Planning for a Carbon-Efficient City with Touchstone’s A-P Hurd

How can we transform cities from car-centric models of transportation to easily navigable hubs of living?

 
John Shegerian: Welcome back to Green Is Good. This is the GoGreen edition of Green Is Good. We are here in beautiful downtown Seattle, and we are so honored to have with us today A-P Hurd. She is the President and Chief Development Officer and author of Touchstone and we are just so happy to have you here today. We are going to talk about Touchstone, we are going to talk about A-P Hurd and we’re going to talk about your book. A-P Hurd: Excellent. John Shegerian: Before we get on this journey together today, A-P, talk a little bit about your story and how you got interested in sustainability and being green and how did you even get to this place and where you are today in your life. A-P Hurd: I think I was always somewhat interested in sustainability but maybe didn’t always understand the role that business could play in supporting sustainability goals. When I left grad school. I had the good fortune to work for a very innovative company in the Northwest called “McKinstry,” which is a big mechanical contractor and energy services retrofit provider. John Shegerian: OK. A-P Hurd: And very charismatic innovative CEO called Dean Allen, who I worked for and started up a couple different business units in the company and really realized that there was tremendous power in the private sector if you could harness that power – both make money and drive environmental change -and that there was a really strong leverage point there. John Shegerian: Did you grow up in the Seattle area? A-P Hurd: No, I grew up in Ottawa. In Canada. John Shegerian: In Ottawa? A-P Hurd: Yeah. John Shegerian: Was your family into green when you were growing up or is Canada mostly green anyway, so you got some of that as a kid? A-P Hurd: We have a lot of nature compared to the number of people. I would say Canadians maybe are generally maybe a little bit more environmentally focused in some ways, though, you can’t really generalize because there are lots of different groups in both Canada and the U.S. I would say maybe one of the major differences on the environmental front is that Americans feel it’s really their government’s duty to build as many roads as they can possibly use and Canadians – while Americans often regard us as socialists – we have that sentiment to a much lesser extent. John Shegerian: Got you. That’s a great way of putting it. So when in this journey did you start Touchstone? A-P Hurd: I moved to Touchstone about nine years ago now. John Shegerian: OK. A-P Hurd: And I really liked working at McKinstry. It’s a great company doing some really innovative things. But one of the things that I realized is the higher up you move in the supply chain, the more you can impact change. It’s always easier to impact your suppliers than to impact your customers, and if you are closer to the top end of the supply chain, you’ve got more people that you can shift. So in terms of buildings, when I was working as a mechanical contractor, a lot of times we’re trying to use the mechanical systems of buildings to fix other problems like the building wasn’t oriented the right was or it didn’t have an energy-efficient skin on it or it wasn’t even in a place that somebody should have built a building in the first place. So you’re limited by the box of what you can solve. Whereas when you move upstream to being a developer, you get to pick a good place to put the building, you get to orient it the right way and then you get to put the right mechanical system in. John Shegerian: Oh, that is so interesting. So Touchstone is a redevelopment company? A-P Hurd: We are a development company. So we do mostly ground-up development, and we really focus on office and hotel and a little bit of residential, and we really do projects in urban transit-oriented areas. Always near transit. A lot of our sites are also – it happens – brownfield sites, so they are sites that were contaminated in the 1940s or 1950s or 1960s before environmental regulations were really in place the way they are today. So a lot of times not only are we building a sustainable building in a sustainable location, but we also cleaning up the ground under the building in the process. John Shegerian: That is so interesting. And for our listeners and our viewers out there that want to learn more about AP Hurd’s company Touchstone. go to www.touchstonenw.com. How many years have you been there now? A-P Hurd: Just about 10 years. John Shegerian: And you are the President and Chief Development Officer. A-P Hurd: Yes. John Shegerian: How is that going, and do you feel now you’ve gone upstream are you able to make a bigger impact on the communities where you are making your real estate developments? A-P Hurd: It’s obviously going well now, because we are at a really good point in the real estate cycle nationally. John Shegerian: OK. A-P Hurd: I would say five years ago it was really challenging because after the kind of downturn the sort of new building construction really came to a standstill and it’s always hard for companies in cyclical industries to pull through. We’re building about a million-and-a-half square feet of office and hotel in Seattle right now. So quite a lot