Championing Building Efficiency with The Sustainable Facilities Summit’s Michael Owens

June 10, 2013

JOHN SHEGERIAN: Welcome to Green is Good, and we have another great day. We’re here today with Michael Owens, the producer of the Sustainable Facilities Summit and Sustainable Operations Summit. Welcome to Green is Good, Michael. MICHAEL OWENS: Hey, how’s it going? Good morning, John. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Good morning to you. Michael, so great to have you today. Listen, you’ve created a lot of great goodness and greenness around the Sustainable Summit, but before we get to talking about how and why you created it and what’s going there this year, I want you to share a little bit this journey. How did Michael Owens become Michael Owens and get into this position, anyway? MICHAEL OWENS: Well, I guess maybe I need my parents to talk about how Michael Owens became Michael Owens. I’ve been producing events for close to 15 years now, and for the past decade with Craig Michaels. We produced events for the built environment, the real estate world, and over the past decade, we actually did a number of events in all the different verticals on the streets, whether it be education, healthcare, retail, for restaurants, and as I’m sure you know, John, a lot of change in the built environment with regards to the interest in sustainability and lead building, so we saw a trend and an opportunity. We bring together in all those different vertical markets all the major players, whether it’s healthcare, we bring together the Kaiser Permanentes, retailers, we bring the Walmarts and the Targets together. So, we said, “You know, why don’t we bring the biggest players in these industries together and share best practices on sustainability, green building, building efficiency, and promote that as well?” We realized that we can bring together some of the key decision-makers in this sector and really try to push and drive major innovations in this space. In 2006, we launched the first Sustainable Facilities Summit in La Jolla, and we’ve been running it since. We actually did another event, the Sustainable Operations Summit, this past year. We had President Clinton as our keynote speaker at that, but this year we’re refocusing it to go back to dive directly into the built environment, actually go above and beyond rebuilding. So, we’re pretty excited about this, only it’s coming up in Tahoe in June. We kind of picked the low-hanging fruit with a lot of the big players here, and there’s an interest to go a lot further than just talking about retrofitting lighting and traditional rebuilding. JOHN SHEGERIAN: I want to get into that in a second, but you’re an impressive guy yourself. You’re called the Idea Man at Craig Michaels, and we had a little giggle about your parents at the top. Truly, were you a little greenie growing up? Were you parents tree-huggers? Is this something you always wanted to do? Because obviously you live a green life. I mean, you bike to work, you love biking, you love the outdoors, you love the parks here in the New York Metropolitan Area. What inspired you to become who you became? MICHAEL OWENS: You know, I’ll be honest. I wasn’t raised that way. It’s something that in my adult life I kind of took on. It just really kind of upsets me when I see pollution and people not having respect for the environment. So, I think it’s maybe where I live in Brooklyn, I think everyone here just kind of swims in the water. But in reality too, I see there’s an opportunity as well, and it makes good business. So, I’m always happy to say I wasn’t raised as a big tree-hugger by any means, but I see that you have to respect the environment, and doing good business is part of caring about the greater world. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s so true. Talk a little bit about this summit. So, the next summit is coming up June 23-25. Now, it is a massively impressive group of folks that you have together speaking at this one. For our listeners out there who just joined us, we have Michael Owens on. Michael is basically, as I said earlier, he’s the Idea Man at Craig Michaels. They put on these wonderful summits. This one is the Sustainable Facilities Summit. If you want to learn more, you can go to www.sustainablesummit.com and you can learn more about it. I’m looking at the presenters here, and you’ve got Rob Bernard from Microsoft and you’ve got cities from Austin and Portland and Harvard University, institutions and Whole Foods. Talk a little bit about why bring all these people together, and then what happens at the summit itself? Why have so many great people at this summit speaking, and what comes out of it? MICHAEL OWENS: OK, yeah. I mean, basically what we hope to do is we’d like to put together an event bringing together a bunch of great organizations like Kaiser Permanente and Whole Foods and Starbucks and Walmart. It’s also the venue. So, we’re going to be in Lake Tahoe. It’s not in a convention center in a city downtown, so we have a captive audience for three days. It’s about knowledge exchange and networking and relationship building, so the actual conference program, it is a conference per se if you look at it from that angle, but it’s really about the sharing of ideas. We’re going to have a lot of social activities to get people out of the office and really get to know each other and sharing ideas. You know, with this program, which has someone like Harvard coming together with the city of Austin and Walmart, they’re not usually on panels together and sharing things, so there’s a nice opportunity there to kind of get people to learn across industries as well. JOHN SHEGERIAN: And, so, what they’re doing at these events is sharing best