2014 Green Real Estate: The Office

Real estate may have you out and about most of the day, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't take a good look at the sustainability of your office environment.

April 18, 2014

Whether you do the majority of your work in a big brokerage office, at home, or in a coffee shop, there are many ways to make the administrative part of your job greener.

Going paperless is one of the biggest contributions to the environment real estate professionals can make. There are many programs that can help you manage this task, but ultimately, it's most important that you find software that works for you; otherwise, you won’t use it. So be sure to check out a few related product guides from REALTOR® Magazine to find the right relationship management and office productivity software.

Now that even the FHA is accepting digital signatures, you have no excuse for not going paperless. Of course, that doesn’t mean that others involved in the transaction will feel completely comfortable with it.

"The number-one barrier to greening the industry is probably getting people to use paperless solutions," says Joe Schutt, ABR, CRS, Green, broker/co-owner of Unit Realty Group in Boston. He says his city's somewhat conservative attitudes can make it more difficult to move away from paper, but that it's important to educate stakeholders on the ease of being paperless on the go. "I approach it in a way that this is going to make it a lot easier … and it is really easy to use DocuSign."

Of course, when you're seeking out new office solutions as a member of the National Association of REALTORS®, it always makes sense to get all the discounts and member-only offers you're entitled to. Learn more about REALTOR Benefits® Partners that can help you cut down on or eliminate paper — such as transaction management and e-signature solutions provided by DocuSign (including DocuSign for REALTORS® PLUS) and forms and transaction management solutions from zipLogix (zipForm Plus, and relay) — at REALTOR.org.

Schutt also points out that going paperless isn’t green merely because of the lack of paper. It’s also saving ink, and saving carbon in terms of driving to the store and the amount of gas it took for the truck to deliver the ream of paper to that store.

Go Beyond Paperless

The idea of the paperless office has been around for decades, and real estate pros across the country get closer to attaining that ideal every year. But it seems paper use crops up in the little spaces between paperless solutions, when your transaction management software fails to communicate with your website or your CRM, say. Maybe it’s time for your company to take things a step further with a completely paperless system.

A couple years ago, Federal Title & Escrow Company in Washington, D.C., did just that. The company built an online platform called WorkFlow that has allowed workers to ditch most of the paper while streamlining the settlement process at the same time.

The way it works is that a home buyer or real estate agent can go to their website and request a quote for a loan product, with no login or password required. The company’s operations manager is alerted via e-mail and assigns a processor to the case, scheduling it on the WorkFlow calendar.

On the back end, any staff member with credentials is able to log into the system and look up the transaction using a name or a property address, for example. Staff can see if documents are missing. They can also see if an e-mail has been opened or not and resend e-mail requests on the spot. Federal Title & Escrow Company also offers clients their closing documents on branded USB drives, to further avoid paper.

“Instead of waiting for documents to come in, WorkFlow automatically pushes out requests and reminders for documents and other information as the case makes its way through the settlement pipeline,” says Federal Title & Escrow Company Marketing Director Nikki Smith. “The end result is fewer surprises or delays at settlement, happier agents, and overall better customer service.”

Green the Space

If you own your own office space, consider what it might take to get the office LEED-certified. There are several levels to the certification process, with some initial requirements being as simple as providing bicycle facilities.

But pursuing LEED certification requires significant funds and time commitment. If you're not ready to take the LEED route, start smaller. The Harvard Green Office Program is a four-tiered, do-it-yourself effort designed to be spearheaded by employees who want to take the lead on greening their workspace.

If you’re simply looking for ways to keep your office space cleaner with fewer toxins and less money, NAR’s HouseLogic has a ton of great do-it-yourself cleaning product ideas and green-cleaner product trials. The site is also an excellent source of other green-focused content you can use in your newsletters and blogs. Learn more about it in the REALTORS® Content Resource section.


It’s no secret that most workplaces can be quite wasteful. Finding ways to reuse common items can sometimes make a bigger impact than going out and purchasing new "green" products.  It can also save you a bit on the bottom line.

