Industry Outlook 2008
Not all 'green' plans are equal. But some companies and governments are taking real strides in sustainability.
Built by railroad magnate Henry Plant, the Belleview Biltmore Hotel spans 21 acres overlooking Clearwater Bay. It’s one of the largest wooden structures in the world. The 110-year-old Victorian landmark was in danger of being demolished until management asset firm Legg Mason bought it last year for $30 million.
[Photo: Sabine Scheckel/Getty Images]
The firm has committed to renovating the hotel according to U.S. Green Building Council LEED standards, and the $100-million facelift will maintain the hotel’s National Register of Historic Places designation while meeting goals to save water and energy and reduce the carbon emissions that lead to global warming.
Gov. Charlie Crist, who unveiled his “climate friendly initiatives” last year, lauded Legg Mason for its “tremendous leadership” on green building. Indeed, across the state, the commercial real estate industry leads Florida businesses on the green path, says Charles Kibert, a building-construction professor at the University of Florida and leading expert in the field.
Florida governments, too, are embracing green, making buildings and vehicles more energy efficient. So are private companies, particularly those that can achieve significant economies of scale. Delray Beach-based Office Depot overhauled lighting and energy in 600 stores, contributing not only to the bottom line, but also to a 10% decline in the release of heat-trapping emissions. Lakeland-based Publix has cut its use of electricity by an average of 7% overall and 23% in its new stores.
But while many Florida business and governments are undergoing environmental tuneups to meet consumer demand and forthcoming mandates, others are backing away from green initiatives in response to economic conditions. Some home builders, struggling to survive mounting financial losses and a glut of unsold homes, are axing green-building programs to shave costs. Bonita Springs-based WCI Communities, a green champion during the state’s real estate run-up [“Green Greens,” page 18], had more homes certified green than any other builder in the state, according to the Florida Green Building Coalition. But after posting a third-quarter loss of $70 million last year, WCI backed off plans to certify more homes and slashed its green-building staff as it laid off more than 500 employees.
Meanwhile, too many companies still see green as just a marketing tool rather than a commitment to keeping Florida — and the planet — livable. Witness the mounds of press releases for green products, green public relations, even a green insurance agent, with little hint of what makes the companies sustainable. One national home builder has a “buy green” ad campaign in Florida even though its houses have few discernible green features. “There’s certainly an effort to take advantage of the greening of our society. It’s caveat emptor, buyer beware,” says Tim Center, director of the Council for Sustainable Florida, a public-private alliance that encourages sustainable development practices.