While this may not sound like a conventional marketing line for a green construction company, it’s advice proffered by sustainable builder Robert Politzer, CEO of Green Street Inc.
But conventional isn’t an adjective one would use to describe Politzer, who calls himself an “oddball” in New York’s green construction arena.
Politzer, a former high school biology teacher (who taught the subject in both English and Chinese on the Lower East Side), launched Green Street Inc. in 1998, having previously specialized in lead and mold abatement with Healthy Home Environmental. A LEED Accredited professional with a master’s degree in environmental policies and environmental construction, Politzer saw his future take shape when he began work on a green renovation project in Soho—on Greene Street, incidentally.
With a long-standing dedication to environmental issues, Politzer finds the term “green” distasteful, and prefers to call his work “smart.” As Tim Button, partner of Stedila Design, Inc. and a collaborator of Politzer’s interjects: “I want the word ‘green’ gone—it’s not the color of the month.”
Politzer agrees and says that green or smart construction is anything but a fleeting pratice. In a market that he describes as “the beginning of the green industrial revolution,” Politzer uses some unconventional methods to stay at the forefront.
One of Politzer’s most impressive projects is the millwork in The Visionaire, the LEED-Platinum-certified condominium in Battery Park. Green Street Inc. implemented ecofriendly cabinetry, using wood certified by the Forest Stewardship Council and all with low-VOC finishes. Politzer and Buttons, who is responsible for the interior design, are creating not only green and healthy living spaces, but some of the most luxurious homes that New York City real estate has to offer.
Another major project for Green Street Inc. was a $3 million renovation of two penthouse apartments on Fifth Avenue, which were merged into one massive green penthouse. When it comes to a project of this size and in a space that already uses high-quality materials, Politzer says it’s the de-construction that is more important than anything else. Keeping the Three R’s in mind (reduce, reuse, recycle), he says that deconstruction is used to salvage as many existing components as possible. “We skimmed off all reusable products, fixtures, appliances and sent them off to a re-use showroom,” he explains.
The Fifth Avenue penthouse, with its 360-degree skyline view of the city, houses some of the greenest materials including FSC-certified wood, LED lighting, low-odor/low-VOC finishes, and recycled glass tiles in beautiful hues that cover the bathroom walls. “Aesthetics didn’t have to suffer at all,” Politzer assures. He says the materials used in most sustainable and green projects are very similar, but it is Politzer’s integrated approach to the design/bid/build process that makes his company unique.
In many cases, a renovation or new construction project is multifaceted—the designers, builders, or brokers can work separately, even if on the same site. “It’s madness doing it the traditional way,” Politzer believes, referring to one extreme example in which an architect didn’t physically view the construction site until it was nine months underway.
Communication is key for a project’s design, construction, and finances, and Green Street Inc. pitches not just great ideas, but also a competent and reliable team. “These are people I want to trust,” says Politzer, who works regularly with Buttons, among other trusted green professionals, such as Jack Beyer of Beyer, Blinder, Belle Architects and Planners.
The trick, Politzer says, is to find people of an architectural background, artistic sensibility, understanding of the design process, and with a strong backbone. However, not every green professional is the real deal. To help distinguish the true pros, Politzer has also launched Green Street Connect, an online green business community. As the industry grows, Green Street will be able to provide an outlet for clients to find legitimate green professionals that have already been vetted. In return, this will drive business, he says.
But Politzer has other, perhaps more theatrical, plans up his sleeve when it comes to spreading the word about environmental issues.
“The Village Green” is Politzer’s version of a sketch comedy TV show (“Saturday Night Live”-style) that will spread knowledge as well as laughter. This idea for a television show on green building was conceived about eight years ago. Politzer, who acts as host of “The Village Green,” was inspired after attending a taping of “The David Letterman Show” and realizing that in order to bring his ideas to fruition, “it would have to be entertaining,” he says. “The Village Green,” which will be adapted for all electronic media, is being shopped around for sponsors, including Discovery’s Planet Green network.
Politzer realizes there is always a risk involved when it comes to a construction project—green or otherwise. While the construction industry was hit hard by the recession, Politzer says that the green industry is continuing to grow. “Even though we do green construction, it’s still construction, still a lot of headaches and challenges,” Politzer says. “Not for the faint of heart.”
While his business is not immune to economic realities, Politzer says his team’s integrated approach is proving successful: Green Street Inc. has recently signed onto $2.5 million worth of new work.
Smart, green building is only going to expand as tax credits are offered and new mandates passed on green construction, Politzer says. He even predicts an upcoming trend in integrated agriculture due to “a big, local food movement.” This could mean producing food on New York City rooftops and then using the waste to heat the greenhouses.
There’s a lot of innovation taking place in green construction and Politzer is working hard to ensure Green Street, Inc. is part of that future.