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John Oppermann of Compass: “Energy efficiency is increasingly important in the real estate industry”

Energy efficiency is increasingly important in the real estate industry. Governments are increasingly regulating energy standards so energy efficient buildings will be more and more important going forward. New York City is implementing energy efficiency grades, similar to health ratings already posted in restaurant windows. This is going to put a building’s energy efficiency front […]

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Energy efficiency is increasingly important in the real estate industry. Governments are increasingly regulating energy standards so energy efficient buildings will be more and more important going forward. New York City is implementing energy efficiency grades, similar to health ratings already posted in restaurant windows. This is going to put a building’s energy efficiency front and center in people’s minds and buyers are going to notice this. As governments raise the bar on energy efficiency, people aren’t going to want to invest in buildings that are highly energy inefficient. Technologies and building standards that increase energy efficiency are going to get more attention going forward because no one wants to invest in a laggard energy inefficient building.


As a part of our series about “Homes Of The Future”, I had the pleasure of interviewing John Oppermann.

John Oppermann is a real estate broker and sustainability communications consultant who specializes in green and healthy homes. He works with clients ranging from individual homebuyers to real estate developers to amplify the broad range of benefits one can get from living in a greener and healthier home. His work aims to communicate to the public that green home features such as better air quality, better light quality, lower energy usage, and non-toxic materials can mean better sleep, higher productivity, lower risk of respiratory illnesses, better mood, lower energy costs, and greater resiliency in extreme weather events or power outages.

A graduate of Harvard Law School, he has focused his career on environmental advocacy and policy and also serves as Executive Director of Earth Day Initiative, an environmental non-profit that connects people to how they can make a positive impact in their own lives and communities.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

I went to law school knowing that I didn’t want to be a lawyer and that I wanted to work in the environmental sustainability space. Some people thought I was crazy for getting a degree for a profession I didn’t want to practice, but before actually beginning law school I spoke to a lot of alumni of my law school who worked in non-law environmental roles that I thought sounded interesting. All of those alumni assured me that a legal education would provide a background and expertise on which to build a career in environmental advocacy. During law school I focused most of my coursework on climate policy and environmental law and worked for environmental law and policy organizations around the world. That provided a good launching pad on which to build a career in the sustainability space after law school.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

To be honest, the whole COVID era has been a surreal and interesting time for me in my career. It’s obviously been a very difficult time for people for a wide range of reasons. It has also oddly presented interesting opportunities in terms of the shift to remote work and events, a doubling down of society’s focus on the home, and an increased interest in how our buildings can contribute to our overall health and wellbeing. The shift to everything virtual has presented new opportunities for engaging a wider range of people and bringing in engaging and expert speakers from around the world to talk about sustainability and wellness in this weird new world that we’re in. The increased interest in the home is really opening up conversations about what the home can be and how it can be a healthy refuge, which is really what it should always be but now we recognize that more than ever.

Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Are there takeaways or lessons that others can learn from that?

I think I saw success when I did what I wanted to do. I’ve never been great at doing things I just don’t want to do. So I’ve always emphasized that my daily life should be spent doing something I’m interested in and that I care about. Then work doesn’t feel so much like work. So if I focus my career on something I’m interested in then all things are moving in the same direction with my ambition, my needs, and my interests all moving together rather than working against each other.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person to whom you are grateful who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My parents and my grandparents provided such a good basis for me to do well in school and be ambitious in my career. They expected a lot of me but not in a pushy or overbearing way. They just built in a belief that I was smart and capable and could be self-sufficient. Their high expectations of me translated into high expectations of myself to work hard and do my best.

Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?

Recently I’ve begun serving as host of the PARTS PER MILLION podcast for the non-profit I run, Earth Day Initiative. I’ve been inspired by the conversations I’ve had on that podcast with experts in climate communication or academics who study social movements. The conversations coalesce around a few themes, including the idea that one of the most impactful things you can do is simply talk about what you care about. I think often we have a reluctance to be overly sincere or express opinions that we perceive might be controversial. But studies show that people’s opinions are most shaped by they are most inspired to act by people they know personally. So you have a great power to influence your friends, family, colleagues, and others in your social circles simply by talking about the things you care about. The experts we host on the podcast discuss the most effective ways of talking about the things you care about and the science of why it’s so impactful. These conversations have really resonated with me. They all seem to support the same idea in that they’re all saying that we have more power than we sometimes think we do.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

It’s a cliché and sounds hokey but based on what I said earlier about finding career success, I suppose it all boils down to “do what you love.”

Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Homebuilding in the US has grown tremendously. We’d love to hear about some of the new trends and techniques that are being used to build the homes of the future.

As in other fields, there is greater attention being paid to how our homes can impact our health and wellbeing. Just as the sustainable food industry broke through partly because it appealed to people’s interest in living healthier and wellness-focused lives, fashion and real estate are following suit and making that connection between what’s good the the planet and what’s good for people. Whether it’s a holistic certification like WELL or Passive House or individual practices like maximizing daylight in interior spaces or minimizing toxic materials in furnishings, there is greater attention to how the buildings we live can make us healthier and happier people.

With up to 90 percent of our time spent indoors, our homes can have a powerful impact on the health and wellbeing of ourselves and our families.

Can you share with us a few of the methods that are being used to make homes more sustainable and more water and energy efficient?

Building designs that are more holistic in their approach are gaining traction right now as people want to minimize energy usage and build more resilient structures that won’t cost a fortune in the case of rising energy prices or can withstand extreme weather events that might result in power outages. The traditional way of building took a somewhat brute force approach of just adding energy to heat or cool a home. It didn’t do much to build in a way that would work with nature rather than against it. A building certification like Passive House, however, uses airtight seals, robust insulation, and the natural heat of the sun to bring energy consumption for heating or cooling a home to virtually zero.

