Learn how to start a green movement by simply filling a marketplace void and meeting consumer demand.
Solar panels installed on a snowy roof

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A year ago, sustainability wasn’t on Stacey Alcorn’s radar. The broker-owner of LAER Realty Partners in the Boston metro area admitted that she hardly recycled and drove a “gas guzzler.” But then she met Craig Foley, she said during her presentation at the REALTORS® Conference & Expo in San Francisco Sunday.

Foley, e-PRO, GREEN, is passionate about helping real estate clients live better lives in high-performance homes. These properties have a lower carbon footprint and are healthier for the owners themselves and the environment around them. The green marketplace has grown in the Boston area, and when Alcorn saw the passion Foley has for sustainable homes, she was captivated and inspired.

But beyond that, Alcorn realized that there’s a significant segment of the real estate market her company had overlooked. There are builders in their area constructing zero-energy homes, and more than 90,000 existing homes have solar panels. Clients are placing value on indoor air quality and energy efficiency because of the cost savings and the health factor. Foley opened up Alcorn’s eyes not just to a market niche, but to a budding real estate movement.

Before Alcorn started her brokerage five years ago, she interviewed some of the most successful business leaders in the world to understand what it takes to make it. “The biggest thing they all said is listen to people.” Listen to your clients, agents, and the marketplace, she said. So, after 20 years as a real estate pro, Alcorn listened and pivoted toward emerging growth. She hired Foley in February 2019 as her company’s chief sustainability officer, who’s now helping train her 500 agents on selling high-performance homes. After just 10 months with the company, the culture is already shifting—34 agents have earned their GREEN designation and Alcorn traded in her gas guzzler for a hybrid.

“The build environment accounts for 39% of the energy consumption is in this country,” Foley said. “We as an industry have a huge opportunity to be part of the solution to some of the environmental challenges.”

In addition to his job as chief sustainability officer, Foley also runs a real estate team called REthink39, which is dedicated to lowering that 39% energy consumption figure. His team explains the state’s Mass Save program to clients, which offers incentives for homeowners on insulation, heating systems, and appliances that are more energy-efficient. “Our team feels we can be part of the solution with every one of our transactions. We’re very mission-driven,” Foley said.

In a day and age when clients can pull up basic data points about any property on their phone, it’s an added value for an agent to be able to talk about energy efficiency and sustainability features, which can increase a home’s value by an average of 5%, Alcorn said.

For 20 years, Alcorn recruited the traditional way, but now she’s sending a different message—one that speaks to agents in the community who care about sustainability. That’s why, in 2020, LAER Realty’s ad campaign is “Why join any brokerage when you can join a movement?”

She’s now looking for “concierge” business partners who can work on different elements of a home’s sustainability for clients. Alcorn is targeting ads to people who own Teslas and other potential customers who may care about sustainability. She set up a landing page, mygreenhome.info, to funnel online leads, because she knows that in the next decade there’s going to be a growing number of consumers with solar panels and even small power plants on their properties who will require a real estate professional who knows how to market those elements.

“Consumers invest in a company because they want to know they share their values,” she said. And it’s happening well beyond real estate. Just 10 years ago, the number of Fortune 500 companies that published a sustainability report totaled less than 20%. In 2018, 395 companies—78%—among the S&P 500 issued sustainability reports. And many are looking at the triple bottom line: profit, people, and planet.

For other brokers who are interested in finding a sustainability expert, Alcorn suggests contacting your state or local association to see if it has a sustainability committee, workgroup, or task force, and find out who’s involved. Or, look up GREEN designees as well as people who are teaching GREEN in your state at green.realtor.