Taking E+ Buildings Mainstream

The City of Boston has a great program to lead the charge in the transformation of the residential sector toward sustainability & resilience. The E+ Program is led by my former Board Vice Chair and mentor, John Dalzell, Sr. Architect for Sustainable Development at the Boston Planning & Development Agency (BDPA). The program demonstrates the real possibility of energy positive buildings & technologies, it creates affordable housing, it opens up new concepts for urban design, and raises awareness for climate-responsive buildings. I love checking out these projects and learn more about the nitty-gritty of getting these things to happen.

The E+ Program has helped bring net positive residential development forward for the city. Boston has taken odd lots and partnered with community organizations to bring developers in who want to build exemplary buildings. The RFP process stipulates affordability, community-responsive design, and the creation of an net positive energy building – where it generates more power than it uses! These projects are contributing to Boston’s championship attainment as the #1 city for energy efficiency and in achieving the Boston 2050 Carbon Neutrality goal.

On Friday, July 26, the City hosted a “behind the walls” tour and open house of the E+ project at 65 Colonial Ave in Dorchester – in the Codman Square neighborhood. Various project partners were there – the BPDA, the development team, and various vendors of technologies used at the building. The program is sponsored by USGBC MA (my former organization), the Boston Society of Architects, and the local utilities – Eversource and National Grid. I went to visit, assuming I’d probably bump into some pretty cool people who are into this sort of thing.

On the site of what had been a bad old triple decker, the project was creating four units of premium housing in an ~8000sf structure, one affordable (at 80% AMI). It is about a 15 minute walk from the Shawmut red line station and a five minute walk to all the shops of Codman Square. It is going to be a great place for a few families to live. The units are either 2 or 3-bedroom and are all-electric. The building envelope has a HERS rating of 38, and with solar installed it gets down to 19. It’s insulated to R-50 and has triple-glazed windows of R-5. It is going to be a LEED Platinum structure. This is the right stuff!

You can read more about the city’s program here.

I did bump into Nikhil Nadkarni, Energy Planner for my City of Cambridge, and we got to catch up a bit about Cambridge policy progress. John Dalzell was also there and I was able to tag into a tour with him and the project architect, Scott Payette, who I have known through USGBC for many years. I also met and was able to talk shop about developing E+ buildings with the developer, Charles Aggouras, and a separate E+ project developer, Jeffrey Dubard. It’s tricky to get these things to come together, even with the support of the City. Below is the best pic I have of John, walking up into the building tour:

You can read more about the project at 65 Colonial Ave here – lots of great info. I didn’t get to learn enough about the community engagement side of the equation, with Codman Square Neighborhood Development Corporation but I did see my colleague who works there, David Queeley, on the site. You can click on the renderings or inspect the schematic of the environmental features.

One thing I didn’t totally understand about the design was the rear sunken courtyard grottoes – how would you get out of it? A pool ladder or some other egress must be in the works…

Overall, a great project and a great event on a great day. Thank you BPDA, City of Boston and the E+ Program. Shout out to The Green Engineer who are doing the sustainable design consulting for the project, and Studio 2112 who is doing the landscape architecture. It will all balance out and they will call it Cygnus, right? [sorry non-Rush fans!]

Update: Real Estate Crowdfunding

I wanted to revisit the real estate crowdfunding options out there, seeing as I have my own at MoreGreenBuildings.net, and I want everyone to be monitoring the competition.

There still is no other specifically green building real estate crowdfunding site. But here are the big ones that people pay attention to:


This group continues to make progress and evolve. According to their website, they have cumulative total returns at the end of 2018 of about $65M and last year their funds averaged 9.1%. An investor can put money (as low as $500) into different vehicles to focus on dividend income, asset appreciation, or a mix of both. Based in DC, they have about 80 people on staff and are growing.

This is for non-accredited investors, looks at both commercial and residential, but doesn’t have a particular screen for social responsibility or green features. A lot of their investments seem to be multi-family projects, both ground-up and repositionings. They now have put $2.5B in investments into property and are continuing to innovate their product mix. They have offered shares of Fundrise itself to user-investors which is sort of a social responsibility-aligned play.

