People Making a Difference: An Interview with Preston Koerner of JetsonGreen.com

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Today we’re featuring an interview with Preston D Koerner of JetsonGreen.com as part of our series on “People Making a Difference.” Since 2006, Preston has been working on JetsonGreen.com, a popular blog devoted to green building and green business.

Koerner graduated from BYU with a B.A. in History and a minor in Japanese in 2003. In May 2007, Preston graduated from SMU with JD and MBA degrees (not joint degrees). At the Cox School of Business, he focused on finance, marketing, and real estate. At the Dedman School of Law, he focused on transactional legal courses.

He lives in Salt Lake City where he is studying for the Utah Bar Exam and working hard on JetsonGreen.com.

Enjoy the interview and thanks again to Preston for agreeing to do the interview for us!

1. First of all, tell us about yourself and how you became interested in green building and green design. When did you decide to turn your interests into the Jetson Green website?

When I was living in Japan in the late 90s, the culture and mentality really turned me onto conservation, energy-efficiency, and environmentalism. In Japan, it’s about the small things like not wasting a grain of rice, monitoring the electricity meter, and using the heating/cooling equipment in moderation. I think this is when my awareness for these issues began. So in the Spring 2005, I was in an MBA business plan class and wrote a plan for a mid-scale, modern, trendy, green hotel for young professionals. I couldn’t see the financial success of the hotel brand without the green elements. Some of my classmates didn’t agree with the need for building a LEED hotel and recommended building a modern hotel with energy-saving technology. To me though, green is about more than energy, it’s about the air, the water, and the materials. At that point, the cross-section of sustainability and real estate was perpetually on my mind and I decided to start a blog for two reasons: first, to learn the technology of blogging, and second, to enunciate my thoughts and research on sustainability and real estate.

2. For people who don’t know much about sustainable/green building design, what are some common design features that make a building truly green?

Well, I like to think about design and green features in terms of buckets that sometimes lop over into each other: indoor air quality, resource efficiency, and environmental impact. For example, indoor air quality (IAQ) has to do with what design elements you use and how those elements affect the mixture of toxins and particles in the air. Resource efficiency has to do with the resources that a structure uses going forward. Mainly, this is about the energy mix and the water requirements. Environmental impact has to do with the life cycle of materials, from cradle-to-cradle, or from the beginning to the next step. What did you do to the earth to get those materials? What do you do to the earth when the materials are no longer needed? Can waste equal food? With these three buckets in mind, common green design features include no- or low-VOC paints and varnishes, low-flow dual flush toilets, reclaimed or responsibly harvested wood floors, Energy Star appliances, recycled content countertops, rooftop photovoltaic panels, double-pane low-E tinted windows, native landscaping, and efficient heating and cooling systems.

3. You’ve seen a lot of cool green buildings and projects out there. What are some of your favorites?

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I really like 111 South Wacker, which is a Chicago building that received the USGBC’s Gold rating, the second highest distinction in green certification. Not only is this building incredible to look at, but it’s an example of the financial case for green buildings. 111 South Wacker cost about $270 million to build, and it leased up almost immediately. About a year later, the building was sold for roughly $386 million. That’s pretty incredible if you’re looking at green buildings from the investment perspective.

On a smaller scale, I really love the combination of modern and green. I hate to say it, but I’m a snob for straight lines. There’s a cool development in Dallas called Urban Reserve, which is a 13-acre neighborhood with 50 modern, green homes. The neighborhood is in very early stages, but homes are starting to get built. Many, if not all, of the lots have sold signs on them.

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WIRED LivingHome by LivingHomes

Also, I follow the green prefab makers such as LivingHomes, Michelle Kaufmann Designs, Hive Modular, and Office of Mobile Design. The budding developer in me has grandiose dreams of building a vacation retreat in Park City, Utah, with about ten, green prefabs from these cutting-edge, home building experts.

4. It seems like the U.S. is a little behind countries like Germany in terms of green architecture. What do you think we can do to help us get on board and move our country to a more sustainable future?

I wonder about this all the time. I’m not an architect, so I can’t really speak to that other than to say that the AIA and architects seem to be very concerned about sustainability. In addition to design, our sustainable future requires assessing the materials (water, energy, construction materials) we use. I talk about politics and regulations every now and then, but truth be told, I’m most interested in letting the market figure this out. I do perceive the renewable energy area to be a David, especially when it comes to the oil and coal Goliaths, so I voice my support for renewable initiatives. Other than that, however, I think the U.S. has the know-how and skills to forge ahead and be a global leader. One way to get there is by the aggregation of small efforts. There are over 300 million people in the U.S., and if we all do the small things, we can make a big difference. Sounds cheesy, I know. Some of these 300 million are major business leaders and their efforts will be compounded as well.

5. Are there other innovations in green architecture that you’re excited about?

Newer and better stuff is always coming out, but I really think it requires using the technology that we currently have such as insulation, proper solar orientation, and energy/water-efficient appliances and fixtures. If we use what we have, people can live in healthier, more comfortable homes.

I also like the combo of solar/wind & plug-in hybrid vehicles. Think about this. If you live in a place with abundant sun or wind, you can tap that with panels on your roof or a small-wind turbine. And if you have net-metering, your meter goes backwards during the day. At night, you get home and plug your car in as if it were an iPod. Since you’re charging up at night, you’re getting the off-peak rate, which is cheaper. So you sell energy to the grid during peak demand and use it at night when it’s cheaper. Throw in the thermal energy storage technology from the likes of Trinity Thermal or Ice Energy, and this scenario gets even better. This way, at least you won’t have to worry about spikes in the price of energy. In see this as American Dream 2.0. Google just announced a $10 million investment in plug-in hybrid technology and the price of solar and wind tech is dropping as well. If growth is controlled, this will be the future of the southwest United States, at the very least.

6. On your website you talk about your plans for a book. Can you tell us a little more about that?

Oh, you saw that?! Well, I love reading and writing, which is a good combination for a blogger. I’m constantly trying to improve the craft of writing, so I have a future goal of writing a book. It’s doable. During law school, I wrote two +45 page papers, which I didn’t think I could do in the beginning (one paper was on the Japanese education system and the other was on the 2006 Rhode Island lead paint public nuisance case). Long story short, I don’t have a book idea or anything, just a future goal to write a book. If the opportunity comes up, however, I want to be able to write about something that hasn’t been written about and that will be genuine. Something niche. We’ll see.

7. What general advice do you have for the average person who is looking to make changes in their lifestyle to help improve the environment?

This is tough because geography really does matter. Every location is different, but to generalize, there are two things to do: (1) educate yourself on the issues, and (2) start with the low hanging fruit. In my case, I’ve been driving the same light-duty S-10 since 2000, which is paid off. I’d love to drive a shiny, new hybrid car, but I just graduated and it’s not practical. Instead, I carpool when possible and follow the 20-minute rule by living close to work, church, and play. In the end, I’m confident that as people educate themselves on the issues, they will make the smart decisions that will eventually improve the environment.

Thanks again to Preston for this great interview!


{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Preston July 3, 2007 at 11:21 am

Thanks for giving me the opportunity to blabber. I hope the building renovation is going well; I hope to drop by when I come back in town to visit family. Now that you’ve done an interview on me, I’ll try harder to make a difference. Keep up the cool work.

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