of development. About six or seven projects. John Shegerian: Wow. A-P Hurd: And it’s nice to see that vision that you have to put in place for years kind of come to fruition. I would say in terms of how much we are able to impact the industry, Seattle is a very sustainability focused city. The general contractors and the supply chains we work with do a lot to divert materials from landfills. The architects we work with are really tuned in to how to design sustainable buildings. There are a lot of things we could do in Seattle that don’t have a cost premium associated with them because everybody is doing it. And I will give you an example. John Shegerian: Yeah. A-P Hurd: So in the early 1990s, if you wanted to have a low-flush toilet in your building, you had to order the low-flush toilets from Germany. So you had to find someone who spoke German and you had to call them on the phone in German and then you had to have the toilets delivered in a container and maybe they got there and maybe one of them was broken. It’s very complicated. High barriers to getting a low-flush toilet. But nowadays everything in Seattle is a low-flush toilet. You can’t buy a toilet that uses a lot of water anymore. So there are some really nice things about working in this area because everyone is oriented to doing things in a more sustainable way. I think maybe one of the biggest challenges is it’s harder to shift your customers because really they are always right. And also we have some challenges in Seattle because land use is a very important component of sustainable buildings, and we have had a lot of growth in the city over the last few years. So there is a sort of tension in the city around wanting to put growth in transit-connected close-in areas, which is obviously good for the environment, but also some people feeling like their neighborhoods are changing too quickly. So one of the biggest sustainability challenges we have as a region is kind of embracing growth and realizing that it presents an opportunity to do more of the right thing rather than sort of giving in to the discomfort that change always causes and sort of saying, “Oh no, we don’t want any more of this,” when really we are riding a very good thing in Seattle right now. John Shegerian: Talk a little bit about Seattle. Are you only doing developments – Touchstone – in Seattle right now? A-P Hurd: Yeah. So we are a local company. We are a 30-year-old company. And we have really focused on Seattle because one of the things that is common to places like Seattle and San Francisco and L.A. and Boston and New York is that there is a lot of regulation involved in doing development. John Shegerian: Yeah. A-P Hurd: Both around land use and buildings and environmental regulations at the state level and the more you understand that and the more you can kind of negotiate with people to make projects happen and use relationships to figure out how to get things done that is really a big competitive advantage of ours. I think the converse of that, which is really exciting, is we are really committed to place. We have been here 30 years, we are going to be around for a heck of a long time more hopefully and we are really thoughtful about how to make the region work economically and environmentally for the next 30 to 60 years or maybe even the next 100 years. John Shegerian: That’s wonderful. A-P Hurd: So we really engage in policy a lot. Not in the way you might imagine the private sector would engage of just like “no, don’t regulate us” but more kind of engaging and realizing that the city’s goals and the region’s goals are also our goals and we just have to figure out how to get there in a way that meets the goals and also works for the private sector and helps leverage the power of the private sector to get there even faster. John Shegerian: A-P, do the buildings that you build – if I lived in one of your Touchstone buildings, are they all LEED certified? Platinum certified or Gold certified? A-P Hurd: We primarily do office buildings, so we don’t have a lot of residential. John Shegerian: OK. A-P Hurd: But the LEED program has a lot of different types of designations for different types of buildings. So, as an example, in our office buildings, we typically do LEED Silver but often LEED Gold – core and shell, and we actually worked with the U.S. Green Building Council about 15 years ago to develop the pilot shell and core designation. John Shegerian: Wow. A-P Hurd: So that is another place where the way that LEED was being structured around the building and the tenant improvements. That wasn’t how we delivered our buildings in the city, and so instead of just saying, “No, this doesn’t work for us” we actually partnered with the U.S. Green Building Council and tried to figure out “How do we do a path so all the other people who do business like we do can also have a way to participate in this effort and really build scale?” John Shegerian: Wow. For our listeners and our audience members that just joined us we have got A-P Hurd. She is the President and Chief Development Officer of Touchstone. You can learn more about Touchstone at www.touchstonenw.com. She is also an author. A-P, why did you come to GoGreen today? This is the GoGreen edition of Green Is Good. Talk a little bit about your involvement with GoGreen and why you