Michael Oster was standing on the roof his three-story, four-year-old home on Navesink River Road in Middletown, N.J. Across the rural road, looking south, is the home of rock star Jon Bon Jovi, overlooking the Navesink River. On the east, Oster has an unbridled view of the Atlantic Ocean.
And at the northern edge of his six-acre property sits an unprepossessing trellis supporting grapevines that will, within a year, camouflage solar panels providing 80% of his 10,000-square-foot home's power needs.
"Our energy independence is imperative; it's terrible that we are dependent on fossil fuel," says Oster, CEO of Clean Energy Holdings, Keasbey-Woodbridge, N.J. Oster makes a sketch of the trellis, with solar panels set at 15-degree angles, tilting them toward the sun. His house is a 30-foot rise from street level, and the trellis will sit 15 feet higher than that. At rooftop level, it's 25 feet higher. "If you noticed, there were no lights on in the house. We designed the house with windows that make lighting unnecessary during the daylight hours," he says.
Oster is part of a growing group of high-net-worth Americans who are spending their capital and their intellect on turning their lives and the environment green.
In Los Angeles, the movie producer Dean Devlin (one of whose productions is the 2006 documentary Who Killed the Electric Car?) says hybrid cars have emerged as the chic way to go. "The tide has changed dramatically since we started working on the documentary," he says. "Originally, people who drove [hybrid cars] were thought of as fringe people. Now, it's the fashion. You can't go to a Hollywood function without thousands of Priuses pulling up! I am driving a Tesla. It's absolutely gorgeous to look at and it's a 100% electric car. It's not like driving a golf cart: When I pull up, people stare."
Devlin, who also is an actor in Hollywood movies and TV, spent $100,000 for the luxury of a powerful and handsome automobile that doesn't help pollute the already smoggy Southern California atmosphere. He says he inherited his passion for driving green from his father, the late actor Don Devlin, "who had the very first electric car made by General Motors.
"We could have cars at zero emission today; not ten years from now, but today," Devlin says. "I have solar panels on the roof of my house, which powers my car. It's not just about the car companies. It's about the government mandating the technology and the public demanding it. Auto sales are going into the toilet because people want more fuel-efficient cars. A capitalist society always goes where the consumers are."
"Is the economic crisis going to be the end of green?" asks David Rothkopf, energy consultant and author of the book Superclass. "Or could green be the way to end the economic crisis?"
San Francisco-based author and activist Van Jones thinks the latter. Jones' best-selling book The Green Collar Economy outlines approaches to putting people back to work in green revolution jobs and says the smart money is on clean energy. For his work, Jones received a 1998 Reebok International Human Rights Award and the international Ashoka Fellowship. He was also selected as a World Economic Forum "Young Global Leader" and earned the Rockefeller Foundation Next Generation Leadership fellowship.
"We are seeing the rise of green Keynesian now. We are saying by repowering with clean energy, we can literally power our way out of this recession," comments Jones. "How do you do it? By putting America back to work. We're not talking about some Buck Rogers kind of work nobody has ever heard of. We are talking about Joe Sixpack with a hard hat and lunch bucket. And you can appeal to private capital if you convince it there will be returns."
Jones says private enterprise investment in green jobs can help trim unemployment numbers: For example, workers can install solar panels and double-paned windows and blow in clean, non-toxic installation. "If you invest in this, you'll get paid back in energy-cost savings. That is the genius of the technology: It's revenue-neutral and it pays for itself."
Five million new green jobs are the ideal, Jones says, but he admits, "That is a lot of jobs. In order to get those jobs, entrepreneurs and investors must step up, as must labor."
Jones sees high-net-worth individuals contributing by "standing up and chilling the fearmongers," he says. "They can use their clout. We know that there are jobs in the solar industry, the wind and the clean energy industries. If the high-net-worth person says this can happen, it will go a long way. People fear change. They want to change, but they are scared. They need leadership."
Investment in what Jones calls cutting-edge technologies is a must. "I think that there is going to be the whole question around carbon tax or cap-and-trade that the president will need to resolve. That will really be a turning point, when we stop paying polluters and make the polluters pay. Right now, we give triple subsidies to big oil, lots of tax breaks and we let them pollute for free.
