Green Groups Take Action
The Sarasota Association of REALTORS®, Fla., promotes green practices through its new Green REALTOR® Alliance. The group is responsible for compiling the green data that reside on the SAR Web site (sarasotarealtors.com) and for planning green education for members and the SAR Green Home Expo, which debuted in April. Held at the association, the half-day expo featured 31 exhibitors and included four seminars with topics ranging from “The Green Home” to “The Air We Breathe,” aimed at both consumers and members. The inaugural event attracted 150 people.

“We want to reach REALTOR® to reach the consumers,” says Sarasota Director of Education, Catherine McCaskill. “That’s important, because we have a quality of resident here [who is] thoroughly involved in the environment.”

The Green -REALTOR® Alliance also formed a partnership with Two Trails—a local company specializing in green consulting and certification—to offer a course called “Green Building University.” Graduates of the association-presented three-day certification course (offered online and in classrooms) will earn the Certified Green Sales Professional certification.

The REALTOR® Environment Council at the Seattle-King County Association of REALTOR® is very -active in producing resources for members, including courses on environmentalism and green real estate. Well-received, the classes have inspired members to request even more green educational resources.

“With homes becoming more energy efficient and having less impact on the environment, the sale of such units requires REALTOR® to have more knowledge of the benefits, costs, and cost-savings that go along with them,” says Claudia Crowell, the group’s director of business practices, who expects the green movement to gain momentum over the next few years.

This year, the REALTORS® Association of South Central Wisconsin also created a green REALTOR® committee to educate REALTOR® (and hence their clients) as to the value of green-built homes and features to themselves and to the environment, says Phil Salkin, the association’s GAD.

How Green Are You?
Armed with data and real-life stories from members, associations can better respond to the growing number of media inquiries surrounding green real estate and plan for member education and issue advocacy. The NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® has successfully positioned itself as an expert source for green real estate information to the public and the media in a variety of ways. The key to the effort is research. NAR has launched surveys and hosted several focus groups and roundtable discussions over the past year to gauge the degree to which energy-saving and environmentally aware home features are affecting the real estate industry and REALTORS®.

A recent NAR survey shows that nine out of ten REALTORS® say their clients are interested in the energy features of green homes. Forty percent report that green building is important to their business and clients, while 87 percent believe it will be of greater interest a year from now.

NAR has also established itself as an organization engaged in green-building issues, not only be building the Capitol’s first LEED-certified green building, but also by becoming an active member of several green building organizations.

NAR provides a wealth of information to members on a wide variety of green issues in both residential and commercial real estate via its many publications and REALTOR.org. Likewise, NAR’s conferences routinely include education sessions on green building and selling green real estate.

NAR’s Chicago offices are also going green with a major initiative this year to promote earth--friendly and energy-saving programs in the office. The push kicked off this past July with a “green fair” featuring fun and informational “stations” where staff learned more about being green at work and at home.

The Mother of All Online Green Toolkits
The British Columbia Real Estate Association in Canada used the partnership angle to produce what may be the most comprehensive bastion of green information in the REALTOR® family, called the Green Tool Kit. According to Norma Miller, director of communications and public affairs, BCREA partnered with the Greener Realty Association of British Columbia and engaged the Real Estate Foundation of British Columbia to fund the project.

The Green Tool Kit, which is exclusively available online at www.greentoolkit.ca, helps explain the benefits of greener homes, provides suggestions for homeowners on how to make greener renovations, and -offers links to rebates and incentives.
“We did our bit of homework and are surprised that we are on the leading edge of this,” says Miller. “We are really just pointing people in other directions.” She says the process was simple enough, especially since the Greener -Realty Association took care of gathering most of the content.

Realizing that many people think “green” starts and ends with energy efficiency, Miller says the Web site clearly defines “green” as it relates to real estate, highlights the incentives asso-ciated with building green, and outlines simple changes that consumers can make to “greenify” their existing homes. Miller sees the effort as being particularly important during a time when organizations and individuals are just beginning to understand the impact that homes and buildings have on the environment.

“We don’t want to be playing catch-up,” says Miller, who adds that the association is working on an even more in-depth green Web site that will launch later this summer. “Green is already on consumers’ minds and the government is taking action. If we don’t prepare for this, then our members aren’t going to be ready for change.”
Miller encourages other associations to use her concepts. “If there’s anything you can use from it, feel free,” she says.

Build Community Wide Coalitions for Green
Three years ago, the Wilmington Regional Association of REALTORS®, Del., helped found the Stewardship Development Coalition to help usher REALTORS® and the community into an eco-friendly era.
“The coalition performs environmental education and outreach and produces an annual recognition banquet for outstanding environmentally sensitive residential, commercial, and public development,” says Carey Disney Ricks, the association’s governmental affairs director. “Our members have been award recipients in each of the three years the program has been operating and share recognition with some outstanding projects constructed by those like the Wilmington Housing Authority, Hospice, and Airlie Gardens.”

Projects like these take time and initiative but are well worth it in the end, says Ricks.

Sell a House, Plant a Tree
Not just the name of their program, but a way of business, the Malibu Association of -REALTORS®, Calif., launched “Sell a House,
Plant a Tree” to promote environmental -awareness among members and their clients.

“We encourage our REALTORS® to make their closing gifts green,” says Susan Manners, association executive for MAR. “We partnered with a few local nurseries to offer REALTOR® a discount for this program, so it benefited the client, the REALTOR®, the participating vendor, the community, and the environment.”