Those in the market who define green building in terms of equipment are viewing only the tip of the iceberg. If you define green as a strategy that responds to the environment, your project approach changes significantly. If that project happens to be a 3,000-acre master-planned community that serves as home to some 13,000 people, the vision of responding to the environment takes on massive importance far beyond brick and mortar. John L. Knott Jr is president and CEO of the N. Charleston, SC-based Noisette Co., which, in fact, is currently master-planning 3000 acres of what the firm terms “a racially and economically diverse population of 13,000 people.” A favorite topic for Knott, who was keynoter at the Urban Land Institute’s recent Pittsburgh conference: Developing Green: Integrating Sustainability with Success, is how sustainability stretches from simply building green to supporting the community and its needs. Considered by many in the master-planned community space as a model to follow, Noisette has configured its business strategy to encompass what Knott refers to as a triple bottom line incorporating the well-being of residents as well as profitability. Putting its money where its slogans are, Noisette has initiated a range of onsite social services, from job training and school volunteer initiatives for adults to a community re-entry program for released prisoners. As Knott himself said in Pittsburgh: “It’s not just about wealth.” Define what you mean by the triple bottom line.

Knott: People, planet and prosperity. It’s the idea that we’re not just building schools, for instance, but we also need to develop strategies for curriculum development, getting community volunteers within the schools and promoting parent mentoring. You used the word heresy often in your presentation. Does the development community not get it?

Knott: Here [at the conference] it’s like preaching to the choir. But we’re not a triple bottom-line culture. We’re taught that we’re supposed to be interested only in the economic bottom line, and that we’re not in the business of social engineering. Some people were astounded that we would be paying attention to these things, and others have said it makes sense. Someone recently told me that he was building a project on what I think was a former troubled youth center. He said they were moving them out and building this new building. He said that after he heard my talk, he went back and built a job-development-and-career program in construction for all of these kids. Before that, he said, all they were doing was taking a piece of land, making it more valuable and just pushing the problem somewhere else. How many of the former lower-income residents in your community are still there in new housing?

Knott: Ninety percent. How transferable are the lessons of Noisette? After all, you’re in a community. Isn’t it a different dynamic in a one-off sustainable project?

Knott: They’re completely transferable. Think of the huge economic impact of such a project. The development sector has a huge problem attracting people. Think of focusing some of that economic capacity on minority recruitment. Could they contribute 5% of their profits to non-profits in the area? Could they set up transfer fees on their leases? Any number of these things is possible. This country was built on social equity. Over the years we did away with that and we have a growing economic disparity. How can CEOs take such salaries and lay off 1000 people? All the metrics we follow dictate quarterly returns on a short-term basis. But we didn’t build this country on a quarterly-return basis. So what is Noisette doing on the financial score?

Knott: We have to be very careful about who provides our financing and who our partners are. We’re very disciplined. In our partnership agreements and industrial agreements we require that 5% pari passu is invested in the non-profits we create. And we sell transfer fees. We’re investing about a quarter of a million dollars of equity capital every year to get these nonprofits and social initiatives up and running. And that has now leveraged almost $3 million of foundation grants and funding operations in these nonprofits. That’s in seven years. You said in your presentation that we’re off track. That green is not new but everything we’ve been doing for the past 30 years is wrong. Can you explain?

Knott: I didn’t get the chance to explain that. We used to understand buildings as living organisms. Manhattan is a solar-designed city. Most cities were. Why? They had to use the sun and ventilation or no one could live in their buildings. We got all of this technology and equipment. We shut our minds down and started building to the technology and forgot everything about intuitive building. We built lots of buildings with no concern for climate or cost of operations. Then we got into the 1971 energy crisis and Legionnaires Disease. What did we do in response to that? We caulked and sealed all the buildings. This whole green building concept is old, designing a building based on solar and climate conditions is smart. But aren’t most green initiatives successfully countering the caulked-and-sealed syndrome?

Knott: Not yet. I call it a wort design when someone takes an existing building and adds green technology without rethinking the way the building is designed. That’s why green would cost more. But if you start from the beginning to understand the technological, cultural and climate context of the building and design it from that standpoint, you can cut front-end investment by 30%. Sometimes 50%. To what extent does the development understand green?

Knott: I was impressed with the turnout here. I was impressed that Liberty Property Trust, Lend Lease and others are saying that you aren’t going to hire someone under 30 if they’re not going to be in a green building. Green is no longer a choice. So I can’t comment on whether or not a segment of the industry gets it. I try to be more positive. I ask people to ask themselves a simple question: If sustainability, in essence, is about building more durable, healthier, more efficient and more beautiful buildings, and you are not doing that, is it then all right to build inefficient, less durable and ugly buildings? No one will put that on their branding statement. Then there’s the legal standpoint. The next asbestos lawsuit will be Indoor Air Quality. Liability exists once knowledge occurs. In 2007 there is no excuse.

Want to continue reading?
Become a Free ALM Digital Reader.

Once you are an ALM digital member, you’ll receive:

  • Unlimited access to GlobeSt and other free ALM publications
  • Access to 15 years of GlobeSt archives
  • Your choice of GlobeSt digital newsletters and over 70 others from popular sister publications
  • 1 free article* every 30 days across the ALM subscription network
  • Exclusive discounts on ALM events and publications

*May exclude premium content
Already have an account?


© 2024 ALM Global, LLC, All Rights Reserved. Request academic re-use from All other uses, submit a request to [email protected]. For more information visit Asset & Logo Licensing.

Dig Deeper


Join GlobeSt

Don't miss crucial news and insights you need to make informed commercial real estate decisions. Join now!

  • Free unlimited access to's trusted and independent team of experts who provide commercial real estate owners, investors, developers, brokers and finance professionals with comprehensive coverage, analysis and best practices necessary to innovate and build business.
  • Exclusive discounts on ALM and GlobeSt events.
  • Access to other award-winning ALM websites including and

Already have an account? Sign In Now
Join GlobeSt

Copyright © 2024 ALM Global, LLC. All Rights Reserved.