Sam Lai

Why We're Thankful


“Our changing climate means we must reshape the way we grow and build to enable all people, both now and in the future, to thrive. For the building sector, this means dramatic and ambitious solutions including rapid market transformation for a net-zero carbon built environment…We need courage from all sectors of the industry to be radical, strategic and collaborative to reach our shared goals of carbon neutral(ity)… You are part of the solution.” -Rose Lathrop | Green Building and Smart Growth Program Manager, Sustainable Connections 

What makes me thankful? Despite my concerns with our society’s trajectory, I am encouraged to see entire communities centering their lives around purpose and community­— doing the courageous work to reverse global warming and fight social injustice at the same time.  When I witness this, it reminds me that I do believe we are moving toward a more generous, integrated and regenerative way of living on this planet. This makes me thankful. 
I had the pleasure of seeing evidence of this movement at the 2017 Sustainable Design and Development Conference in Bellingham, Washington. The theme for this year’s conference was “Transforming the Market to Carbon Neutral” and the strategies presented during the day were both challenging and exciting:
Get Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable | Patti Southard, Program Manager, King County Green Tools
In the opening keynote Patti Southard, Program Manager at King County Green Tools, addressed a room mainly full of white designers, architects, builders, consultants and researchers. Patti challenged us to question whether our projects (in an industry responsible for 45% of the Green House Gas emissions in the built environment) contribute to social justice in our communities for all people. She reminded us that we should exercise land use planning “as if people mattered” and informed us that in the ten years between 2007 and 2017, our African American population within the city of Seattle declined from 13% to 7%. Our society is only getting more economically stratified with minorities moving out of the city and Caucasians rapidly moving in. However; In King County, there are more languages spoken than any other city in the entire US except Los Angeles. By 2022, the population of American children will become “minority majority” for the first time. So, what does it mean for us to plan as if people mattered? Homeowners must focus on the value of diversity in our neighborhoods— to advocate and draw on the deep well of love and connection, rather than fear or anger. As homebuilders, we need to increase the affordability and accessibility of resource-efficient homes.
Building the Decarbonized Future | Vincent Martinez, COO, Architecture 2030
“In the wake of the US’s intention to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, it is clearer than ever that change in the building sector will come from the bottom up.” Vincent Martinez, COO of Architecture 2030, spoke about the importance of private-public partnerships (rather than public-private) to decarbonize the built environment in cities. Business and grass roots community groups will play an integral role in transforming our housing sector from the ground up. Many think tanks and research studies indicate that urban density is a primary, necessary strategy to decrease our carbon output while maintaining the infrastructure needed for another 1.1 Billion people in 15 years (the equivalent of a brand new, New York City built every single month). Are we willing to acknowledge and embrace the fact that our cities are growing and guide the momentum to a better outcome?
A special thanks to these other industry leaders for bringing these discussions:

Passive House | Alex Boetzel, COO of Green Hammer
“Reducing energy use – and consequently, CO2 emissions – of buildings, is an instant and continued action on climate change.” Alex Boetzel, COO of Green Hammer provided practical, actionable insight on energy use reductions of 65-75% using passive strategies so that buildings can become net-zero-energy and subsequently carbon neutral. Green Hammer has built homes in the Portland area receiving certifications including: Passive HouseLEED PlatinumFSCEarth Advantage and Living Building Challenge.
More Affordable Sustainability | Bec Chapin, Cofounder of NODE
“As gatekeepers to the change we want to see in the world, we have an opportunity to change the way we think about (home)ownership.” This transformation should allow more people to prosper in our quest for more affordable housing and sustainability in the built environment. Bec Chapin had the crowd pair up to actively share stories with one another, getting strangers to engage at a heart level and making her session the loudest and liveliest.
Shannon Todd and Don MacOdrum | TRC Solutions
On behalf of the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance, Project Managers, Shannon and Don shared their vision and strategy for partnerships between local governments, certification programs and utilities to make green building an obvious and cost-effective choice for all builders. Their conversational style allowed us to understand the important “boots on the ground” work and how TRC is leading to break down the cost and system barriers to green building. Thank you for your hard work.
A few quotes from this presentation:

  • “What if our homes could represent the values that we are evolving into?

  • “What if we could build homes that were purpose-driven, balanced, community-focused, warm, generous, integrated, regenerative.