"Solar and wind producers beg all year to get extensions on tax breaks, just a little help. Convince the polluters to become renewable energy companies by showing them it will pay. That will be an epic turn in the history of this country," Jones says.
One person recognized for her green design efforts is Susan Newman, a real estate developer and partner at Knickerbocker New Rochelle LLC (a partnership between New York's Urban Green Builders and Ginsburg Development Cos.) and a curator of the collections at Knickerbocker Lofts and Riverwatch.
Newman's company converted the 117-year-old brick Knickerbocker Press Building in New Rochelle, N.Y., formerly owned by the publisher G. P. Putnam's Sons, into 45 condos, ranging in size from 660 to 2,146 square feet, and in price from $370,000 to $705,000.
Noting that its dings and dents lend the building charm, Newman said the developers sought to maintain an authentic feeling in the conversion by keeping columns in awkward places and rough flooring. With the help of a designer from the American Society of Interior Designers, she says she used dozens of trees, as well as the products and services of local providers to recycle the factory into eco-friendly condos.
"Every single developer in this day and age has the responsibility to deal with environmental issues," Newman says. "What we've done [with the condos] will be old news in a couple of years. It requires thinking, 'How can I make a better environment?' There are a lot of people who have been thinking about this issue for a long while."
The Knickerbocker development is close to transportation to Midtown Manhattan, a commute of about 30 minutes, and within walking distance of shops and offices. This proximity to services reduces the automobile carbon footprint. The development partners also softened the industrial surroundings by making a tree well for each parking space and using brick paving in place of blacktop. Newman said the decorative brick was "very, very, very expensive, but worth every penny" because of the greening effect, not to mention the tax credits.
"The biggest thumbs up about this project?" she asks. "Having saved a derelict industrial building. Anyone who reconditions, reuses, recycles buildings deserves credit. But if you go in thinking it's easy, you'll find that everything is a problem. There are many tales of woe."
For her efforts, the American Society of Interior Designers took out a half-page ad in the November 2008 issue of New York Spaces magazine, touting Newman under the heading "environmentalist"-not the usual description for a developer.
"I was very flattered that they chose to describe me that way!" Newman says.
Newman and others who talked to FA green expect tax credits for green projects to be more prevalent under the administration of President-elect Barack Obama.
On Nov. 6, 2008, two days after Obama's election, Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, said the second item on the House's agenda is to "create new jobs and stimulate the economy in a new, greener way."
In his Oct. 22, 2008 New York Times column, Thomas Friedman cited some other ideas on going green:
"An idea offered by Andy Karsner, former assistant secretary of energy, would be to modify the tax code so that any company that invests in new domestic manufacturing capacity for clean energy technology-or procures any clean energy system or energy savings device that is made by an American manufacturer-can write down the entire cost of the investment via a tax credit and/or accelerated depreciation in the first year," Friedman wrote. Karsner "also suggests using some of the money from any stimulus package to directly incentivize and support states' efforts to implement and intelligently modernize their building codes to get already well-established national 'best practices' quickly into their marketplaces."
Going green can be costly for restaurateurs but much is to be gained, says Tim McLoone, owner of four restaurants in Monmouth and Middlesex counties in New Jersey.
"We were the first restaurants in New Jersey to get green certification from the Green Restaurant Association," McLoone said from his Pier House restaurant in Long Branch, N.J.
The Green Restaurant Association is a national nonprofit organization that provides education to restaurants on how they can become more environmentally sustainable. To receive certification, restaurants must initially adhere to four environmental guidelines set forth by the GRA, followed by additional criteria to be completed each year thereafter. The guidelines cover the waterfront-from using organic or seasonal products to making sure restrooms are up to green speed.
"People told us our bathrooms weren't with it: 'You have paper towels!' So what did we do? We installed dryers," says Tim McMahon, director of operations for McLoone Management.
About two years ago, McMahon said, McLoone's son was undergoing treatment for leukemia, which prompted McLoone to make his businesses think healthier.
"We learned very early on that if you want to do the right thing it's a lot of hard work; it's very expensive to do. For instance, the GRA requires you provide 100% recyclable takeout containers; you must find organic produce, most of which is available through small farms," McMahon says.