practices with your audience and everyone else in terms of what’s making their institution great, how are they taking it to the next level, and the process that they’ve been involved with? MICHAEL OWENS: Exactly. Yeah. So, I mean, we’ll have topics about everything ranging from creating healthier environments, materials transparency. A lot of the push now, as I was saying before, is going above and beyond energy efficiency. We’re actually taking a look at the materials used in building, and their health and their environmental impact. So, we’ll be talking about that. Microsoft will be discussing what they’re doing in that area. Water conservation strategies. Walmart has been doing a lot of wonderful work with water conservation on their sites, and Don Moseley from Walmart will be there to discuss that. JOHN SHEGERIAN: So, you talk about water and green building and things of that such. What are some of the hottest topics today that people want to come speak about and people want to hear about? MICHAEL OWENS: One of the biggest things right now is existing building. So, when we say green building, especially on the news, you’ll see a lot of stories about brand new skyscrapers here in New York City where there’s the Bank of America Tower. There’s a lot of interest in talking about shiny new buildings, but the reality is the majority of the buildings that are out there today, the ones that are responsible, the ones that will be here for the next 50 years as well, are responsible for most of the carbon emission. The focus and interest is taking the existing buildings and what you can do with them to drive them into deep energy retrofits. The big challenge here, too, is also the financing of these projects. So, we’re going to have conversations. I don’t know if you know who Mike Richter is. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Yep, absolutely. MICHAEL OWENS: Yeah, you and I were together at the Green Sports Alliance there. Mike Richter, former hockey great for the Rangers, he is actually going to be speaking at our summit in Tahoe, and for those not familiar with what Mike’s been up to recently, he actually founded a company called Healthy Planet Partners, and his organization is financing energy retrofits. He’s going to be sharing some of the different mechanisms that are available for people that are interested in doing that with their buildings. We’re also going to have the Rocky Mountain Institute come into talk about their research and how to really drive deep energy retrofits. So, of course, a marquee project the Rocky Mountain Institute has worked on is the Empire State Building here in New York City. The retrofit of that building has gotten a lot of press, justly so, because it’s an iconic building and they’re using that showcase what you can really do with deep energy retrofits. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Michael, that’s so interesting about what you do and the events that you put on at Craig Michaels. If I’m not mistaken, you do the Campus Development Summit, you do the Collegiate Athletic Facilities Summit, the Retail Facilities Summit. So, really, you’re trying to move the needle in all sorts of properties that we all live in, whether it’s our fun time at a college football game, or our shopping time at the local mall, or our learning time at the local university. You’re truly touching almost all facets of life in the properties that we’re living in. Is this not true? MICHAEL OWENS: Yeah, I mean, I don’t like to look at myself in that light, but we do have a big influence. As I was saying earlier, in these sectors, we do bring the biggest players together. Kind of circling back to what I was just saying, the building sector has the most potential for delivering significant initial reductions, and if we don’t meet these reductions to energy efficiency, we’ll be in trouble down the line. You just touched on the Collegiate Athletics Summit we’re doing. It’s in Austin in July. For that event, if you think of colleges, when you think about the environmental movement and even sustainability, college campuses are pretty progressive in that area because the students want it. What we found is there is a large disconnect between the regular campus and the athletics department. The athletics department, the stadiums, and the arenas, it’s kind of an afterthought to them, whether they’re talking about recycling, energy efficiency. So, we do this Collegiate Athletics Facilities Summit, and of course, they’re more concerned about naming rights and trying to get more money out of the ticketholders. They weren’t really looking at the opportunities to save money, specifically with energy and also waste. So, we’ve been doing that event, and we’ve been trying to do our end to try to bring some influence into the program that we have together. As a matter of fact, Mike Richter will be our keynote speaker at that one too. They’ll definitely relate to him, and we can see some good things coming out of that, and obviously with the Green Sports Alliance as well. They’re actually going to be speaking at that program. JOHN SHEGERIAN: You know, Michael, when you do the Collegiate Facilities Summit, are you getting a double win, because not only are you creating greener stadiums and greener arenas for all of us to enjoy around college athletics and things of that such, but is it also motivational and inspirational to the students because they learn along the way what’s actually happening there, so they’re able to take that with them and grab the sustainability torch and run with it in their professional lives when the matriculate out of college? MICHAEL OWENS: Yeah, I definitely think so. I think that the students are expecting it, to be honest, at