Building Green: Environmentally friendly real-estate development

Industries increasingly are being challenged to take into account the environmental ramifications of their operations as more proof of global warming comes to light. The real-estate industry is no exception and in a slow but steady trend, African-American developers are incorporating elements of environmental responsibility into their projects, constructing residential and commercial properties as energy efficient, ?green? buildings while not sacrificing the needs of their clients.

Indeed, ?green? technology and environment-friendly materials are becoming so readily available ? from the materials used for tiles, carpeting and hardwood floors to electrical systems and temperature controls ? that real-estate developers, manufacturers and suppliers to the construction industry are revamping the entire building process in hopes of curtailing further damage to the environment. In New York City?s Harlem community, for example, where the residential and commercial real-estate boom is changing the face of one of the oldest centers of Black culture, Danforth Development Partners L.L.C. is in the early design stage for the transformation of the landmark Victoria Theatre into a green hotel. Construction for the $150 million, 140,000-square-foot New Victoria Center will not begin for another 14 months.

?Over the last year, we saw that the availability and usage of reusable and recycled material has become more prominent in the construction industry,? says M. Steven C. Williams, DDP?s president and chief executive officer. ?From the consumers? perspective, we are seeing more people interested in staying in healthy environments, whether it is hotels or residential properties. It?s an investment that will have long-term effects for us, and the environment.?

Williams and his staff plan to set high environmental standards for the New Victoria Center, in hopes of earning a gold mark from the U.S. Green Building Council?s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Green Building Rating. Among other elements, the firm is considering installing fluorescent light bulbs to conserve energy, motion sensors that will turn off the electricity when the hotel guest leaves the room and hardwood floors made of bamboo trees, a reusable product.

Hotel industry executives see the move to green energy not only as keeping pace with the global campaign for environmental responsibility, but also as a trend that will attract more business for the industry. The trend may still be in its early stages, but it will soon become an industry standard, says Andy Ingraham, president and chief executive officer of the National Association of Black Hotel Owners, Operators and Developers.

?In the near future, green is going to be the way to do business,? he says. ?When you look at development, you will see developers taking a look at how it affects the environment, as well as more and more consumer groups that will demand and partner with businesses that embrace green energy and technology.?

In the residential market, American Real Estate Development Inc. has been creating an environmental standard since 1999. Executives at the Lawnside, N.J., company say they made green energy part of the company?s construction culture not only to help the environment but also to help homeowners save money. ?By having a home that uses less electricity and has environmental technology built into the home, the owner will see a significant change in their monthly utility bills,? says Ernest Edwards, the company?s president. ?That leaves them with more money available to use towards their mortgage payment or wherever there is a need.?

So far, demand for energy-efficient homes has not spread aggressively, but Edwards is confident that consumers will seek those homes as they become more educated about the benefits of such homes. ?When people first come to us, many of them don?t know that our homes are built as energy-efficient properties,? he says. ?We take the time to educate them and show them what the benefits are. Ultimately, it is a process that benefits all ? the consumer, the environment and the developer.