Two of the key figures in Providence’s green business boom are Matt Grigsby, CEO & Co-Founder of Ecolect, and John Jacobson, president of JTJ Investments.
Read our interview with John Jacobson to learn more about their businesses and how Providence is becoming part of the green industrial revolution.
John Jacobson, president, JTJ Investments
1. How did you come to working in green building?
My father, his father, and his father were involved in contracting. I grew up around job sites, engineers, and architects. I moved to Providence in 1989 to attend RISD, fell in love with Providence, and stayed when I graduated in 1994.
Over the years I have been involved in construction projects for residential home improvement and for a recording studio, Sound Station Seven, that I started in 1996. Later, I started thinking about doing sustainable buildings after helping New Urban Arts explore purchasing commercial property.
I noticed that there were a lot of buildings that were very cheap that weren’t available for historic tax credits and decided many were perfect to convert into green buildings. I wasn’t excited by how most mills were being converted: the prices were too high and they were totally energy inefficient.
In 2007 I attended the BuildingEnergy conference in Boston and realized that while buildings are the number one consumers of energy in our society, the technology exists to greatly reduce their consumption. I started to take this seriously, formed JTJ Investments, and did my first project on Washington Street not far from Julian’s restaurant on Broadway.
2. Green building has a reputation as being more complex and expensive than traditional building. Is it?
This is an interesting question and depends on the project. A green building doesn’t have to be more complex. Many passive strategies involve returning to traditional ways of building before we had access to cheap energy. Passive solar, daylighting, building siting, and natural ventilation aren’t new techniques; we’ve just forgotten about them.
One thing that fascinates me is how good design without added costs can make a building very efficient. That said, there are some new green buildings that use state-of-the-art technology that are ridiculously complex. In general, people don’t like change and they see learning something new as adding to complexity. It is hard for a contractor to integrate new practices. That doesn’t mean that it is more complex. It means that change is difficult.
The same can be said of the expense. There are many formulas that calculate the added cost of going green but there is no doubt that payback in energy savings and quality of life over time pays for itself. A Massachusetts developer is building 1,200-square-foot Zero Net homes for $195,000.00. He has figured out how to build green without added costs and these homes will never have a utility bill. Consequentially there is a waiting list for his buildings, even in this market. Zero Net is the future of new-home building in America and developers who figure out how to do it affordably stand to make a lot of money.
3. Are green development and entrepreneurship mutually exclusive?
You have to be willing to take risks when doing something new. Entrepreneurs like to think outside the box, experiment with new techniques, and take big risks. Green development is a relatively new concept and attracts people with an entrepreneurial spirit.
4. How is Providence positioning itself to go green?
City Hall has been very active lately. The city is looking at potential wind sites, RIPTA is planning on buying electric buses, the mayor implemented an executive order so that all new municipal buildings are LEED or CHPS certified, and improved recycling efforts are in the works.
The city is going to hire an energy efficiency officer, which is an excellent idea and could save the taxpayers a lot of money. The Providence Green Jobs Training Corps is in the works and the new Career and Technical Education High School on Westminster Street will have green jobs training. Most importantly, Providence has a comprehensive plan called GreenPrint that looks at the entire city from a sustainable perspective.
5. How does Providence compare to other cities of its size when it comes to sustainable development?
To tell you the truth I am not really qualified to answer this. My feeling is that we are a little behind some of the leading cities, but that can be good because we can learn from others’ mistakes. Providence has a lot of interest in going green and good leadership coming from the city.
In my opinion, Providence’s biggest issue is addressing the energy efficiency of its existing buildings. If we don’t do this now, while energy is relatively cheap, it will be crippling to our economy in the future.
This is a very exciting time and a lot of things are in the works. Fortunately the federal government is behind the sustainability movement and is providing funding. Government can only do so much, though. The transition to the new energy economy requires a unified effort between businesses, non-profits, government, and citizens. We all have to work together to make it happen.