  • “We came together to start Green Canopy under this vision that the homefront was a leverage for transforming the way in which we live in our environment and we still believe that today. The tactics and our strategy has changed but the mission has stayed the same... we want to transform the real estate market."

Mission, Vision, Values: Part 2


Contributed by Sam Lai

"It was great sitting next to you in English.  Stay cool over the summer and don't ever change!  xoxoxo"  

Every year, there is a common concern that is voiced by our team members when begin our Mission, Vision, Values review process. If we love our company culture...why would we ever consider changing our values. They are, after all, at the core of how we treat each other.  

"I love working at Green Canopy and I hope we never change!"  

However, when I consider what it means to grow-up, I'm reminded of how thankful my wife is that I've changed since she met me. Angie and I were barely past puberty when we met at the University of Washington. At that time, one of my greatest talents was a smile and my signature wink.  Seriously. The wink was the single greatest strength in my arsenal of babe-wooing skills.  For some reason, the wink doesn't do much for Angie now when I come home to our family of 5. Fortunately, I've grown up just a little bit I've added dish washing to my tool belt. We haven't lost that loving feeling, but we've certainly grown up.  

As for Green Canopy, we've grown up as a company too. We will remain focused on our mission to inspire resource efficiency. And many core values remain the same such as "authentic communication" and being "solutions focused." But how have we grown and changed? Below are some of the ways that are values are evolving at Green Canopy. In our MVV: Part 3 we will look at our final list of Values as well as how we have incorporated our shared values into our employee review process.

What's Changing?

1. "If it ain't broken, break it!"  
We started our company with a commitment to Innovation - While most builders exist only to make profit. Green Canopy exists to fulfill our mission...our profit allows us to continue our mission work.  
We started using the EPS score developed in Portland to baseline our projects' annual modeled energy consumption before most people ever heard of an energy audit. Oops.  I forgot, most people still don't know what it is!  Innovation is already at the core of who we are and we won't forget it. Today we have shifted our focus away from innovation toward "Professional Mastery."  The focus on systems and processes we've developed and continue to improve will allow us to build many more inspirational homes efficiently in multiple market areas...sounds innovative right?  

2. "Live-Work-Balance" 
In the past, this mantra was used to describe how we value each other beyond work.  However, the words seemed to set our personal life at odds against our work. Most of us see our personal purpose lived out in the work that we get to do here at Green Canopy. The new verbiage will sound more like "Fostering Community at Work."  

3. "Autonomy" 
This value came from Daniel Pink and his exploration of Autonomy, Mastery & Purpose being a prime motivation for individuals to excel in their work. You can watch the TED talk here.

Autonomy is at the core of the most driven teams, and since this cultural orientation is pretty well set at Green Canopy – we are shifting our attention to the next level, Accountability! This takes into account how our individual work connects to the greater team.

In the grand scheme, an outsider will not notice too much of a change in the way we treat each other here at Green Canopy. Many of the atypical values you'd never expect to see at a construction company will remain intact. We will continue to stay lighthearted and have fun. We will continue to talk about our feelings. And good god yes, we value vulnerability!  At the core of it, these values help us to communicate well, excel and to learn and grow quickly.  We know we have a mission to accomplish and we have to grow past our comfort zone to do it.  

Some days, I still wish that a simple wink is enough to be the hero. But my family is certainly better off with the fact that I've learned how to wash the dishes really, really, really well.

Why is Green Housing so Scarce?


Post contributed by Sam Lai:

If green, energy efficient homes are so hot right now, then why isn’t everyone doing it???

It seems like everyone’s going green these days.  When you buy your car, a tree gets planted in honor of your purchase, or the chemicals used to dry clean your shirts are “less toxic” than normal.  With every industry scrambling to get to the front of the green line, you would think that the housing industry should be no less affected.  And, with the amount of media attention on green, it would seem to indicate that we’ve reached a saturation point in every sector of society.  However, the availability of green housing seems relatively scarce even in the greenest corner of the left coast.

A recent report was published called the Green Building Value Initiative –Assessing the Market Impacts of Third Party Certification on Residential Properties by Earth Advantage Institute.