the collegiate level. That’s what we found kind of interesting with that market, is that they want to see it, they’re surprised they actually haven’t done it. I think just the casual fans, so there’s a bigger opportunity there. They’re not the students, or whether it be someone young or old, and actually seeing that their favorite team is actually considering this has a pretty large impact. The green sports line has done a lot of great work to kind of document that with professional teams, and now they’re pushing it further with the collegiate sports. Another event we do is the K-12 Facilities Summit, so we bring all the heads of facilities and real estate from all the school districts together. That’s a wonderful opportunity too. I mean, the aging school buildings that we have out there is a big problem. But also going back to the health impact as well. You know, healthier, greener schools, there are a lot of studies out there that show that that has a great impact on student learning. JOHN SHEGERIAN: So, when it comes to these buildings that we all live in, whether it’s our office building, whether it’s our local mall, our collegiate athletic center, and things of that such, a couple things you’re aiming for then is energy efficiency, I’m taking it, and also good, clean water and clean air in these buildings? Is this what a lot of the topics are surrounding when you have your great summits? MICHAEL OWENS: For the most part, yeah. And also, you know, there’s definitely a lot of interest geographically in certain areas, of course, with renewables as well. So, when you’re talking about schools and even healthcare, whether it’s solar or geothermal, we talk about that at these summits. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Cool. You know, Michael, we have about two-and-a-half minutes left, and I just want to ask you, what are the goals? Coming out of the summit, when you’re done, when the summit’s done, and you say, “OK, another great summit,” what are the two or three takeaways that you like to walk away with and say, “OK, this was another successful summit.” What are your personal goals when a summit is done? MICHAEL OWENS: That’s a great question, John, because for me, I’ve produced a lot of events and so I attend a lot of events as well to kind of see what’s going on in the market. There’s nothing worse than walking away from an event either not feeling inspired or not having some actionable item that you can take back and hopefully bring something into your organization that you’ve learned, or even some good contacts. For me, as a person that brings these people together and also creates the content, I want to make sure that the content is actually beneficial to the audience, that they can actually learn something and bring it back and hopefully apply it within their buildings and their organizations. One of the speakers I didn’t touch on is Dennis Hayes from the Bullitt Foundation. They just opened up the Bullitt Center. It’s the greenest commercial building in the world. Dennis actually was probably best known for being the coordinator of the first Earth Day, and he’s kind of like the father of Earth Day. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s awesome. MICHAEL OWENS: Yeah, so we have him speaking. He’s actually the kick-off speaker of the summit, doing a case study on designing buildings and of course now opening the Bullitt Center. There is a lot of interest in that because they’re doing a living building. They’re part of the living building challenge. So, that’s above and beyond LEED. I mean, they have compostable toilets and a lot of crazy things, and it’s almost like a living laboratory. So, we feel that people that can come to this event, they’re going to hear this case study that they can actually learn a few things and maybe go back and keep in touch with Dennis afterwards and apply some of these things in their building, so I guess it’s a non-answer, but for me I think if they can learn a few things there that they can actually go back and be inspired to try doing in their buildings, then we’re definitely achieving our goal. And, of course, the way our format works and the location is also for people to build relationships. They can actually keep in touch with one another after the event, which is kind of hard if you’re at a large trade show, to kind of make those connections. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Yeah. Michael, you know, we’re down to the last minute or so. Are there any last thoughts that you have for our listeners out there that want to become the next Michael Owens and do the great work that you’re doing? MICHAEL OWENS: You have to get in touch with my parents on that one. No, I mean, you know, it’s kind of tough. The industry that I’ve found my way into is definitely a unique one. I love the work that I do. I’m constantly meeting interesting people and learning a lot of different things and bringing people together. But, you know, just overall I think the theme of your show here is that there are a lot of great opportunities out there to work for organizations that have a greater social impact as well. That’s the work that I always kind of sought out and I like to see other people do that as well. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Well, we thank you for coming on today. We want to have you back to share more of the great stories and more of the information about your summits. For our listeners out there that want to learn more about Michael and his great work, please go to www.sustainablesummit.com. Michael Owens, you are the Idea Man of the Sustainable Summits, and truly living proof that green is good. MICHAEL OWENS: John, thank you so much, and keep up the great work.