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As part of my series about what we must do to inspire the next generation about sustainability and the environment, I had the pleasure of interviewing Bradford H. Dockser.
Bradford H. Dockser is the Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder of Green Generation, which engineers and implements comprehensive integrated energy efficiency solutions that lower operating costs while improving sustainability on behalf of a diverse set of clients worldwide. Founded in 2011, GreenGen transforms the world’s built environment through innovation and solutions by integrating energy, real estate, technology, and capital markets to Operate in the Green.
During his more than two decades of real estate investing, Brad was a Principal with national real estate investment firm, MacFarlane Partners, overseeing activities of their mid-Atlantic business; and Founder and Managing Director for Starwood Capital Europe overseeing operations, direct investments, and operating joint ventures and financing activities throughout Europe. He earlier founded Starwood Capital Asia and was responsible for the firm’s Asian operations, which included making property investments in Japan and Hong Kong, as well as leading the recapitalization of Sansiri Property Corporation, a publicly listed property company in Thailand, for which he also served on both the executive committee and board of directors.
Brad began his career with JMB Realty, then the largest real estate firm in the United States, and later with CRI, Inc, the nation’s largest owner of multifamily residential properties at the time. While at CRI, he oversaw the creation and financing of Capital Apartment Properties REIT (CAPREIT), a privately-held real estate investment trust based in Washington, DC that focused on market-rate apartments in the eastern US.
Brad received an A.B. cum laude in Economics and a Master of Business Administration, both from Harvard University. Brad serves on the global advisory board for Urban Land Institute’s (ULI) Center for Sustainability and Economic Performance. He serves as Co-Chair of ULI Washington Sustainability Initiative and Chair of ULI’s Redevelopment and Reuse Product Council. Brad serves on the Advisory Board for the WELL Advisory for Hotels and Resorts. He is a member of the US Green Building Council and the International Society of Sustainability Professionals (ISSP). Brad serves as a mentor for MetaProp (NY) and is a member of the CRETech Leadership Board. He also was Founding Director of the Greater Washington Exploratory Committee, DC’s bid committee for the 2012 Summer Olympics.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?
When I was seven years old, I moved to Washington DC after my father took a senior position at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, focused on affordable housing. Because of this, I grew up in a house that was focused both on social concerns and impact and financial profit. To me, this emphasized that you had to find a way to have both a positive financial and societal outcome.
My father was the Federal Housing Commissioner and created the Section 8 housing program, which, 40 years later, continues to create affordable housing for millions of people. I grew up in a world that thought you could do both. You could drive profit while driving societal and other important impacts determined from a government or legislative point of view. I took this mentality to Harvard, where my undergraduate thesis focused on affordable housing policy. I looked at Dallas and Boston, and how they specifically use Section 8 housing programs to deliver different outcomes to fit their city’s unique needs.
Was there an “aha moment” or a specific trigger that made you decide you wanted to become an environmental leader? Can you share that story with us?
After college, I spent 20 plus years in real estate private equity. I don’t think I had an “aha moment” when it came to climate or environment. Rather, it was the recognition along the way that it was a false choice to say you had to focus on either economics or climate because from the earliest days, I never saw it as this dichotomy. I saw it the same way I saw affordable housing, that you could do one with the other, that climate could be profitable. In many respects, perhaps my aha moment was recognizing that sustainability didn’t get more momentum in the early days because it was sold wrong. The message was essentially to spend money, invest and be more sustainable. The early proponents couldn’t articulate how that would drive a financial outcome.
After the 2008 financial crisis, revenues and bottom lines of real estate businesses and assets were threatened, and bottom lines deteriorated. The industry finally recognized that energy was a major factor in revenue and that it could be controlled. Therefore, we began searching for somebody who could help us think about integrating technology to reduce our operating costs, and drive our cash flow and asset values.
We realized there was a massive opportunity, a “white box” if you will, that nobody was executing against. Simply put, we founded GreenGen because we could not find the firm we needed. We created the firm investors turn to for how to monetize energy and sustainability through our positioning at the intersection of energy, real estate, capital markets, and technology.
Is there a lesson you can take out of your own story that can exemplify what can inspire a young person to become an environmental leader?
The most important lesson for young people looking to be environmental leaders is that the choice between climate or profit is a false choice. If you are trying to motivate an investor or stakeholder to favor the environment, it doesn’t need to be an altruistic act. The decision can drive financial outcomes that improve their profitability and creates environmental value. We all need to get on the same page agree that there’s no negative cost associated with clean air and clean water. I think we can all agree that there’s no negative costs to doing things that improve financial outcomes as well as the impact of buildings on the climate.
Can you tell our readers about the initiatives that you or your company are taking to address climate change or sustainability? Can you give an example for each?
Here at GreenGen, we help people understand what motivates them and how to develop the strategy and tactics needed to execute against that strategy. I generally believe that a strategy that’s developed separately from an implementation tactic is going to fail. You must think about what’s possible and what’s achievable as you do it. For example, you see a lot of countries say, “We want to be net-zero by 2050.” That is less than 30 years out. You have some private companies saying, “We’re going to be carbon neutral by 2030, 2025.” All the countries and companies making these kinds of promises have to be explicitly focused on the tactical elements because they’ve got to execute that right away. There is no time to waste.
Can you share 3 lifestyle tweaks that the general public can do to be more sustainable or help address the climate change challenge?
First and foremost, we should all be correlating physical occupancy to energy consumption in our homes, offices, and any other spaces we occupy. We want the lights on when we’re in a space, we want it to be heated or cooled, but when we’re not there, whether it’s leaving for the weekend or running to the grocery store, we should all be doing simple energy-saving measures like turning off the lights, turning down the thermostat, not opening the doors or windows if the AC is running.