The report analyzed the market performance of third-party certified homes in the Portland and Seattle metropolitan areas.  Green homes are commonly recognized as homes that demonstrate a certain level of energy and water savings, CO2 reduction, improved indoor air quality and stewardship of resources.  Prior to the development of any certifications standards, consumers were left in the dark about the actual performance and attributes of homes which were being marketed as green or “sustainable.”  The analysis reports that certified homes in the Seattle metro area sold at a price premium of 9.6% and a 3 to 5% premium in the Portland metro area as compared to non-certified counterparts.  If this is the case, why don’t we see more available green housing stock in our Seattle metropolitan market?  Here are a few thoughts from the perspective of a certified residential appraiser in Seattle (me):

*Green Equals New

Although third-party certification of green homes has been an effective means to differentiate new construction green homes with a greater assurance of quality, certification of the refurbished existing housing stock has been non-existent or extremely uncommon.  Of the 500 homes sold in Seattle in the last 12 months that were marketed as being “green,” only 6 were built prior to 1990.  Of these 6 homes only 1 home was certified as green.  The other supposed “green” homes built prior to 1990 were marketed as having one or two marketable “green” characteristics such as low voc (volatile organic compounds) paint, non-toxic finishes, double-paned windows, energy star appliances, bamboo flooring, tankless hot water heater and energy efficient heat pump.  While many of these characteristics are certainly found in homes that are green, it is self evident that installing bamboo flooring is not enough to transform a conventional house into a “green” house.  One agent went so far as to write on the NWMLS marketing description that the house was “essentially like a brand new 3-star Greenbuilt home.”  In other words, “it’s not new or 3rd Party Certified, but trust me, it’s still green.”

*Live in a townhouse OR drive green?

The scarcity of available virgin home sites in these metropolitan areas also regulates the diversity of design characteristics of new homes that can be built.  Seattle is comprised of housing stock that was primarily developed prior to 1955.  While green/efficient housing is best fit for close-in metropolitan housing markets, these areas are typically already built-up of older housing stock with few development sites available.  The result is, of the 500 self-declared “green” homes sold in Seattle in the last 12 months, 442 were townhouses or ultra compact zero-lot-line cottage homes.  Would-be buyers of green homes are frequently forced to choose between a historic energy sucker built in 1926, a green triple level 2 bedroom townhouse designed for young professionals with no kids and no arthritis, or move to a “green suburb” and spend over an hour in traffic every day.

*New Equals Green

Seattle Department of Planning and Development has a reputation for being one of the most stringent energy codes in the country and is touted as achieving potentially 10-20% energy savings over ASHRAE/IESNA Standard 90.1-1999 and Standard 90.1-2004 respectively.  I’ve heard numerous builders, developers and buyers say, “Yeah, if you’re looking at a new house in Seattle, you’re already looking at a green house.” Right or wrong, there’s a pervasive perception in the marketplace and in the building industry that new homes in Seattle have already undergone a high level of scrutiny to pass Seattle’s increasingly strict energy codes.  Therefore, the perceived delta between the efficiency of a Built Green certified home and a conventional new home in Seattle may seem diminished both for developers and consumers.  

*Green Is Custom-Built

When asked about the current trend of deep green projects being developed and certified in the Puget Sound, the program manager at Built Green, Koben Calhoun, responded:  “We are pleased with the number of projects we have seen come through at the 4 and 5-Star levels. Particularly in the past two years the number of 5-Star projects has increased dramatically. At the end of 2007 we had around 16 or 17 5-Star projects (the 5-Star program started in 2004 so in 3 years we had that many), and now in the past two years we have added about 50 more 5-Star projects. It is definitely exciting and I am hoping we can keep the trend headed that way.” While the numbers for 4 and 5 Star homes seem encouraging for the green market as a whole, many of these deep green homes are custom built, luxury quality and not available for middle market buyers.

*Green – It’s For You, Too

Where will the next wave of certified Green/Energy Efficient housing for the masses come from?  I think the answer is right under our nose.  Existing housing stock in major metropolitan cities across the country can be refurbished and repositioned in the market as certified Green and Energy Efficient housing.  According to the U.S. Department of Energy, almost 75% of the buildings in the country were built prior to 1979[1].  Refurbished Green/Energy Efficient housing resonates with the values held by consumers in metropolitan markets on a number of levels:

*Reduce/Reuse/Recycle – nuff said

*Green home buyers can select close-in neighborhoods in walk able/bike able proximity to employment & goods/service centers

*Reduce greenhouse gas emissions from some of the guiltiest perpetrators (old residential housing)

*Existing housing stock is plentiful and allows for a much more diverse & cost effective Green/Efficient housing options

*Homes built in the 1950’s and earlier are 50% more compact than average new homes today.

More to come…