High turnover is no excuse for your brokerage’s large carbon footprint. Try bringing in reusable name badges such as the Mighty Badge kit from Imprint Plus. Their name tags are sturdy, yet 100 percent recyclable and reusable.

You should already be recycling used paper, but why not give it one more run before it leaves your office? Set up an accessible place for people to dump scrap paper, perhaps next to the printer. Tell officemates to drop off non-sensitive paperwork that still has life left in it. At your next sales meeting, stack the paper blank-side-up on a clipboard and hand it out to folks who want to take notes. Or, if you’re feeling crafty, try making simple but sweet scrap-paper notebooks a la Martha Stewart. You could easily brand them with used or out-of-date office stationery.


Make it easier to recycle by posting a list of what specifically is recyclable in the office and what is not. Your city or collection company should be able to provide you with a list of items that can be recycled. While you’re at it, why not ask if they offer composting services? If they do, ask for more information on how to set it up for your office. If not, ask why not. The law of supply and demand works here too.

Of course, some commercial buildings don’t have recycling programs at all. Mel Harris, ABR, GRI, Green, owner of Elements Realty Group, LLC and commercial practitioner with Keller Williams Fort Worth, Texas, says he does his best to encourage the development of such programs, but “at the end of the day, most commercial building decisions are still about the bottom-line dollar.”

So, when he found out his office building didn’t have a recycling program, he decided to take the matter into his own hands.

“Recycling in-house is a huge thing for me … so I take my stuff home myself,” Harris says. He adds that the practice “caught on with a couple of people who don’t mind the extra effort.”

Is your office fridge crowded with plastic water bottles? Schutt says one of the first things he would suggest to brokers who want to create a greener office environment is to go to a water cooler or faucet purifier system. “That way you’re cutting down on all that extra plastic,” he notes.


In cases when you’re forced to buy new, consider the source. There are a lot of options out there for obtaining office supplies. But as with most attempts at being environmentally friendly, the best way to purchase products is locally. Try googling your area + “green office supplies,” and see if anything credible pops up.

If you’re looking to switch to a green but national supplier, TheGreenOffice.com could be a good option. They rank their catalog items by greenness, which can really help with comparison shopping. But perhaps the best feature of the company is that they will neutralize carbon emissions from the delivery of your order through investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency projects around the world.

If you’re stuck in a supply contract or your company doesn’t want to make a switch, suggest looking for greener products offered by your current supplier. Something as simple as switching to recycled printer paper and remanufactured printer cartridges can make a significant difference over the long run.

Get It on the Calendar

Brokers and office managers are always looking for ways to build morale and camaraderie within the office. Why not turn your next sales challenge into a competition to see who can use the fewest supplies or find the best way to save energy at the office?

Of course, Earth Day, which falls on April 22, is a great time to plan environmentally friendly team-building activities, such as planting trees or cleaning up a local park or wilderness area. You can find local campaigns at the official Earth Day Network website.

“We always do the neighborhood cleanups,” says Harris. He notes that practitioners should be on the lookout for citywide cleanup days that may not always fall on Earth Day, and to spread the word through social media about the events and your planned involvement.

Even if Earth Day 2014 has passed you by, late spring holds a couple of additional possibilities for getting involved. Encourage your colleagues to join you in Bike to Work Week, which will be May 12-16 this year. (Bike to Work Day is on May 16, but some organizations declare the month of May to be Bike Month.) The League of American Bicyclists has a step-by-step guide to help you create successful bike events, along with some excellent promotional material.

If your office is at home or if you’re a sole practitioner, you might consider joining a local environmental group. Contact your local chamber of commerce to find out if there’s a business-related green group in your area. Or check out Green Drinks, an international collection of local groups that meet in neighborhood bars and other gathering places to discuss environmental issues and make connections with like-minded professionals. Though they vary greatly from region to region, the meetings tend to be monthly and are characterized by a fairly unstructured style and a general agenda of openness. If there isn’t already one near you, learn how to start your own group.

Meg White

Meg White is the former managing editor of REALTOR® Magazine.