I have enjoyed tracking them but I have not invested in them. The basics are they create a low threshold for investment, solicit funds from anyone and everyone, and put the money into a few different portfolios that invest in small real estate projects throughout the US. You can cash out by giving them notice (there is a 60-day waiting period and up to a 3% penalty), but it is supposed to be pretty liquid.

I’m impressed with their operations – they have managed the reporting and communications efficiencies they need, and seem to be choosing the right projects to go after. I’m not sure if it’s because of the access to capital from the crowd or the diminished feedback loop from the crowd (investors are not opposing any given investment) which makes Fundrise faster on the draw to pick up properties, or if there’s just a lot of junky property out there that this entity is just lucky enough to pick up and arbitrage to their favor.

A Patch of Land

Rich Uncles

Realty Mogul

Other crowdfunding sites with higher bars include:

  • CrowdStreet
  • Origin Investments
  • AlphaFlow
  • EquityMultiple

Good Times Getting to Carrigain

It was another successful outing with the GBMC. It was something of a reunion – we’ve had some of our members disperse away from Boston lately. Luka flew in from Toronto, and Shawn & Laur drove up from Philly. We also had a new crew member, Alishya from Boston. She isn’t really in the green building field, but she is a doctor, and we know we always want a doctor around!

Here is a link with a bunch of the photos on flickr.

We had an early start, getting up 93 almost to Franconia Notch (see below) and met up in Lincoln at a special restaurant and headed for the Kancamaugus. Half an hour later, we were at the Sawyer River trailhead.

The crew: Corey, Alyshia, Moi, Laur, Shawn and Luka:

Gotta love the Canadian engineer among us, who built his own insulated water bottle apparatus…

The hike in rolls along an old logging railbed for the first three miles. Very pleasant. We talked and talked about all our wonderful projects. And yes, we did walk right past the first turn we needed to make onto Fire Road 85. On my (ancient) map, it was F.R. 86. Why would anyone change the number? I think that is why we did not notice it – we were primed for the other identification label.

This is a little beaver pond that the main trail goes over. You can see the stock of sticks the beavers have assembled, and also the de-barked ones they have already eaten. I am not sure I’d want to eat bark all winter.

Gorgeous countryside!

Once we were on the fire road we caught a glimpse of Carrigain Peak. Something in my mind was saying, we don’t have to go all the way there today…

We did find some interesting stuff on the trail. It was beech nut season. They were tasty. I forgot to cook them in the evening, probably because we’d done 15 miles and I was exhausted. But I have a pocket full of them!

The hike would be about 7 miles to the camp, 6 round trip up to the peak and back, and then the 7 the next morning out. A good jaunt, and the legs feel great.

After our lunch, we marched onward. And we found this at about 3:30pm. Yes, that is Carrigain notch to my left and behind me is Zealand Notch, then above my head: Agiocochook – the big top of Mt. Washington rising above the clouds. It just appeared in time for this photo. We would then march up and up the final 500′ to the high peak of Carrigain, and get above that layer. It was also about 20F colder – down into under 10F. We didn’t last long – all hot from the hike up – but it was certainly special. See below.


Here we have the view to the northwest: the Franconia Range (Lafayette and Lincoln at least) and the peeking peaks of Middle Majesty (okay, that’s what I call South Twin) and Bond. Like islands in a sea I’d never come across before. The pictures don’t do it justice.

This kind of thing never happens. Well, I mean, it’s hard to time it. I felt very lucky to be there. We all felt like we were enchanted.

This is the amazingness. A great group. An amazing view. An incredible natural phenomenon. And the massif of Mt. Washington rising above the cloud layer like a giant space ship from another galaxy…

We did get back down the hill, skipping and sliding in a third the time. We ended up setting up camp in the dark, but it was a fabulous flat spot. Perfect for setting up a fire ring and a few stories.

In the morning, we packed up and got going at about 7am. Luka took a little while to reassemble his gear, and then it was back out the old rail bed back to the Kanc. Great hike out that morning.

It is hard to quite understand the magic here, but the sun was playing with ice crystals on the sapling evergreens and basically created Christmas lights on each one. They were all the colors. We felt like wood elves had enchanted this little area just for us. We spent a while just soaking it in.

