Here’s how Red Oak became carbon neutral and green-certified

Red Oak encourages other businesses and residents to do as much as they can to “green” their properties and offset their impact on the environment.

Red Oak’s Hopkins Street/Northbrae office is one of five that were upgraded to become green-certified. Credit: Red Oak Realty

Home Truths is one in a series, brought to you by Red Oak Realty.

Red Oak is proud to announce that it is the first real estate brokerage in the Bay Area to be both carbon neutral and green-certified. Based upon our experience, we encourage other Berkeley businesses, as well as residents, to do as much as they can to “green” their properties and offset their impact on the environment. This is how the process went for us.

Green Certification

One of the most powerful ways for Red Oak to limit its impact on the environment was to take a hard look at our daily activities. We started by working with the Alameda County Green Business Program, part of the California Green Business Network (CAGBN) to become green-certified. Using the Network’s checklist and interactive dashboard, we explored several variables, including our energy, transportation, waste management and water use, at each of our five offices in El Cerrito, North Berkeley, Northbrae, Bushrod Park (North Oakland) and Montclair. 

We switched to LED bulbs and installed occupancy sensors. We added Nest and other programmable thermostats and confirmed our HVAC systems were being properly maintained. We double-checked the recycled content in our printer paper. We made sure staff and agents were using reusable dishware whenever possible and separating landfill, recycling and compost on a consistent basis. We eliminated “pod” coffee machines. We even had to get on our hands and knees to dig into the back of cabinets and make sure we eliminated the use of aerosol cans and used only “green” cleaning products. We updated our policies to encourage staff to use public transportation or bicycles. All of these steps were somewhat easy and low-cost to implement. 

The bigger challenges came with water consumption. We needed to check for irrigation and toilet leaks and ensure all of our faucets were using low-flow fixtures. Typically, updating to modern water flow standards is as easy as changing out the bubbler on a faucet. In our case, it was a little more complicated: Even though one of our offices had been updated just five years ago, both of our bathroom faucets needed to be fully replaced. Luckily, the CAGBN showed us how we could get rebates for this work. 

To be honest, this took quite some time: green certification for three of our offices took 18 months of on-again, off-again work. But we saw this as a worthwhile venture that ultimately cost relatively little, including purchasing items at the hardware store and hiring a handyman to do a few small jobs. 

Becoming Carbon Neutral

As part of the final step in our green certification, we were asked to explore purchasing carbon offsets. These are essentially financial investments in projects that mitigate or fully eliminate carbon from the atmosphere. Projects might include protecting forests, turning garbage into renewable power, and capturing methane gas at abandoned coal mines.

We determined how much carbon our offices were producing each year by using this carbon calculator from UC Berkeley’s CoolClimate Network (households can use this calculator). We then worked with TerraPass to pay to counteract our offices’ carbon footprint (covering our operational facilities, not the individual agents and staff). For small businesses, TerraPass uses the number of staff members to determine the cost at $5 per month per employee (offsetting the estimated 0.5 carbon metric tons per month that each person uses). For residences, costs start at $21.70 for a family of four, per month. As you can see, carbon offsets are not entirely unaffordable. 

We recognize that carbon offsets can use somewhat fuzzy logic and can be considered “greenwashing”: How can a dollar spent directly relate to removing a specific amount of carbon? We are not disputing these issues. However, we believe that purchasing offsets — in combination with reducing our carbon footprint and ensuring our offices are “green” — is a great first step.

This is just the beginning. You can consider solar energy, drought-resistant landscaping, and encouraging your community of friends and businesses to do their part. Explore other respected carbon offset providers like 3Degrees, Carbon Lighthouse Association and Zero Foodprint. We are also in conversation with Berkeley-based Cooler, as well as Patch.io to automatically calculate and purchase carbon offsets. 

We encourage everyone in Berkeley and the East Bay to explore their options to help make a difference. 

To learn more about the Green Business Certification Program or find local Green Certified businesses go to www.greenbusinessca.org

Home Truths is written and sponsored by Red Oak Realty, the largest independent real estate broker in the East Bay, serving the community since 1976. Read more in this series. If you are interested in learning more about the local real estate market or are considering buying or selling a home, contact Red Oak at hello@redoakrealty.com, 510-250 8780.