feel it’s important to be here today. A-P Hurd: Well, I was on the panel this morning that was looking at businesses that really support the Climate Declaration, which is related to improving regulation but also putting a price on carbon and a price on carbon pollution specifically. John Shegerian: OK. A-P Hurd: So there were four businesses that participated in that panel that have been really supportive of creating thresholds for carbon emissions and really creating a price so that we can push more people in the economy to think about these negative challenges that we have and drive the economic forces that address them. John Shegerian: That is a perfect lead-in for our discussion about your book. You wrote a book called “The Carbon Efficient City.” When did you write that book? A-P Hurd: I wrote that book about five years ago, and it was published about three years ago. John Shegerian: What inspired you to write that? I mean running any company, being the President of any company is a full-time job as we both know. Why did you write this book? And why was that important for you to get this out there, and what has happened since them? A-P Hurd: Well, full disclosure I wasn’t the President at the time. John Shegerian: OK. Well, still. A-P Hurd: But I guess I would say I think there are so many people that are working so hard to improve the environmental quality and specifically reduce climate change and reduce carbon emissions, but a lot of the efforts are very fragmented, so one person will do something over here and another person will do something over there, but people don’t always understand how their efforts fit in to the bigger picture. Because I’ve been so involved on the policy front, I was working with local government and state government and trying to work on these different policy levels, but it was almost like because carbon pollution is a newer problem these institutions didn’t have a tradition of how to work together to solve it and what was the appropriate level of agency for each of them to be operating at. They also often weren’t sure how to best tap into the innovation and investment of the private sector to really create new ideas and innovations. So when I was in grad school – I went to grad school at MIT, and there is a lot of work that has been done at MIT around something called “systems theory,” which is the idea that things don’t happen in a vacuum; they happen in ways that influence other things. So systems theory is about how do a whole bunch of institutions or a whole bunch of cells in the human body work together to produce a result. I think carbon pollution and climate change is a systems problem. We didn’t get to global warming by accident. We got there because we are a society that has extracted a lot of fossil fuels and burnt them and created a lot of economic momentum around that and we have never wrestled with the negative consequences of that and asked people to consider it as part of their economic decisions. We just haven’t. We just said, like, “You burn it, you’re done.” John Shegerian: Right. A-P Hurd: So what I was hoping to do with the book was create a middle ground that was not politicized about the right or the left but that really provided a thoughtful role for all of our institutions to play whether they are federal government or state government or local government or the private sector. John Shegerian: All the stakeholders. A-P Hurd: Or academic institutions or nonprofits, that all of them are always going to act in their own self-interest, but there are also ways that we can shift the rules of the game a little bit to get a different outcome. John Shegerian: That’s so great. A-P Hurd: So sort of like this idea again. We didn’t get here because there is no other way to play the game. There is just a way that we all can support slightly different rules and get to a really different outcome and no organization has to compromise what their mission is to get there. John Shegerian: How has your book been received and what doors had it opened for you because you are now an author? A-P Hurd: That’s a really good question. I think one of the challenges about writing policy books instead of, say, cookbooks is that people don’t give them away for Christmas. People give cookbooks for Christmas. They don’t give away policy books for Christmas. So it’s really hard to write a policy best-seller. John Shegerian: Can people buy it on Amazon? A-P Hurd: They can buy it on www.Amazon.com. Yeah. John Shegerian: It’s called “The Carbon Efficient City.” A-P Hurd “The Carbon Efficient City” on www.Amazon.com. You heard it here at Green Is Good. A-P, talk a little bit about the evolution. You wrote it five years ago. Since you’ve wrote this book, we’ve seen Tesla come out. A-P Hurd: Yeah. John Shegerian: Driverless cars start being the beginning of a socialization of driverless cars and the technology is there. What does this mean for the carbon efficient city in the future and the years ahead of us? A-P Hurd: I would say that there has been some great technological innovation. I think your point about cars sort of underscores that really improvements in battery life have driven tremendous potential around how we use and share energy. The interesting thing is that those improvements around battery life were actually driven