Everett Dowling, President, Dowling Company Inc.
How green is the Dowling Company? It has a green development manager on staff, and it retrofitted its Wailuku office to become the first U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) building on Maui. President Everett Dowling spoke with Hawaii Business on how a real estate developer can have a sustainable impact.
photo: ryan siphers
Q: When did you build [your office] building? I know it’s the first LEED-certified building on Maui.
A: We built this about eight years ago. Then we redid it, as more of an experiment just to get familiar with the USGBC LEED program. We redid it three years ago to learn about LEED. It’s much easier to do it upfront when you build the building; it’s much easier to go green from the get go rather than to go back and retrofit. But it’s probably more important for people to retrofit buildings than it is to build new because so much of the stock is existing. If the built environment is really going to have an impact on the natural environment, we have to retrofit the buildings.
Q: Is your mandate that all of your projects need to be LEED?
A: I shouldn’t say they all need to be LEED. They all need to be sustainable. Basically we’re at two ends of the market. We’re in the affordable-housing market and we’re in the high-end housing market. It’s much easier to do green, at this point, in the high end. I think that’s going to change. I think it’s going to change in the same way that initially notebook computers were exceptionally expensive, or plasma TVs were exceptionally expensive. The more people buy them, the prices drop and they become affordable for everybody. At the very beginning they’re a luxury. And I think that’s what we’re seeing with green building. Right now there’s a cost premium that’s diminishing every year, and I think eventually we’ll be able to incorporate the same green features that we’re incorporating in our high-end housing into our more affordable projects. We are doing some stuff. We do a lot of Hawaiian Homeland houses.
Q: Why is it important to have that in your portfolio?
A: I think it’s just the right thing to do. You look at where we are as a society in Hawaii, and Native Hawaiians, the host culture, has the lowest percentage of homeownership of any segment of the population. That’s not right. At this point, we’ve done more Native Hawaiian housing than any other company in the state, and we’re not halfway to our goal. Our goal is to put 1,000 Hawaiian families into houses on Maui in partnership with the Department of Hawaiian Homelands.
Q: As a developer, there’s that stigma that land development is bad for the environment. How can they coexist, sustainability and land development? In a lot of people’s minds, they don’t seem to go together.
A: I think real estate development can be part of the problem or be part of the solution. I think for us to address the environmental needs of Hawaii, real estate development has to be part of the solution. You look at the energy consumed by buildings, and it’s a huge percentage of all the energy consumed in the United States. If real estate developers and building owners don’t become part of the solution, we’re doomed.
Q: You were saying earlier that not all of your projects are LEED, but just sustainable?
A: Everything except for Hawaiian Homeland projects are LEED. The Hawaiian Homelands are our No. 1 goal, and (we are) working in partnership with the Department of Hawaiian Homelands to make those houses as affordable as possible. … Probably two-thirds of our homebuyers are first-time homebuyers, so cost is extremely important, and trying to keep the cost as low as possible is our No. 1 goal. We want to incorporate as many sustainable features into those homes as we can, but we don’t want to price the Native Hawaiian population out of the homes. It’s a balancing act. But with each project, we’re able to incorporate more and more, because, one, we’re gaining more expertise in green building, and also, the material prices are dropping. ... It’s an exciting time to be in this business because the real estate development business hasn’t changed much for decades. We’re at a point in history right now where there’s tremendous opportunity to learn new ways of developing. And that’s exciting. I think the opportunity for real estate developers to have a really profound and positive impact on the environment has never been greater.
Q: I know there’s been some controversy regarding your Makena project. Does that deter you from developing? How do you try to work with the community and resolve this conflict?
A: It’s a very small segment of the population. We do annual polling, and the percentage of people on Maui who are antidevelopment has been constant at 11 to 13 percent. Year in and year out, it’s 11 to 13 percent. And the rest of the population wants sustainable development, it wants green development … but it’s not antidevelopment. It recognizes that Maui is a growing community, and if we don’t have development, the people from the Mainland who come here, generally speaking, have more money than we do and they’re going to price us out of the market. They’re going to price the local population out of the market.
Q: Why is it important to have locals developing for locals?
A: The money stays at home. One, we hire local consultants, we hire local residents as our employees. The money stays within the community as opposed to going to Mainland consultants or Mainland contractors or Mainland employees. Also, you look at the business community in Hawaii and it’s a very generous business community. There’s a long history of businesses supporting nonprofits in Hawaii, and I don’t think you see that with the Mainland companies when they do business here. You don’t see that same level of commitment to our community. Or to the environment, for that matter.
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