The TH Interview: Chris Bartle of Green Key Real Estate


Green Key Real Estate is the first and only sustainability-minded real estate business focused on serving the residential market in San Francisco—and one of the first in the U.S. Its president Chris Bartle founded it in 2005. An Ecobroker and associated with the Bay Area Green Business Program, he is dedicated to greening his industry. Chris started selling sustainable businesses, principally in northern California as well as nationally through The Evergreen Group, a company he still runs. (Previously, he was an agent with Zephyr Real Estate and a management consultant with Ernst & Young.) A pioneer in one of the hottest emerging segments of the industry today, Bartle is a humble but persistent business leader, confidently leading the way in the world of green real estate across the Bay Area. He holds a BS Mechanical Engineering from Clarkson University, and an MBA from USF. He is a CA Real Estate Broker and a Certified Advanced Green Building Professional with Build It Green. Bartle spearheads the Sustainable Business Happy Hour, a Green Drinks- associated networking and social event held monthly in San Francisco, and has coordinated it for years.TreeHugger: What is Green Key's mission statement?

Chris Bartle: The Green Key mission is to green San Francisco real estate one transaction at a time. We do this by empowering green-minded buyers to buy property in San Francisco, enriching green-minded sellers by getting the most for their property, as well as selling to like-minded buyers, and educating all buyers and sellers of real estate about green building and remodeling practices.

TH: What's the latest news at Green Key?

CB: We have hired four people since our founding late last year. We're always seeking more associates, as well as a new office to accommodate our steady growth.

Also, at this year's Green Festival in San Francisco from Nov. 11-12, 2006, Green Key and MortgageGreen shared a booth. Thousands of visitors stopped by to talk. We made some great connections and had some very interesting conversations on the subject of green real estate. I also gave a talk to about 30 people focusing on green real estate as a career path. Our discussion there was lively, too. Lots of new ideas were generated and again, we made great connections. We will certainly be back again next year.

Also, we have a solar-powered home that was recently listed.

TH: Since TH last reported on GK, have any other news venues reported on GK?

CB: Yes. I was interviewed in a story on MarketWatch Aug 15, 2006. About my green angle as described in this story, innovative entrepreneur Bartle said, "It's a way to differentiate yourself," said Bartle, adding "this is the first new thing in real estate in a while."

TH: Do you philanthropically support any organizations?

CB: We've begun giving a percentage of our profits to Build it Greenâ„¢, and we're considering supporting other such organizations in the future.

TH: What are some interesting new situations or anecdotes you've observed in the past year in your role of president/founder of GK?

CB: People often tell me they've heard about the fact that in general, indoor air is much worse than that outside. This has been attributed to such factors as VOCs (volatile organic compounds), long known to emanate from paints, carpets, etc. in a process known in our industry as "off-gassing." This summer, a newsletter we ran discussed viable clean green alternatives to toxic paints.

People are realizing they have to become self-motivated in their quest to live clean and green at home. I compare this to when the organic foods movement started taking off a few years ago.

TH: You participated in the first annual West Coast Green trade show for the green-focused home-building and remodeling industries in September. What was your impression of the event?

CB: West Coast Green drew double the number of attendees they had projected would attend: 8,922. Green Key was the only real estate company to exhibit at the event, at which NRDC's Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. spoke. It was a great networking opportunity for us all, and a great success. We hope to do it again next year.

TH: Has the recent downturn in real estate activity in the region affected your green vision as it relates to your business outlook?

CB: No. Despite the downturn this year, we continue to operate by the same principals, confident better times will return— as they always have.

TH: What has been your focus strategically this year?

CB: We've focused a lot on our Internet presence. More and more, people are using the Internet in their search for real estate. Client prospects and agents across the country are finding us online based on searches for green real estate. We plan to continue refining our website and adding new and useful content. We always welcome feedback from visitors. Email us at: Info@GreenKeyRealEstate.com.

TH: How do you educate your current and prospective clients?

CB: All of our agents are certified green building professionals, and some of us are EcoBrokers. Therefore, we know how to communicate the benefits of green building materials and practices. We are also very active with Build It Green, and we're always networking with architects, designers, and contractors who specialize in green building and remodeling.

TH: Are communities in other areas closely watching your practice here and emulating it to any degree?

CB: People as far away as Washington D.C., Chicago, and Atlanta have written me to find out how they could green their real estate practices or homes.

TH: What role have you played with the local green building program?

CB: I am actively involved with Build it Greenâ„¢'s Green Real Estate Council, and serve on its steering committee. They are currently pioneering the development of their new GreenPoint Rated program. The Real Estate Council is working on getting the green points ratings included in the local Multiple Listing Services (MLS's).

TH: How did you first get inspired?

CB: I first became inspired about green business after attending Bioneers in 1997 and hearing Paul Hawken and William McDonough speak about sustainable business.

TH: Do you offer clients referrals to other green companies if you are asked?

CB: Yes, see our extended list of recommended green professionals on our website. We have an extensive network of green-minded agents around the country who can serve clients who are moving away from San Francisco.

TH: How do you keep your clients and others informed about Green Key?

CB: We maintain a blog on green building and San Francisco real estate, and we send out monthly newsletters via email. Each month we have a different theme on a topic especially useful to green-conscious homeowners. For example, in October, 2006 the theme was hot water heaters. Stories and links to others organizations whose work we particularly value are included. We also discussed electronic waste in news from GreenCitizen. One blog entry demonstrated that the sooner one greens their property in San Francisco as well as the greener it is when it's built, the less time they will need to wait to get a permit to build. This new program will run in accordance with the LEED (Leadership in Environmental and Energy and Design Standards) program running nationally.

TH: What testimonials have your clients offered about their experiences working with you?

CB: See the testimonials section of our website.

This is a recent one:

"As first-time homebuyers, we found that despite our intimate familiarity with the many peculiarities of San Francisco real estate, purchasing a home in San Francisco can be a daunting financial and emotional commitment. As such, we're very pleased to be working with Green Key Real Estate. We feel much more comfortable when realtors take the time and effort to educate and guide us. They do this in a very down-to-earth, sincere manner that is easy for us to understand. Chris and his team really take the time and effort to do this with us. Additionally, they bring welcome clarity to the buying process by understanding how important it is for our home, and those who help us buy it, to reflect and share our values."

"Green Key's knowledge and support of green building demonstrates a greater awareness, adding tremendous value to its already superior service. We understand that "green homes are better homes"—not just for the planet, and the community, but also for the people inhabiting them. It's gratifying to see them operating their business in a manner that actively supports this understanding in a world where, unfortunately, a real estate professional's word must typically come with a grain of salt."::

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