And in the end…back to Black Mountain Burger for a great lunch. The Smitty tradition continues. Who can say no, after a good 20+ miles on the icy trail, to a big burger between two grilled cheese sandwiches? Mmmmm! See you next time!

Togetherment: Pitch Contest Winner!*

We won second place!*

At my Entrepreneurial Finance course (taught by the excellent Carl Byers (former CFO of Athena Health)), during the final class of the semester, we held a pitch contest. Throughout the course, each student has been working on a venture. I’ve been using the opportunity to improve on Civekos, now called Togetherment, which has been a great opportunity (as you have seen in these pages).

You can read more about the Civekos/Togetherment project on its dedicated pages here. Full website forthcoming!

Here’s the deck I used. Imagine what could happen if I had a graphic designer on my team!

There were seven ventures: lots of great business concepts. It was tough competition – some of these are already signing up customers and bringing in grant funding. We heard about:

  • Jetset Offset – carbon offsets for fliers
  • Vertical Farms in Nigeria
  • Electronic legal contract management
  • Refugee tech education
  • A cross-cultural social/political engagement web platform
  • Ending sexual violence in India
  • and Togetherment of course

Here’s a picture of Jean Guo with her pitch for Konexio (facilitating digital education for refugees in France) (I was not quite as good looking but in the same place in the front of Land Hall). I had actually met Jean this summer at the Global Harvard Alumni Meetup when we were both in Paris in June. It has been great to be in a class with her. She was a Fullbright while in France 2015-2016 and now at Kennedy.

Here’s Carl at the end of the class with key questions about connecting with funders (I was sitting in the front row the whole semester):

  1. Are you doing important work?
  2. Are you well managed?
  3. Will the gift make a difference?
  4. Will the experience be satisfying to me?

If you know someone who might be interested in a new approach to housing, facilitating group living for social purpose professionals, let me know!

*Yes: classmates: there were two first places and two second place finishers if you are really counting! But hey, feedback is good when you can get it. And facing the crowd is important for fine-tuning the message. Thank you MLD-829!


So, “monolede” is the term for when you get one hit when you google for two words. It’s hard to do but I’ve done it about three times. Sorry, can’t remember.

But today, our professor in behavioral economics mentioned that “penultimate” was her favorite word. Curiously, it is one of my faves as well.

So I thought I’d play the game. And I discovered that “penultimate vexillology” is only found here on this blog right now. Thanks.

That would now be a monolede, whereas prior to this publishing, it was a nilolede (zero hit).


Togetherment: Co-living with a purpose

The venture is getting going.

NEW: slides of a draft pitch deck. Check it out!

I am passionate about the benefits of people living together in groups. Key features are interacting with others, sharing resources and being a part of a bigger project. Group living is an antidote to social isolation, digital engrossment and consumerist wastefulness.

  • Mental Health: you have people who care about you, check in with you, sharing (which is caring!) you day-to-day life. In some group settings, these relationships can last a long time.
  • Spontaneity: having random interaction and unplanned engagement stimulates the brain and helps keep the heart healthy. Too much of our lives are programmed, planned and platformed.
  • Constant Learning: living with a bunch of people means learning about their lives and livelihoods, in addition to how to negotiate sharing resources and becoming okay with things not exactly the way you think you want them to be.
  • Cultivating Patience: related to being flexible (above), patience is a virtue. Not just in terms of being able to abide in time but also in the sense of forbearance – being able to hold judgement, release others from urgency, and “rolling with it…”
  • Resource Efficiency: you take up less space and share common spaces better, and you share resources like food and domestic items. You can also coordinate to share less-often used items like tools, sports equipment, and art supplies.
  • Connecting with Purpose: many group living situations enable people to connect with like-minded people to share efforts toward a common goal. This could be (and has historically been) for a religious or philosophical end, but also for public service like military or park ranger. Sometimes group living is a temporary thing like a summer camp, crisis intervention, or festival setting. Having a common connection can provide meaning and guidance to a person’s life. Sharing it with others can make it more meaningful.

