Why We’re Behind It

Kevin L. Ratner is the president of Forest City Residential West, a subsidiary of Forest City Enterprises Inc., a developer, owner and manager of commercial and residential real estate. The company helped the city of Los Angeles develop its Green Building Program, which was passed by its City Council in April on Earth Day. Sustainability has been a part of the Forest City culture since Sam Miller, co-chairman of the board and treasurer of Forest City Enterprises began placing stickers on office light switches, urging people to “kill-a-watt.” Today, Forest City’s notable sustainable projects include Stapleton in Denver; The Uptown in Oakland, Calif., which is the first multifamily residential project in Oakland to receive LEED certification, with a LEED Silver rating; Mesa del Sol in Albuquerque, N.M.; University Park at MIT in Cambridge, Mass.; and SKY 55 in Chicago. MHN: Tell us a little about the LA Green Building Program.Ratner: Based on Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, the LA Green Building Program is a mandatory program for new buildings in the city of Los Angeles that are 50,000 square feet and larger. The goal is for the buildings to be 15 percent more energy efficient than currently required by state codes, primarily Title 24. The implementation of this ordinance has the potential to put Los Angeles at the forefront of energy-efficient design—a major tenant of broader sustainability programs among major U.S. cities. MHN: Why was Forest City asked to help the city with its program?Ratner: For two reasons. Several years ago, Forest City made a corporate commitment to green development and we have adhered to that commitment. Secondly, because we develop sustainable projects whenever possible and we have design and operating experience. The city believed these skills, qualifications and experience would be of value in helping them formulate a sensible and achievable green ordinance.MHN: What advice do you have for complying with the guidelines? What measures has Forest City taken to incorporate sustainability in its projects/business models?Ratner: Whether it’s a building or a community, the best advice is to start planning for sustainability as early as possible, beginning with site selection. Sustainable programs and components that are an integral part of the project design from the ground up will achieve better results and be more cost effective. Since sustainability is one of our core values, no new project gets approved without going through a review to determine how it is incorporating sustainable elements. While every project is different, factors such as recycling, using local suppliers, indoor air quality and energy efficiency are key components of our projects. MHN: Who is your environmental role model?Ratner: Amory B. Lovins from the Rocky Mountain Institute. Lovins has driven the thinking about natural resources and the use of these resources for decades. He sets the bar high with regards to what The Rocky Mountain Institute refers to as “Natural Capital.” We would all do well to listen to him and understand what he is saying.MHN: How do you get tenants to appreciate green and sustainable initiatives and pay any kind of premium for them? Ratner: Certainly not everyone is enamored with green development, but I believe it’s rapidly becoming more than a feel-good idea—a way of life and a necessity. We believe our residents at The Uptown are willing to support a sustainable development that will result in a more cost-effective home and a healthier living environment. They understand their role in conserving natural resources and they agree with our vision for the project. As far as monetizing green, we believe that over time, sustainability will more than pay for itself in terms of project value. I believe 10 years from now, a sustainable (or high-performing, more durable, healthier) project will be a more valuable asset than a non-sustainable project, everything else being equal.MHN: How different will LA housing be in five years? In what ways?Ratner: With the housing slump, it’s hard to say. Some observers believe it may take three years for the housing industry to recover, and in the meantime, we will probably not see a lot of new residential construction. But I believe housing, whether for-sale or rental, will evolve to be more environmentally friendly, even if it’s not covered by the city’s green ordinance. As sustainability becomes increasingly important to preserving our environment and our quality of life, the market will demand a green, healthier building, one that considers environmental impacts and is responsible in its design. At the end of the day, the evolution is market-driven, and that’s what counts the most.Also, as technology continues to advance, expect to see more “Smart Homes,” which give residents the ability to control things like lights, HVAC and equipment, via a Web interface. Increased awareness of usage and control will lead to increased efficiencies.MHN: What green/sustainable strategy do you think is over-hyped?Ratner: I think the word “green” is over-hyped. My concern is that green has become a marketing gimmick. It seems as though everything is green, whether it is or not. That marketing spin bothers me because it acts as promotional subterfuge to what sustainability is really all about. People are being misled and that’s not a good thing.To comment, email Teresa O’Dea Hein at thein@multi-housingnews.com