"We now have seasonal menus: For example, we don't feature tomato and mozzarella salad out of tomato season anymore. So it means we're constantly changing our menus to suit what's available in season. But organic produce is twice as expensive, so we tailor the menus to the restaurants. It's not unusual for the customer to be willing to bear the higher price at the Pier House. An organic salad with no protein in it is $18 versus $20 for Caesar salad with shrimp. We like that model and we offer them side by side."
McLoone buys organic produce from Sid Wainer & Son, New Bedford, Mass., a regional wholesale and retail food and produce distributor.
McLoone's environmental initiatives include the use of more water-efficient kitchen spray valves; additional organic food offerings on the menu that support the long-term maintenance of ecosystems and agriculture for future generations; the use of recycling bins for waste and composting; and the use of 100% recycled paper for office machines. In the future he may also convert to energy-efficient lighting and use cleaning products that are biodegradable, as well as chlorine-free paper products.
Clients who are building $12 million second homes in Bay Head and Mantoloking, N.J., are not necessarily worrying over the extra expense of environmentally observant pool and spa systems, says Shane Shanley, owner of J & J Pools in Shrewsbury, N.J. Their commercial accounts have included the New York Sports Club and YMCAs.
"The green movement [in pool construction] actually started with the implementation of the heat pump in Florida ten to 12 years ago," Shanley said.
Electrically produced heat is more expensive up front, he says, "but it's energy efficient and good green use because it's not a fossil fuel-natural gas, oil or propane-and you can get a 20% temperature rise in a short period of time."
The upfront cost of a green heat pump is twice as much as conventional fossil fuel heating, but owners will recoup costs in five years in reduced energy use, Shanley says. Then there's the automatic pool cover, which can cost up to $35,000 but keeps the pool clean and decreases the amount of chemical consumption and manufactured items needed to run it, plus it cuts down on fossil fuel consumption "drastically," Shanley says.
But among high-net-worth clients who are building a $200,000 pool with all the trimmings, Shanley says, it's the architects, engineers and builders who are most aware of green alternatives.
In November, Darryl Siry, Tesla Motors' executive vice president of global sales, service and marketing, attended the annual LA Auto Show, where 40 alternative and hybrid cars were unveiled, including 15 from Detroit's Big Three automakers. During the show, Siry said, conventioneers often paused and watched big-screen TV broadcasts of U.S. senators questioning the CEOs of Chrysler, Ford and General Motors on C-Span. The executives were requesting up to $25 billion in bailout money to avoid bankruptcy.
"I must admit, we were glued to the screen!" Siry says. "The big question is, even with the global financial meltdown starting in earnest in September, there still has not been a consensus that something needs to be done about the issues of carbon and global warming. Yes, people are dealing with financial turmoil, but they're a lot less likely to think about things like the environment.
"But the two do coincide. People have started to realize that the global challenges around climate change represent a large economic opportunity. The two are aligned. It's not a luxury or discretionary. To invest in green technology and innovation, to address climate change and global warming is just like the Internet was a huge investment opportunity. [Green technology] will be one of the most attractive areas for investment in the next ten years or more."
In the Tesla Motors fleet is the Tesla Roadster, an all-electric automobile that burns no oil, goes from 0 to 60 in 3.9 seconds and, as Devlin attests, wows bystanders when he pulls up to Hollywood events. The company was founded four years ago, Siry says, when "almost no one believed that these vehicles could be [both] desirable and responsible environmentally."
Among the celebrities who drive Teslas, Siry says, are the actor George Clooney, Google co-founder Larry Page, and lawyers, financiers and CEOs from both coasts, including Silicon Valley.
Siry says the number of Teslas produced in a year now won't make a huge dent in reducing global warming, but "the technical and social awareness we have developed-and other people are starting to chase-I think will make a very significant contribution to change. Every large auto manufacturer is now talking about plug-in or pure electric cars, so all of them recognize that the future of automotive transport is in some part electric."
And McMahon of the McLoone restaurants said the greening of the business is "not a destination, but a journey. We've had customer reaction that was from lukewarm to raves that we've made the [green] commitment.
"Anything we have adopted in green steps has increased our costs from 10% to 25%, but it is a tremendous goodwill marketing tool."