Some of the mechanisms used are relatively recent but at its core the whole design theory is very much a back-to-basics approach: take advantage of the resources that you naturally have, like the heat of the sun, and capture that resource and retain it with thick insulation and airtight seals.

The result is a home that is more comfortable as drafts are eliminated and temperatures remain constant year round, quieter as thick insulation virtually sound proofs your entire home, and healthier as ventilation systems constantly bring in fresh air from outside.

There is a lot of talk about Smart Homes. Can you tell our readers a bit about what that is, what that looks like, and how that might help people?

I think Smart Home technology is interesting in what it can do to both make homes more environmentally sustainable and better for the health and wellbeing of people. Smart home technology can, for instance, give individuals the power to control and customize ever-smaller segments of their home. So rather than heating, cooling, and lighting an entire room or an entire home, you can choose which parts of a home or even a room that you want to heat, cool, or light.

This is significant in that a big component of comfort and happiness is the ability to control your own surroundings. Everyone has had the experience of a space that’s too hot, too cold, too dark, or too bright but there’s no way to adjust the space you’re in without adjusting the entire room and affecting other people in that space. So task lighting and individual temperature controls can help with things like mood, productivity, and overall sense of wellbeing as you can create a micro environment that’s optimized for you.

At the same time, if you are creating micro environments in your home, you are also reducing the energy you waste by heating, cooling, or lighting an entire room or even your whole home unnecessarily. A lot of energy is wasted because it’s either the heat is on for the whole house or it’s off for the whole house. But being able to segment your home so you’re only using energy in the small space you’re actually occupying at any given moment can be good for your own wellbeing and good for your environmental footprint.

Aside from Smart Homes, can you talk about other interesting tech innovations that are being incorporated into homes today?

Like I mentioned earlier, I think a lot of the recent trends are about going back to basics. It’s things as simple as airtight seals and robust insulation. Simplifying so that we see the home as a whole system that’s less adulterated with additional inputs and complicated ultimately unnecessary redundant or even contradictory systems. I think the home of the future is similar to the food of the future. It’s like industrial agriculture versus organic agriculture. With our food, we’re going back to whole natural foods that aren’t overly manufactured or processed. We recognize that a whole organic food is a better food. Similarly, we are creating homes that are better because they are more holistically designed and good for you. They provide a healthy, quiet, natural sanctuary for you and your family.

Can you talk about innovations that are being made to make homes more pet friendly?

Many of the things that make a home better for humans will also make it better for our pets. Use of non-toxic materials, greater exposure to natural light, and better ventilation will contribute to better health and wellbeing of any living creatures.

How about actual construction materials? Are there new trends in certain materials to address changes in the climate, fires, floods, and hurricanes?

In the effort to tackle climate change, which is ultimately causing a lot of of these extreme weather events, mass timber is a building material that a lot of people find intriguing. Mass timber, wood that is layered and held together under pressure, would allow us to replace the generally unsustainable concrete we’ve relied on for so long with something that both results in fewer carbon dioxide emissions during production and sequesters carbon dioxide in the wood itself. Mass timber also seem to hold up in terms of fireproofing tests so a lot of people’s natural fears about mass timber, that it would be too flammable, turn out to be unfounded.

For someone looking to invest in the real estate industry, are there exciting growth opportunities that you think people should look at more carefully?

Energy efficiency is increasingly important in the real estate industry. Governments are increasingly regulating energy standards so energy efficient buildings will be more and more important going forward. New York City is implementing energy efficiency grades, similar to health ratings already posted in restaurant windows. This is going to put a building’s energy efficiency front and center in people’s minds and buyers are going to notice this. As governments raise the bar on energy efficiency, people aren’t going to want to invest in buildings that are highly energy inefficient. Technologies and building standards that increase energy efficiency are going to get more attention going forward because no one wants to invest in a laggard energy inefficient building.

Let’s talk a bit about housing availability and affordable housing. Homelessness has been a problem for a long time in the United States. But it seems that it has gotten a lot worse over the past five years, particularly in the large cities, such as Los Angeles, New York, Seattle, and San Francisco. Can you explain to our readers what brought us to this place? Where did this crisis come from?

I think the housing crisis came from a lot of complicated factors, some of which were intended and some of which were unintended. Without getting into every detail of what brought us to this place, I think it boils down to we need more housing and we need to zone for more density. Our population continues to increase but we don’t have enough housing so the law of supply and demand pushes prices up. Cities need to be able to approve higher-density housing at a faster rate and overcome NIMBYism, red tape, and other obstacles in a more streamlined way. Zoning for higher density would go a long way to make housing more affordable in general for a lot of people.

Is there anything that home builders can do to further help address these problems?

We need new housing and we need that new housing to be sustainable and healthy. As with any other field, more people means we need more resources. But consuming more resources isn’t going to help us as a society if the use of those resources is not sustainable. We have to build in a way that creates a healthy space for people and preserves a functioning ecosystem both on a local and global level. The tools are out there to do so. We just have to use them.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I absolutely agree with the idea that you never know what your idea can trigger. Like I said earlier, simply talking about what you care about has an impact we often underestimate. So I would reiterate that. Talk about what you care about and meet people where they are. Don’t be afraid of disagreeing with the people around you. Have the conversations and find the common ground. Even if you’re not one hundred percent on the same page, that’s fine. You can still influence each other in positive ways by talking and listening and giving people the benefit of the doubt that people’s hearts are in the right place.

How can our readers follow you online?

You can find me at Compass’ website at https://www.compass.com/agents/john-oppermann/ and 
on Instagram at @johnnyoppermann

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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