Interview

 

Excerpts from an interview with Vince Carter, the COO of NextGenUrban

 

WHAT IS YOUR COMPANY'S ROLE IN THE BIG PICTURE OF LIFE?

 

We play a vital role in the effort to move humanity toward and beyond sustainability. We are the boots on the ground in the effort to build sustainable neighborhoods that support sustainable lifestyles. Our business model for “Sustainable Lifestyle Communities" creates positive impacts on the physical, economic, social, and environmental levels. On a day to day basis, we are out there scaling it up, project by project. 

WHAT IS UNIQUE ABOUT YOUR COMPANY?

We create lifestyle communities that represent the world as it will be beyond sustainability. In our projects we deploy a complete bundle of clean-tech infrastructure and the buildings that make self contained sustainable neighborhoods a reality. Most existing cleantech is vastly under utilized but represents a great opportunity for those who can employ it. As a real estate development company utilizing clean tech infrastructure, we capitalize on that tech-based opportunity to fill a void in the supply side of the consumer market. We combine our self-contained infrastructure system with world-class amenities at some of the world's most desirable locations to create turn-key Sustainable Lifestyle Communities.

 

 
WHAT IS YOUR APPROACH SUSTAINABILITY?

 

We focus on the implications of sustainability, not just the cause and effect. For us, it's about where the sustainability trends are leading society and what life will be like for the individual consumer after sustainability is achieved. Then we simply set out to produce that exact product on a micro scale in the here and now.

 

 

HOW DID YOU DEVELOP THIS APPROACH?

 

We simply listen to the consumer. It's just that simple. The consumer does not want to wait until we have fixed the whole world. They simply want the option to personally live a sustainable lifestyle right now. Surprisingly, that product offering does not exist even though the technology to produce it has existed for a very long time. 

 

WHAT IS SPECIAL ABOUT YOUR TECH?

We combine real estate development and our proprietary cleantech nfrastructure in just the right way to produce self-contained sustainable neighborhoods through the internal production and delivery of all utilities and services including water, power, food, and fuel using only the sustainable resources on-site. Then we immediately go about adding the "lifestyle" side of the equation. First by locating neighborhoods within pristine natural environments that allow for an active outdoor lifestyle, then by adding amenities and programs that enable a fulfilling and meaningful life. 

 

HOW DO YOU MEASURE THE SUCCESS OF YOUR EFFORTS?

By keeping the big picture in mind, we look well beyond the triple bottom line metrics usually associated with sustainability. We focus on achieving the implications of the end game which we see as being an exponential improvement in the overall human condition. Therefore we are not satisfied until we have delivered a product that provides our customer with that exponential improvement in their personal lifestyle.

 

 

WHAT IS THE NUMBER ONE IMPLICATION OF LIFE "AFTER" SUSTAINABILITY?

 

People will no longer wake up each day faced with the urgent task of solving life's most enduring problem: How to secure their most critical resources of water, energy, food, fuel, and communications. Since the dawn of time, man has awoken each day faced with the challenge of sustaining his life, forced to solve these same issues over and over and over again each day of their life. This senseless repetition of an easily automated set of tasks has been a colossal waste of time and energy and a tragic waste of human potential. As a species we have made impressive progress in many areas, but surprisingly, this is not one of them. With sustainability achieved, this will finally end. The days of paying for basic supplies with your life blood and your precious time will be over. In it's place will be people who are liberated to reach their full human potential simply because they will not have to spend so much time and energy to solve this basic problem over and over each day. Our turn key sustainable communities achieve the conditions of life “after” sustainability on a micro scale for our residents in the here and now. No need to wait until all the world's problems are solve.

 

 

HOW DO YOU CREATE THESE BENEFITS?

 

It is one of our core beliefs that sustainable and resilient communities must not be dependent upon external sources for their basic commodities and services. Through our proprietary clean tech infrastructure and housing system we are capable of creating self-contained sustainable neighborhoods that internally produce and deliver all required utilities and services by recycling and converting all waste, sewage and trash, and using only the renewable resources on-site. This is a sustainable, zero waste, carbon neutral system that liberates consumers from dependence upon the unsustainable global supply chain for their most basic needs for pure water, abundant electric energy, bio fuel, cooking gas and even soil fertilizer and organic food production. But we don't stop there because basic sustainability is really just the invisible backbone of our neighborhood. It's the "lifestyle" beyond all that which is our true focus. Our product is a thriving neighborhood that responds to the important macro trends driven by today's changing consumer expectations. In this rapidly urbanizing world, we see a need for lifestyle communities that are underpinned with true sustainability AND also provide urban relief, immersion in nature, meaningful escapes, health and wellness, and a generally fulfilling and balanced lifestyle.

 

 

WHAT IS YOUR BASIC MODE OF OPERATION?