economically by the desire of people to have longer-lived portable devices. So I think it’s a great illustrative example of the fact that customer delight and private sector innovation can really drive research and innovation that ultimately benefits the environment, right? John Shegerian: Right. A-P Hurd: So I think there have been some really big wins in that respect. I would say that maybe one of the disappointments of the last few years has been a big vulcanization of the politics around implementing meaningful carbon pricing policy at the state or federal level and that has been a big disappointment particularly as we watch the problem getting more acute with extreme weather events or wildfires or things like that, certainly in the Northwest. Our water supply is our snow pack, and we don’t have it. We are really going to have a very dry summer. So I’m hopeful that maybe what the next five years can hold is enough people understanding – and I think the polling is starting to show this across the U.S. – both that climate change and carbon pricing is a priority, and that it does not need to come at the expense of economic growth. I think we have moved in the first direction, but I think there are a lot of people that feel like, “Oh, it’s a tradeoff between jobs and the environment.” John Shegerian: That’s right. A-P Hurd: And I think now we are starting to move to people thinking that is no longer the case and if we can get people there and we can vote for carbon pricing then we will absolutely unleash a huge wave of innovation where tech investors, particularly VCs, are able to really seed companies and see a much clearer path towards ROI and profitability on the products that they are investing in. John Shegerian: And also we’ve moved, even just in the last five years, we’ve started the major paradigm shift from liner economy to a shared economy, therefore the rise of Uber and Lyft and others also hopefully reduce the carbon footprints in cities and things of that such. A-P Hurd: One of the things that I think a lot of people haven’t talked about with Uber and Lyft that I find fascinating is we have a lot of cities in the U.S. that have a very dispersed land use pattern because the bulk of the building was done in a period of high automobile growth and reliance. John Shegerian: Right. A-P Hurd: And as we try to shift those cities onto more transit networks it’s really tough because the city is so spread out it makes it hard to have good high frequency, high capacity transit. John Shegerian: Right. A-P Hurd: So what you wind up with in a lot of cities – and Seattle is like that – is you have some corridors or nodes that really build up density to support the transit, but the transit often doesn’t get you everywhere in the city, so it’s not a total solution – it’s like a 60 percent solution or an 80 percent solution. I all the time hear people say, “Oh yeah, I drive to work because what if I need to pick up my kid and they’re sick at school in the middle of the day?” or “What if a meeting gets called at the last minute?” and to me the beauty of some of these solutions like Uber or Car2Go is that they fill the gap in the transit system and allow people who wouldn’t otherwise be transit riders to shift into being transit riders because now they have a really good solution for when the transit doesn’t meet their needs. John Shegerian: That is so interesting. Talk a little bit about density though. You just brought up the word density. I had an urban planner on the show a year ago and he had a theory on sustainability and density and the re-urbanization of our cities. He was in my age group, in his 50s. He said, “Our generation, John, grew up watching The Brady Bunch and The Partridge Family. The families had a little success, they moved way out into the suburbs with their big cars and they’d buy big homes and fill them with stuff and kept filling them up with more and more stuff.” He says, “Our children have grown up with Friends and Seinfeld. They see the right way to live is in cities and walk around and city living is something that they want to aspire to.” Are you seeing that as a real estate developer here in Seattle? The youth of America flocking back to urban centers? And is that good for your premise of building and making our cities more carbon efficient? A-P Hurd: Yeah. So first of all, I do see the phenomenon that you are describing. There are some folks that have cast some doubt on whether the Xers and the Millennials will really want to stay urban as they have kids, but I think the Xers are starting to prove out that people will stay urban. I think it’s absolutely a good thing in terms of our development thesis as a company. Downtown Seattle, it’s really interesting. We have about a 65 percent non-SOV commute rate. What that means is for people who are commuting to jobs in downtown Seattle, 65 percent of them are not coming in a single occupancy vehicle. John Shegerian: Wow. A-P Hurd: So they are coming by bus or by foot or by bike or in a carpool, and that is almost 20 percentage points higher than it was 15 years ago. John Shegerian: That’s awesome. A-P Hurd: And so that is really exciting to see, but it’s also a function of we have a radially oriented transit system where the center of it is downtown and that is absolutely not true in terms of