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Implementing sustainable ideas in real estate

Green buildingReal estate developers have a role to play in building sustainable communities.

 A team from Newland Communities, the largest private developer of planned residential and urban mixed-use communities in the U.S, shared their experiences at UNC Kenan Flagler’s annual “Careers with Impact Forum,” which was hosted by UNC’s Net Impact Club.

Jody Leidolf, Newland’s director of pre-development, started the discussion with a thought from Yvon Chouinard, founder and owner of Patagonia: “Make the best product, cause no unnecessary harm.”

As simple as Chouinard’s advice might seem, it reflects the goal of real estate developers that emphasize “becoming more sustainable to effectively integrate into the regional context.” In essence, while Newland strives to develop its real estate communities, the company must also prioritize making environmentally conscious choices that benefit the local area.

Panelists from Newland – Leidolf, Lee Bowman (UNC ’96), Tanya Matzen and Susan Reynolds –  shared ways to effectively implement sustainable real estate models that positively affect entire communities.

Align your corporate values

If your company’s values do not align with those of your partner, your project efforts could fail.

For Newland’s partnership with Sekisui, a homebuilding and development company, to work, the two companies needed to collaborate on their values and aspirational goals.

Because Sekisui already had four core values set in stone (environmental, homeowner, economic and social values), Newland created five specific focus areas that would mesh well with Sekisui’s predetermined corporate values. Those focus areas ensured that collaborative projects between the two companies worked toward achieving the same goals.

Incremental value creation through design

“Be research-centric,” Leidolf advises, and willing to reconvene at the drawing board annually after learning of new research findings.

Briar Chapel, a Newland community located outside Chapel Hill, is the “largest green-built community in the Raleigh-Durham area.”

“Briar Chapel is the number one sustainable community in North Carolina,” says Leidolf, “and it’s all due to research.”

Envisioning a real estate community depends on conducting accurate research that shares insights about target audiences. If companies don’t conduct research, they simply won’t know what their consumers want.

Outline your project principles

Everyone knows you should “start at the very beginning,” but people often try to skip over the in-depth planning stage. Outlining long-term goals is critical to meaningful outcomes.

At the onset of the Briar Chapel project, Newland outlined the project’s primary principles: “create and maintain Briar Chapel as a nature sanctuary, celebrate and preserve the history of the site, pioneer and promote authentic innovation, and foster social intelligence.”

“Project managers and marketing teams come and go, but project principles are the things that remain constant so you always have that vision from start to finish in the walk down a project,” says Leidolf.

 The team must buy into the vision

Newland’s Wendell Falls project established a new “level of sophistication” in a well-known rural area. Matzen highlighted the project’s inclusion of a sleek café and basic commercial needs, such as gas stations, that fostered an unprecedented level of modernity and urbanization in the rural community.

To effectively create a premium product, each team member needed to be fully committed to reaching common goals, no matter how revolutionary or modern they seemed, Matzen says. Cooperation from everyone on the team was necessary for the project’s implementation and ultimate success.

Details matter

Every aspect of a project carries significance, even details that might seem inconsequential, when it comes to attracting consumers.

When Newland built Briar Chapel, the project plan included purposeful ways to share art in the residential community, Leidolf says. The company incorporated handmade hammocks and swings, birdhouses, and community gardens within the residential space to foster an appreciation for the arts within open gathering spaces.

By perfecting every detail, Newland created a thoughtful and inclusive living community that inspired residents to appreciate art.

By Grace Ketron (BA ’19)