STRIVE&THRIVE In this Lake Wylie Pilot series, we focus on Lake Wylie businesses with mass appeal still thriving despite the tough economy.
LAKE WYLIE — Jeff DeSart is a leading man in an industry charged with leading an entire society out of an outdated environment of waste. A tall task to be sure, but one DeSart plans to take on both within and from his Lake Wylie office. DeSart, founder of C2C Development, specializes in Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification. Working with business and residential customers, DeSart performs environmental reviews to determine what steps can be taken toward improving energy efficiency, resale value and monthly costs. “The main business I look for is to do environmental audits,” DeSart said. “It’s catching on in Charlotte, and it’s moving out.” C2C began in August following a career in commercial real estate that moved DeSart from the Washington, D.C., area to Charlotte in the summer of 2007. “That quickly went sideways,” DeSart said of real estate in the current economic climate. “A lot of the construction projects that were scheduled for 2009 were canceled or moved to 2011.” Yet previous work on government buildings, first with Energy Star and then with LEED, led DeSart to a more promising venture. He became certified in LEED auditing, counseling and contracting. Specializing in building and exterior maintenance, management of materials and resources, water efficiency, energy efficiency and environmental quality, C2C works primarily in Charlotte — something DeSart intends to change.Greener pastures For someone who rides his bike two miles to work on sunny days, the glimmer of green living dims a bit amid constant car rides to Charlotte. So DeSart asked himself how he could better serve Lake Wylie, those same businesses and homes he pedals by each morning. Naturally, he knew where to start. “We’re just getting started, but we’re really excited about what’s going to happen,” said Sandee Wilkerson, who along with husband John owns the First Properties of the Carolinas building on S.C. 49, where DeSart is a tenant. In the past few years, the Wilkersons made a handful of improvements to their building like landscaping rocks to filter rainwater. But the building built in 1980 can use more attention, Sandee Wilkerson said, especially in energy-use techniques not common 30 years ago. “This building can use it,” she said. “This building was the first thing here. There was nothing out here.” Susan Bromfield, president of the Lake Wylie Chamber of Commerce, understands other long-time businesses are finding themselves in similar situations. Bromfield believes, in particular, that landscapers, builders and churches could benefit from the strategies C2C uses. “Here we have an expert right here among us, and also there’s an effort around the world to conserve,” she said. “We’re hoping we can make a little bit of difference for our community. There’s opportunity here.” Between now and St. Patrick’s Day, Bromfield and DeSart will partner to send out energy-use surveys to chamber members. DeSart then can come up with gameplans to cut costs for anyone interested. DeSart also plans to run a series of columns in the Lake Wylie Pilot beginning March 10, describing what he does and the “investment” of green practices. “What would you say is a good investment in this economy right now?” he asked. “You’d be better off keeping cash. I sell this as being the best investment you can make right now.” Bromfield, backed with a history of conservation living from her days in California, says C2C can help Lake Wylie become a leader in the field. And, as importantly for her members, save on operations through conservation. “Everybody’s looking at everything right now to improve that bottom line,” she said. “We believe green is the new black.” The bottom line? While some businesses focus on keeping their own heads above water — or the razor-thin line between black and red figures — Desart looks to succeed by helping others keep afloat by thinking green.
Recession proof? Whether C2C weathers the current economy depends on how readily other businesses and individuals buy into doing the same. Or, as DeSart puts it, buying into the notion of savings as income. “It’s hard to sell savings, but that’s money you’re spending right now,” he said. The latest statistics on LEED certification show green building saves more than the planet. A 2008 study by Burnham-Moores Center for Real Estate professor Norm Miller, CoStar Group researcher Jay Spivey and CoStar CEO Andy Florance shows the sale price of businesses with LEED certification tops non-LEED structures by $40 per square foot. Occupancy rate is 3 percent higher for LEED buildings, with rental rates averaging $2 more per square foot. A LEED Silver rating helps a business sell for 1.5 percent more, according to the study. “If you just do some green things, it’s nice,” DeSart said. “But if you do enough to become certified, you capture the value. In the interim, you get a return on investment of 30 to 50 percent in utility bills each month.” Those statistics come from the U.S. Green Building Council, stating LEED certification can cut energy use by 30 to 50 percent, water use by 40 percent, solid waste by 70 percent and carbon emissions by 35 percent. “That’s where you save the planet,” DeSart said. “That’s greenhouse gas.” But DeSart’s task is not to sell people on saving the planet. The people who would bite on that pitch likely employ sound environmental practices already or would need little convincing to do more. So DeSart is turning his attention to home and business owners concerned about cash. “They’ve been greenwashed a little bit,” he said. “They’re weary of it. They say I don’t have time to save the planet. It’s not about saving the planet. It’s not about hugging trees. It’s about best management practices.”