October 2010 Newsletter
It's a fair-trade, earth- and eco-friendly product that was sustainably produced, hand-made and locally sourced. It's chemical free, organically grown and it will reduce your carbon footprint, combat global warming and save energy.
Sure, the above description is a ridiculous exaggeration. But lots of marketers do load up their promos with such language, and it leads to confusion and skepticism among consumers.
But the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), in an effort to more clearly define green, is revising its "Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims." The guide was first issued in 1992 and most recently revised in 1998.
It helps marketing gurus choose language so that they're making truthful and substantiated environmental claims. It does so by offering some rules of thumb about environmental marketing claims, how consumers may interpret particular claims and how to qualify claims so they're not misleading.
As a result, consumers may get a better handle on what product claims concerning certifications, seals of approvals and eco-friendly actually mean.
A step forward
The FTC's October 2010 proposed changes also incorporate new terms that weren't common when the guides were first developed. Among them are 'renewable materials' and 'renewable energy' and 'carbon offsets.'
Sections and terms undergoing revisions include 'degradable,' 'compostable,' 'ozone-safe,' and 'certifications and seals of approval.'
Al Medina GREEN, LEED AP, Director of NAR's GREEN Designation, sees the guideline revisions as a much-needed advancement for the green industry. "The guidelines on claims about a product's sustainability as proposed by the FTC are a major step toward minimizing greenwashing," he comments. "This will help separate the true sustainable companies and products from companies that see sustainability as just a marketing tactic."
The FTC is looking for comments before finalizing its revisions. They're due by December 10, 2010. The comments they seek relate to specific questions that include:
- Do consumers understand the difference between pre-consumer and post-consumer recycled content?
- How do consumers understand "carbon offset" and "carbon neutral" claims? Is there any evidence of consumer confusion concerning the use of these claims?
- What changes, if any, should be made to guidance on pre-consumer recycled content claims? How do consumers interpret such claims?
You can find a summary of the proposed revisions at the FTC web page. The entire document is available as well, and the Request for Comment section begins on page 186. For information about submitting comments, click here.
'Green Will Be Mainstream' Says EverGreen Winner
Marjory Lokahi Gentsch, broker for Hill Country Green Team in Austin, Texas, is something of an accidental real estate practitioner. She entered the business in 2004 specifically to educate people about the importance of green building and sustainable development and construction.
Gentsch, a Green Instructor, has become deeply involved with green real estate and sustainability, providing LEED workshops through the local chapter of the United States Green Building Council (USGBC), negotiating green sales contracts on behalf of clients, and presenting seminars on an array of topics that include indoor air quality, green marketing, life cycle performance and energy tax credits.
She's one of four winners of the Green REsource Council's 2010 EverGreen Award, an honor that recognizes GRC members for their commitment to the advancement of the green building industry and its practice.
Here is some of Gentsch's insight.
Backdoor entry: Gentsch got involved in real estate after investigating and using green building techniques for her own Austin custom house that she completed in 2000. She was especially concerned with indoor air quality and found the design and building experience an eye-opener when she learned about toxins that lurk in houses. "My profession was health and wellness and I realized that the most important product affecting people's health was their house," she comments. She wanted others to understand the importance of a clean, green house and reasoned that she could make the greatest impact through real estate. "The best way to promote green real estate is by informing the public before they pick a house," she comments.
One non-toxic home at a time: Gentsch negotiated with a home builder to incorporate unique products, such as non-toxic paints, stained concrete floors, and other materials that didn't off-gas, for a house that a client with chemical sensitivities was purchasing. She's a tough negotiator on deals that she works with builders on behalf of her clients. She also "babysits" homebuilding projects to be certain that contractors adhere to green standards. For one, she insists on third-party construction inspections to ensure that proper materials and construction methods are being incorporated. Why? Her argument is that you may have a great energy-efficient window, but if the contractor doesn't do the flashing correctly, its effectiveness can be profoundly diminished.
