The Value of ‘Why?’

For Bob Hart, that one question has helped drive sustainability for his association.

Bob Hart’s favorite question might be, “Why?” As CEO for the Santa Barbara Association of REALTORS®, Hart, RCE, was reviewing the association’s water bill when he glanced outside at its lush, green lawn. He realized the association could save water and maintenance costs, while redirecting that money to the membership, by making just a few changes.

SBAOR’s demonstration garden of drought-tolerant plants has reduced monthly water usage by 75% and has resulted in a significant savings of member dues dollars.

REALTOR® AE talked to Hart about the value of “why,” how sustainability is now a natural part of his association’s culture, and making his mark on the profession.

Q: Can you share your other sustainability wins?

Hart: What I’d like to address is resource management: How can we do a better job of accomplishing our goals while using fewer resources, remembering that our resources are not just material things but also include money and time?

Since we are in a drought area, our first efforts were on water conservation, but then we looked at our use of electricity. Did all the lights need to be on all the time? We replaced all incandescent bulbs with LEDs, then reconfigured the fluorescent fixtures—more than 100 bulbs. Not only did we reduce the electric load from 160 watts per fixture to 14 by going to LED, but it also eliminated the flicker and buzz of the fluorescent tubes—a much nicer environment for our staff and members.

Q: How much in savings have you realized?

Hart: Here’s just one example: Knowing we had reserves in the bank at less than 0.5% interest per year, we realized we could get a much higher return by investing in a solar photovoltaic system. We had been paying roughly $1,000 per month for electricity. With our solar system in place, we now pay less than $100—and while closed for the COVID-19 pandemic, the electric company paid us! Saving $900 per month works out to a return on the $56,000 investment of over 19% per year—a significant improvement over the $280 per year we would have earned leaving it in the bank.

It is also important to realize that at 5.5 years, our system was completely paid for, yet our monthly savings continue and will actually increase as electric rates rise.

With our expenses down, it gives our board of directors more latitude when they do have programs that they want to implement. Most importantly, we have not had a dues increase in at least 15 years due to properly managing our members’ money.

Q: You’ve also successfully advocated for greater professionalism. What advice would you offer to other association executives?

Hart: A very simple action is to stop calling what our members do an “industry.” REALTORS® do not make things; they are not industrial. They are professional. If we all refer to the real estate “profession” instead of the real estate industry, it can lead to our members seeing themselves as professionals and therefore acting more professionally.

Q: How have you stayed motivated to make big changes happen?

Hart: For anyone who doesn’t like change, we just remind them, “Nothing can be improved upon if it isn’t changed.” Why would we want to remain stagnant if we have an opportunity to make things better? I’ve also learned that it is much easier to get buy-in when the board of directors comes up with the idea. I do my best to provide information so they can come to the conclusion that something needs to be done, such as investing in solar.

Q: What’s one challenge that you’d like to see AEs take on?

Hart: I encourage every AE to analyze their use of resources—in other words, ask “Why?” Do you need to print everything? If so, are you using both sides of the paper? How long has it been since you reviewed contracts for your phones, copier, alarm system, trash, etc.? I was shocked at how much of our members’ money I have been able to save because I looked at alternatives.

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