 

Everything we do at our company springs from our unshakable conviction that cities hold the key to putting humanity on track for a sustainable future, and the opportunities are great for those who make it their business to build the cities of the future.
A large part of our team members development activity has been the classic land development model of taking raw land through entitlements and installing horizontal infrastructure to produce and sell improved building pads to vertical developers while being very selective about the vertical development projects we do within our master planned communities. As technology has improved and the market has shifted, we will now differentiate ourselves by providing self-contained sustainable, zero waste, carbon neutral communities. We continue our traditional focus on nature-based recreational lifestyles. We take a broad view of lifestyle communities and have a background in action sports and adventure tourism so we create amenities such as nature reserves and adventure corridors and supplement that with soft programming and non-profit environmental protection programs.

 

 

WHERE IS YOUR SWEET SPOT IN THE MARKET?

 

With the world headed into a period of resource constrained growth, there is a tremendous need to build efficient, clean and sustainable communities, but the market is painfully lacking truly sustainable neighborhoods ready for consumption.Our model is to fill this massive void. To be blunt, consumers are tired of hearing about sustainability. They are frustrated because they are not being offered a turn-key solution for actually living a sustainable lifestyle. Our product offering is a response to the fact that consumers just want to BE sustainable, not hear about it. Ask yourself this question. What neighborhood can you move into right now and instantly be living a completely sustainable lifestyle? Really nowhere. And we think that is a complete embarrassment for the real estate industry of which we are a part. We are the one’s after all who create the built environment, and the one’s who have been pumping out unsustainable neighborhoods for their consumption. What choice do they have? We believe it is high time we give them a product that serves their needs and satisfies their desires, and in today’s world, that has to include sustainability. It must be part of the package and be completely built in, and preferably just invisibly operating in the background. People want sustainability that just works without them having to think about it everyday. Now we have jumped into this void to offer a complete solution for a sustainable lifestyle community that requires no extra effort or any change in consumer habits.

 

 

WHAT SPECIFIC BENEFITS DOES THIS BRING TO SOCIETY?

 

Putting consumers onto a physical platform that enables a turn key sustainable lifestyle addresses many important issues including climate change, resource scarcity, conservation, water and sanitation, health and wellness, affordable housing, and community development, but just as importantly, it also has a very deep and meaningful impact on the individual consumer. Obviously, the ability of each community to produce sustainable resources of water power, food, fuel while handling their sewage and trash services will lower household expenses and give you more free time to enjoy the finer things in life rather than working each day to secure the basics. But there are less obvious yet more powerful benefits.

 

Let me explain. As people become liberated from a position of dependence upon others for their supply of pure water, electricity, fuel, food, and cooking gas, it provides a very positive psychological benefit that is derived from knowing that their basic needs are permanently secured and under their own control. Control leads to confidence and increased certainty, and that increased certainty leads to a freedom of mind that feeds personal growth. This is a powerful chain of events and when you combine those benefits with the extra free time and extra energy our system provides, then you have a transformative situation that really puts an individual on the fast track toward reaching their full potential as productive human beings.

 

It is interesting to note that the benefits I am describing are just as powerful for wealthy individuals as they are for those at the bottom of the economic ladder. Deep down, even wealthy individuals suffer from the subtle, often subconscious, nagging feeling that a disruption in food, water, power and fuel supplies could devastate their businesses and their lives and they have little power to buy their way out of it. Just ask any company in New York that endured the massive black out in 2003. Everyone was in the same boat when the grid went down. People understand that disruptions are increasing in frequency and severity and can be triggered by unpredictable circumstances half way around the globe. Nobody is immune to disruption, unless they are on some kind of sustainable, decentralized, self contained system, which is what we offer. When you combine this feature along with a complete lifestyle offering that includes health and wellness amenities, access to nature and outdoor recreation, adventure, exploration, discovery and full service club facilities, then you have a very powerful value offering that speaks to the consumer on many levels.

 

WHAT IS YOUR COMPANY'S VISION FOR THE FUTURE?

 

We envisions a world in which all new growth is sustainable growth. Our goals include making immediate use of our best existing clean technology and the rapidly increasing global knowledge base on sustainability to create complete solutions that move people into 100% sustainable neighborhoods where individuals can reach their full potential, and where society, the economy, and the environment thrive side by side.

 

 

HOW WILL THIS VISION BE REALIZED?

 

Rapid urbanization is the trend driving the biggest changes in society and arguably the greatest force shaping our globe. The United Nation reports that 3.5 billion people now live in cities, and that number will double by 2050. Most of that will happen in the developing world. It’s no secret that how well we manage this rapid urban development in the emerging markets will largely determine the quality of life on this planet for every generation that follows ours.

