Last week, Nick Stolatis, a sustainability director at TIAA-CREF and a past president of New York’s IREM chapter, flew to Toronto to attend the US Green Building Council’s annual trade show.
He was there to speak about benchmarking, a practice he’d advocated long before Mayor Michael Bloomberg required landlords to track energy usage.
“If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it,” Stolatis said. Rather than fit a roof with solar panels or install a costly co-gen system right away, landlords may be better off entering their monthly energy bills into an online program like Portfolio Manager, Stolatis’ tool of choice.
“Let’s say you change a 32-watt bulb for a 28-watt. You’ll hopefully see that impact,” Stolatis said. “So many people are captivated by capital investments and technology. You’ve got to start with low-cost and no-cost equipment.”
Of course, if equipment is aging, there’s no reason not to swap it out for the latest high-tech gadgets. When the boiler in Stolatis’ own home in Pleasantville, New York was due for replacement, he invested in a geothermal heat pump. He’s traded incandescent bulbs for compact fluorescent ones, and pinpointed areas of the 115-year-old house that need better insulation.
“I’m facing some fairly significant work,” said Stolatis, who lives with his wife and two young sons.
When the local high school was due for an expansion several years ago, the geothermal option was put on the table. But despite Pleasantville’s strides towards sustainability – the town boasts a recycling center that accepts fabric and batteries, and a walkable commercial district surrounding a Metro North stop – the plan was nixed in a school budget vote.
Though some green features, including low-toxic glazing, were approved, “not enough was done to explain the benefits of geothermal,” Stolatis said.
At the time, he didn’t feel he had a solid enough footing in clean technology to speak out. But that changed when Stolatis visited IREM’s headquarters last year to develop a curriculum for a certification program in sustainable management. “I went to Chicago for several days with six or seven other people from different parts of the country to help design the materials,” he said.
The program, which covers everything from water conservation to air quality, helps landlords figure out which LEED category to aim for, and even encourages a shift in personal habits. “There should be sustainable practice in one’s office,” Stolatis said. Recently, IREM introduced a series of webinars that cover everything from the energy audits to the feasibility of solar installation.
These days, Stolatis teaches an IREM course on ethics in real estate management. It doesn’t cover sustainability explicitly. But then again, before green became a catchword, and events like the Building Council trade show attracted tens of thousands of managers and developers, the organization encouraged efficiency.
“IREM was set up to promote best practices,” Stolatis said. “That’s always been part of the program.”
Stolatis joined the group’s New York chapter in 1978, after graduating from Baruch College and landing a job in asset management.
Like current IREM president Ron Goss, who was mentored by one of Arkansas’ first certified property managers after joining a chapter in the state, Stolatis turned to a past IREM president, Bill Butler, for career advice. “He encouraged me to get the [Certified Property Manager] designation,” Stolatis said.
Soon, he was hired by TIAA-CREF to oversee a relatively small portfolio sprinkled throughout Detroit, Indianapolis, and other cities in the Midwest. As he rose through the ranks at the firm, he grew bolder at IREM meetings. “If you have so many great ideas why don’t you come up to the executive committee?” he recalls being told.
In the midst of the market slump in the late nineties, he took the reins of the New York chapter, having served as treasurer for a number of years. With vacancies high, the organization’s primary goal was to train members to outshine the competition.
“At the time, people didn’t think we’d come out of the turmoil,” Stolatis explained. “It was a challenging time in the industry.”
Despite the downturn — or perhaps because tough times called for energy savings — the sustainability movement began to percolate, and green at last became a buzzword.
“The good managers have always been looking to run their operations efficiently,” Stolatis said. “Now there’s a label for it.”