interconnecting neighborhoods and things like that. So if you were to look at some of our suburbs, they are not as connected by transit and that makes it a real challenge. In land use, you always have a chicken-and-egg problem. It’s hard to put the transit in and make it pay for itself until you have got a lot of people moving there, but if a lot of people move there and you don’t put transit, then the roads get all jammed up and you have traffic problems. So it’s almost like an iterate of process to change your land use pattern and trying to accelerate that in a world where building buildings is swole. John Shegerian: Right. A-P Hurd: It’s something that we absolutely have to continue to work on. John Shegerian: I live in Manhattan now, and we have just recently seen the advent of the bike program. Mayor Bloomberg brought the bike program to New York and Mayor de Blasio has continued to polish it and expand it. Is that same kind of bike program going on in Seattle here? A-P Hurd: Do you mean like a bike share? John Shegerian: Yeah. A-P Hurd: Yeah we do have a bike share program called “Pronto” that just started a few months ago. It debuted in October, which is sort of the start of our rainy season here. John Shegerian: Yeah. A-P Hurd: So it has been hard to sort of measure how much it is taking off. John Shegerian: Right. A-P Hurd: A lot of times I think those things work very well particularly in tourist areas, whereas most people who are regular bike commuters – at least in a place like Seattle – seem to ride their own bikes. One of the other incidentals in Seattle is we have a lot of hills, and so if you ride your own bike, you are going to ride like a light bike that is easy to get up and down the hills and a lot of times those bikes that are part of a bike share program are a little more sturdy. One other interesting thing about bike share is there is a very high correlation between the success of bike share and the non-requirement for helmets in a city because people don’t really like to share grubby helmets. John Shegerian: Good point. A-P Hurd: So there is this very sort of paradoxical tradeoff between the safety regulations versus the amount that the bike share program gets kind of latched on to by the population. So I think there are always – when we’re trying to innovate, we find these sort of quirky tradeoffs of like “Well, which is more important, wearing helmets or having a successful bike share program?” and obviously people are trying to innovate and figure out how to do both, but it is an interesting example of different regulations can conflict with different goals. John Shegerian: We have a lot of young people in our audience in the United States and around the world that want to now finish up their education and go become the next A-P Hurd and change the world from the top down. What advice can you give to our audience members that are still in the beginning part of their journey either prior to college or now coming out of college or grad school that are looking to find their first landing point to climb the mountain so to speak? A-P Hurd: That’s a great question. I think one of the things that seems really important to me is to not just go just for sustainability. Sustainability is a byproduct of other economic and social activity. John Shegerian: Good point. A-P Hurd: So I think it’s really important that people pick something that they’re really excited about whether it’s a type of industry or a type of work environment they want to be in or a type of technology that they’re excited about and that they really get a basis in that. Then, once you’re sort of driving a P&L – you are driving profit in your industry – then you can really think about how do we shift the way that we do that to be more sustainable. The other thing I would say is it seems like there has been a lot of focus on the last few years on people getting STEM degrees – Science, Technology, Math and Engineering. John Shegerian: Yeah. A-P Hurd: And there is certainly a lot of employment in those areas, but I would encourage people – and I am someone who has two engineering degrees, but I also have an English Literature degree and I find that the ability to think in terms of humanities and to think critically and to think analogue is equally important to sort of our humanness and our ability to look at problems, and we can’t believe that we are a world that is just about abstract technical solutions. We have to realize we are a world where at the end of the day it’s about people. So people who can get an education that allows them to feel really, really comfortable in the soup of technology whatever their technology is but also to bring the humanness and not forget that and bring that to bear on solving problems, I think that’s a really magical combination. John Shegerian: And we’re going to leave it there today. People ask me about this show all the time and the show is only good because we have amazing people like you on the show, A-P, and you are just really, truly inspiring. For our listeners out there again to find AP and her great company Touchstone go to www.touchstonenw.com or buy her book “The Carbon Efficient City” on www.amazon.com. A-P Hurd, you are an inspiring thought leader and truly living proof that Green Is Good. Thank you very much. A-P Hurd: Thank you.