Green MLS: Gentsch was instrumental in greening her local MLS. "I started lobbying for it in 2006 and pushed for two years," she recalls. In 2008, the fields appeared. Her next MLS effort entails pushing for third-party verification of a house's greenness, both to protect practitioners and to avoid greenwashing. "If you're going to say it's green, prove it," she comments. According to Gentsch, not enough practitioners have taken NAR's Green Designation Core Course, and many selling agents--even those marketing green homes--aren't well-schooled in the features of green homes that are covered in the course. "That has to change," she comments. Moreover, she points out that clients truly interested in sustainability can sniff out impostors. "Green clients know if your heart is in the right place. You can't fake it."
Expanding knowledge: Green education is an ongoing quest, which is why Gentsch participates in an array of national and community green groups, including the GRC, Sierra Club, and USGBC. The participation not only gives her credibility ("People know I'm the real deal," she comments), but it also gives her access to people with expertise. "If I have questions about a building system or materials or if there's some anomaly, I have 10 or 12 experts I can call. They're an incredible resource, and that's one benefit of networking with other green professionals," she comments.
Big picture: Gentsch keeps an eye on energy price trends and anticipates a cost hike in coming years. "Once energy prices rise dramatically, people will seriously 'get it.' Energy-guzzling houses just won't sell in that condition," she comments. It's another reason she's such a strong advocate for green housing and why she urges real estate practitioners to gain a deeper understanding of sustainability. She expects that buyers will start scrutinizing energy bills carefully and factoring such costs into buying decisions. "Eventually, it's not going to just be PITI, but PITI plus 'E' for energy. Green will be mainstream when energy prices skyrocket," Gentsch comments.
Message from the Director
Fellow Green Designees and Candidates,
We hope this message finds you well. We understand that 2010 has been full of challenges and, for some, great opportunity. With that, I'd like to congratulate the 2010 EverGreen Award winners for rising above the challenges of the current market, and exemplifying the necessary qualities to maintain visibility in the green industry. Please see our EverGreen Award articles starting in this month's newsletter for green designees who are making a name for themselves through their commitment to sustainability.
Awareness, education and adoption of green strategies are crucial among local government, builders and the general public. If you can become a voice and resource among these groups, you will be a vital part of the transition from traditional homes to energy and resource-efficient properties. Keep your client base tuned in with green tips for their home and other efficiency incentives from which they can benefit. For example, the HOMESTAR legislation awaiting approval in the US Senate could result in cost savings for your clients.
In April, the Green REsource Council launched the Green MLS Tool Kit. The tool kit is a free guide for MLSs interested in becoming more sustainable and adding searchable green fields to their data entry form. We are currently calling upon all the MLSs throughout the country to gauge how many of them have a green MLS or are in the process of implementing one. If your MLS hasn't yet adopted searchable green fields, this is a great opportunity for you to contact them and become a green advocate in your area.
The Green Business Network continues to grow with companies that focus on sustainable solutions. Our recent participants include Lowe's, DocuSign, Ziplogix and the REALTORS® Federal Credit Union. There is a reason why they are part of the network, please search the Green Business Network and see why.
We are entering a busy season with the Green REsource Council, as we prepare for the 2010 REALTORS(R) Conference and Expo in New Orleans.
We have nearly 100 signed up to celebrate with us at our Green Designation Awards and Networking Reception on November 7th at the conference. Please join us for free food, drinks and good company. Click here to register. Don't forget to stop by the green booth (#839) in the Green Pavilion. Designees receive a special gift and chance to win a $100 gift card when you submit a green idea in the Green Networking Lounge, located in the Green Pavilion.
As the year draws to a close, we remind you what renewing your membership with the Green Resource Council means:
- You maintain the ability to use "GREEN" behind your name on business cards, promotional materials, and identifying yourself as an NAR Green Designee
- A directory profile at www.GreenREsourceCouncil.org and at (REALTOR.org, REALTOR.com, and GreenHomeGuide.com)
- Access to our monthly e-newsletters, webinars and other resources found in the "Members Only" section of www.GreenREsourceCouncil.org
- Up-to-date information on the latest in green industry news and trends affecting real estate agents
Watch for your membership renewal mid-November. We truly appreciate your continued membership with the Green REsource Council.
As this newsletter goes out for delivery, we will be reaching 6,000 agents who have received NAR's Green Designation. A special thanks to the Green team, Amanda Stinton and Tonette Lauer, who have helped make it happen!