 

Fortunately there is a growing network of people and institutions who are galvanizing the activities required to meet the challenge. Some of the world’s smartest minds are hard at work. The massive effort is lead by a diverse group of organizations including leading universities, think tanks, the Wold Bank, regional Development Banks, the United Nations, and key non-profit organizations like the WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities, Rockefeller 100 Resillient Cities, and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD). The list goes on, and progress is being made. Research is driving policy change which in turn guides new regulations and clears the way for smart growth and more sustainable cities. Pilot programs are being refined and scaled up.
This top-down approach, while being an effective and completely necessary process, is also an agonizingly slow and difficult process. Personally, I prefer jumping to the end game. I take a more direct approach with bottom-up, hands on activity. Namely just getting out there and constructing 100% sustainable neighborhoods ready for the end user to consume, and ready to enable their sustainable lifestyle in one bold move. This is much easier to do in the emerging markets for so many reasons that it would take an entire interview to scratch the surface of this issue. I can tell you this; our business model turns industry constraints into opportunities and traditional cost centers into long term profit centers in a way that is still not possible in the USA. There is less friction in the emerging markets when implementing a system like ours. Historically, it is not uncommon that tech enables the emerging markets to leap-frog past the first world's build out of a new system, and this is certainly the case with sustainable cities. All you need to do is look at what is happening in India and China with household waste to energy systems like biodigesters to see that those countries are well on their way with hundreds of thousands of micro, decentralized, self contained, and sustainable systems already in use while the USA still has not cleared the way for residential use even though you can see them operating perfectly well in the USA with farm and animal waste. In any event, we have numerous projects in the pipeline located in the emerging market of Mexico and we will be leading our regional growth with 100% sustainable community development.

 

 

CAN YOU ELABORATE ON THE END GAME?

 

There is a critical global need for sustainability and we are well behind schedule in realizing it. So, if it’s sustainable cities we need then hey, lets just get them built! The end game is people living a sustainable lifestyle underpinned by a sustainable infrastructure system, so let's just get started! We should be moving consumers into fully functioning 100% sustainable communities right now, but I look around and I don't see it happening yet. In spite of all the intelligent people working on the issues, I don't see the needed product hitting the market, and I do not see many other companies 100% focused on delivering turn-key sustainable communities. I don't see product ready for consumption on a massive scale, and nowhere near the scale that says emphatically; "Yes we are going to put 3.5 billion new urbanites onto a sustainable system within the next 30 to 35 years!" I wish this was going on, but it's not. Not yet. So, as much as we need to conduct the proper studies and work on policy issues, we also need to get something built! Let's have a bit less talk and a bit more walk. Let’s start by making all new growth sustainable growth with self contained sustainable communities. We need to be creating sustainable cities underpinned by cleantech infrastructure from the bottom up, neighborhood by neighborhood. This is what the consumer wants, and this is what my company will be doing for many many years to come”. We hope other join us.

 

 

WHAT IS YOUR MOST URGENT MESSAGE?

 

First, to the financial industry I would say this; "Get more excited about the potential for sustainable communities and fund the boots on the ground! And by that I mean, fund the project developers who have it right, who understand and can deliver sustainable neighborhoods right now. Let's do the math. If all 3.5 billion new urban dwellers arriving in cities over the next 35 years are to be accommodated in a sustainable fashion, then at a minimum we need to place 100 million people per year. That's over 8 million people per month every month for 35 years. That is an attractive market! I think more investors should focus on the companies positioned to deliver product to this market.

 

Secondly, I would say "sustainable infrastructure as a service" is a powerful business model for deploying clean tech, and when combined within a new community, the result is a self contained stand alone neighborhood that will satisfy the needs and desires of consumers. Namely, to just BE sustainable without thinking about it, to just live a sustainable lifestyle without the headache of trying to figure it all out for themselves. Now, combining that clean tech within a community then adding lifestyle amenities in a beautiful natural recreational environment, well, that takes us to the end game; Turn Key Sustainable Lifestyle Communities. We firmly believe this is the logical conclusion of all the trends and we see massive unmet consumer demand, so we plan to lead the way in the delivery of the product type.

 

We believe "sustainable infrastructure as a service" combined with premier lifestyle amenities will be the most profitable approach to building the cities of the future. Can you imagine the value of these properties rising sharply after a few disruptions in services at neighboring properties? Fund managers, impact investors, venture capitalist and banks should start viewing this model as the most direct approach to servicing the market demand while creating positive impacts on the physical, economic, social, and environmental levels.

 

Reputable small and medium size real estate developers should be seen as a vehicle for getting some of this important work done. The financial sector has done a great job of redirecting funds for impact, now we need to include real estate developers in the deployment of those funds. In some ways, I think there is a tendency to view the real estate industry as somehow having less impact than say, a new micro finance app or a loan program for small farmers, or a health program for the bottom of the pyramid. I beg to differ. I believe real estate developers are at the epicenter of all the important issues challenging our future. There are developers such as ourselves who are properly equipped to achieve scale using a simple, modular and distributed sustainable infrastructure system like we have. Truth be known, to get to the scale necessary to address the global challenges, we need a large army of developers deploying the system over and over and over and over in every corner of the world. Its Henry Ford time people! Lets put the boots on the assembly line and crank it out. Scalable sustainable development is a worthwhile and profitable endeavor, let's get it funded, let's get it built !