Another simple lifestyle tweak is using a reusable water bottle. This eliminates plastic disposable bottles. I think all of us can think about reducing the waste in our lives. Along those lines, everyone needs to be cognizant of the recycling rules in their county. For instance, I live in a community that is very aggressive on recycling. However, because it was such an aggressive and early adopter, it doesn’t have single-stream recycling. That means you have to separate paper from the rest of the materials, take the plastic cap off the gallon of milk, etc., which creates more work. So, knowing the rules and committing to them is key.
Once you integrate these simple practices into how you operate, they are not difficult. The solution is to take day-to-day actions and flip them from conscious activities into subconscious activities. Before you know it, these actions will be embedded into how you live.
Ok, thank you for all that. Here is the main question of our interview: The youth led climate strikes of September 2019 showed an impressive degree of activism and initiative by young people on behalf of climate change. This was great, and there is still plenty that needs to be done. In your opinion what are 5 things parents should do to inspire the next generation to become engaged in sustainability and the environmental movement? Please give a story or an example for each.
I think you have to flip this question on its head, what are 5 things young people can do to engage older generations to fight climate change? Because from what I have seen, the younger generation is far more motivated to create positive change when it comes to the environment.
- One thing to understand is that the decisions young people’s parents and grandparents make about sustainability aren’t just impacting themselves but are impacting the younger generations. They are deciding what kind of Earth they want to leave their children and grandchildren.
- Understanding that everything they do impacts others. This has become very obvious during the COVID19 pandemic. People who are refusing to wear masks are not taking into account how that will impact the health of vulnerable populations they come into contact with. You need to think beyond just yourself and consider your impact on your community.
- I mentioned this earlier, but it is essential for adults who are homeowners and business owners. People need to correlate physical occupancy to consumption. Small things can make a big difference. Don’t leave your car running if you have to run back in your house after pulling out on the driveway, don’t leave the air conditioning on in one room when you go to the other room, don’t need to leave the sliding door open if you have the air conditioning on, you don’t need to turn on the shower and let it run for 5 minutes before getting in. Simple, everyday choices that add up.
- Incorporating sustainable practices doesn’t need to be expensive. Investing in reusable water bottles for the whole family will save money in the long run. Buying a fuel-efficient car will save money on gas and improve air quality.
- Support companies and brands that make sustainability a priority. From where you buy your family’s food to the clothing you wear, every company has an environmental footprint and strategy you can align with (or not).
How would you articulate how a business can become more profitable by being more sustainable and more environmentally conscious? Can you share a story or example?
Every business has stakeholders. Everybody’s in somebody else’s supply chain. If I sell cookies, I’m selling to consumers. If I sell 50-pound bags of flour, I’m selling to a factory. As a consumer of products, I am in somebody’s supply chain. When you are focused on selling to consumers, you want them to be comfortable aligning their values with the business you’re in.
So, in a sense, it’s clear that you can be more profitable by being more sustainable and more environmentally conscious. No one is going to say, “I’m not buying your product because you promote clean air.” But there are plenty of people who will be attracted to the social good side of a business because they want to align themselves with the value system and morals of the products that they consume. Hence, the cosmetic industry focuses on emphasizing when they do not use animal testing.
This goes back to this thinking about the broad definition of stakeholders. If you need to expand your plant and you can show that you’ve invested in lowering emissions, you are much more likely to get a permit from local authorities because they don’t see your expansion as a moral or environmental threat. They see it as something positive for the environment and economy.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
For me, it is not one person. It’s people, it’s investors. When you show investors where there’s return, when you show them that you can improve the value of their assets, their investments, and the outcomes to them, they will act. They don’t necessarily care about the environmental impact. But if you’re trying to have a positive impact on the climate and environment, you need to make sure you are speaking their language and articulate why this drives the outcomes they care about. For instance, it improves their cash flow, their asset values, their fees or profitability, etc. Investors helped me learn this language, which has helped me get to where I am today.
Even more than one person or group, institutions have helped me get to where I am today. It’s the financial and capital markets that found a way to articulate a double bottom line at a time when most owners of real estate assets and businesses were not focused on that. Owners did not see the return from investing in climate. They didn’t see the positivity from thinking about the environment.
! If you could inspire a movement that would bring the greatest amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I think general financial literacy is lacking, so if I could inspire a movement it would motivate people to learn more about the financial impact of climate change and sustainability. Often, people think it is enough to say, “This will improve the climate. This will improve the air.” And yes, fundamentally, that probably should be enough, but having a degree of financial literacy to understand how to take that message and position it in a way that gets banks and investors motivated, is often the single biggest thing.
For example, supporters of the Green New Deal could not explain the benefits of the plan because the cost was criticized right off the bat. It is crucial that you start with the benefits. I know that there is deep pressure among stakeholders like the media, elected officials, etc., to talk about the cost, but you really need to think about the benefits first. If something costs 20 trillion dollars, that does not mean it is inherently bad. Explain to the investor what it is going to do for them. If it’s going to save them 20 trillion dollars a year, every year, and it costs them 20 trillion dollars, a one-year payback, then they would likely want to implement that as fast as possible. It all comes back to the bottom-line financial impact.
Do you have a favorite life lesson quote? Can you tell us how that was relevant to you in your own life?
Yes, and it’s a simple one. Direction first, velocity second. It’s really important to know where you’re going. If you do velocity first and direction second, you’re going to get to the wrong place really quickly. It’s critical as we’re talking about these big and complex problems that we figure out where we want to get to, and we build momentum over time to get to that place. We must be focused on the endpoint.
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