Initiatives to keep an eye out for in 2011:
- An alliance with the U.S. Green Building Council to promote green home understanding to consumers within your community
- A new series of professionally crafted postcards and other mailers
- Continued Builder and Consumer Awareness Campaigns which direct traffic to our online Designee search page (campaign includes an on-line ad at NationalGeographic.com in early 2011)
- A reorganized commercial certification program
Al Medina – GREEN, LEED AP
Director, NAR's Green Designation
Online Banking Saves Time, Money and the Planet
Just as green housing choices have widened, so too have choices in the banking industry.
One such choice is online banking through the REALTORS® Federal Credit Union. REALTORS® Federal Credit Union, a totally virtual credit union, offers a green option especially for real estate practitioners. Based on their business model, REALTORS® Federal Credit Union is a welcome addition to NAR's Green Business Network. Online banking makes sense on multiple levels.
For one, switching from paper statements to electronic ones vastly cuts paper consumption and mailing costs. It can also reduce the number of trips you make to bank branches or ATMs because you can transfer money, pay bills and deposit checks electronically.
With online banking you also have immediate access to your accounts so you can keep on top of your bills and detect fraud quickly.
Moreover, by operating without brick and mortar facilities, REALTORS® Federal Credit Union helps members take a step toward improving the environment and reducing their carbon footprint.
REALTORS® FCU was initiated by the National Association of REALTORS® in 2007 as part of its Second Century Initiatives. In May 2009, REALTORS® FCU opened its virtual doors, and it has over 5,700 consumer and business members.
The credit union offers a broad range of products and services, including traditional and money market savings, eChecking, certificate investments, home loans, car loans, personal loans, and credit lines.
Since all such services are available online, you can apply for a loan, transfer funds, pay bills, and deposit checks without ever driving to the bank or touching a piece of paper. Credit union representatives are always available through the 24-hour Member Care call center.
All REALTORS® and their immediate family members are eligible for lifetime membership. For more information, see www.REALTORSFCU.org.
DocuSign Delivers Paperless Signatures
Mike Pressnall recalls closing on a house and having to drive to a copy shop at 10 p.m. to await a fax associated with the closing.
How far we've come from those days.
DocuSign Inc. offers Web-based, electronic signatures that speed up the real estate sales process. This innovative company, a part of NAR's Green Business Network and NAR's REALTOR Benefits® Program, eliminates the need for in-person signatures, and helps you green your business.
According to Pressnall, Partner Account Manager with DocuSign, one spouse could be in France, another in Chicago, and the two could sign documents for a house they're selling in Seattle.
Pressnall led the GRC's October 2010 Webinar. Here's a brief snapshot of how you can benefit from using e-signatures.
How it works: You essentially select, upload and send to your clients the documents that require signatures. "It's a Web-browser based service, so there's no software to download," comments Pressnall. "All clients and real estate practitioners need is an e-mail address and a way to get on the Internet." Signatures are executed on a safe, encrypted server and, according to Pressnall, an array of checks and balances and security measures verify signers' identities. The approach reduces delays and the time-wasting associated with waiting for paperwork delivery. And it's a paperless process.
Life with DocuSign: Pressnall gathers DocuSign success stories during industry meetings. One practitioner's client signed documents while riding a horse as she entered a South American jungle during a vacation. A 92-year-old mother signed home sale documents from her bed. And he recalls, "I was in Hawaii and signed a document from my iPhone while I sat on the beach under a palm tree."
Closings: DocuSign has agreements with FHA, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and Wells Fargo that allow clients to sign closing documents using DocuSign." It's changing how we do business and making life easier," Pressnall comments.
Greening your ways: Using DocuSign does away with the paper and sticky notes associated with the traditional signature process. The cost, space, and labor associated with storing boxes of documentation are also eliminated, along with gas costs and the impact of driving around to gather signatures.
They're all small things that, multiplied by the number of real estate practitioners and the miles they drive, add up to be big things for the environment, notes Pressnall.
This Month's Tips
Green Your Halloween
- Opt for reusable Halloween trick-or-treat bags.
- Don't toss your carved pumpkins or the apples from your party. Instead, use them for cooking pies, soups or other dishes. If they're too nasty to eat, compost food items.
- Make your own treats or give out eco-friendly sweets, such as organic chocolate or other candy from the healthy aisles of the grocery store.
All articles written by Elyse Umlauf-Garneau