There are a lot of ways living in community (living in a group) can benefit a person. The network of facilities I’m creating will enable many people to find this option. It is hard to find this type of arrangement in the US. Many group living situations are strongly tied to an employer or religious institution. Some are in the vein of communes as “intentional communities” which demand a lot of engagement and democratic participation.

Our project will enable and accommodate participation but strike a balance so it’s not too much. We will set up the systems, the technology, and the processes so people can come together without too much of a load to design systems from scratch. This is a new platform for an emerging market.

Join us and let’s see where this goes!

Contact me at greylee@gmail.com to learn more, or take a look at these pages.

NEW: slides of a draft pitch deck. Check it out!

Above is an image from a co-living in Silicon Valley called Rainbow House. I like all the books!

Gas Leaks Alliance Conference at MIT

The Gas Leaks Allies conference at MIT this week was fabulous.

The Cambridge-based group, HEET (which I have supported and participated with over the years – in fact, we hosted a weatherization barn-raising at the Cambicoop about ten years ago with them!), has been leading an effort to identify and end gas leaks from the natural gas infrastructure. Joined by the newer Mothers Out Front climate justice group, they have an amazing story of collaboration with the gas industry to address the problem. 

Gas leaks in Massachusetts are 10% of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions! It’s pure methane just flying into the air from old pipes. Some are 100+ years old!

It’s only about $90M of lost revenue per year, but actually, the gas companies don’t lose the money – they pass this cost on to ratepayers.

Rev. Mariama White-Hammond was one of the lead speakers. I recruited her to be on the Greenbuild Boston 2017 Honorary Host Committee and she is a great speaker. She really helped convene the moral aspect of this work. Great words.


Lori Ehreich is a state rep who is known as “Gas Leaks Girl” now due to her focus on this.


I happened to sit next to the National Grid fellow who is responsible for gas distribution. Even spending nearly half-a-billion per year to upgrade the pipe system, they still have a long way to go. We watched 



The end of the program was an impassioned speech from a local high school student. It was a great ending note. The crowd gave a standing ovation. It was great to be surrounded by so many good people doing such good work. Especially demonstrating that traditional opponents can indeed get together, work together, and solve probs – it was very inspiring.

Brewing up a little Democracy!

Some of you have seen the footer of my emails:

“I’m a cooperative investor: join me in supporting DEMOCRACY BREWING

Have you clicked the link? Are you intrigued?

I need you to get excited about this. We are looking for a few more investors. There are a variety of packages in the prospective. Intended return is 5% and the cooperative will buy back shares in 5 years. If you go for the $3000 package, you will get a free crowler of beer every time you visit – as many times as you want! Read the prospectus here.

The organization has started to build out the pub in Downtown Crossing – it is awesome! I went to their open house the other night to check things out. It is going to be really cool. The space is great. It’s a lot bigger than Stoddard’s or the other pub on the block there. It has a cozy feeling, like the den of revolutionary plotters.

You can see the build out here – really going to be cool. The gap goes to the lower level where the kitchen, brewing and events space will be. You can read more about the project here.

Looking up at the entrance from below. I took a little tour while sampling the brews.

The point is not the ancillary benefits, but rather, to join the cooperative movement and directly invest in this great concept. Democracy Brewing will be creating a space to gather and support progressive voices and organizations. You can be a part of it!Here are James and Wex distributing samples of what will be coming up. All good stuff!

Here is the location on Temple Place – right off Tremont at the Boston Common. It’s a three minute walk from the Downtown Crossing T station at Washington St. Yes, the old Windsor Button shop. Buttons used to be huge!

Check out the link to learn more about this awesome opportunity. Below is the leadership team – you can read more about them on the site. Let’s invest together!

Let me know if you have any questions.

I can’t wait to meet you at Democracy Brewing for a pint and some good chow!

Civekos Outline – Class Exercise #4

MLD-836 Class 8 Workshop Questions Grey Lee 9/26/17


  1. How do you operationalize your value proposition and unique attributes into your service delivery chain?


Our value proposition is meeting a gap in a niche market of housing. Two spectrums are intersecting: One is related to recognizing and rewarding people who are devoted to social benefit work through subsidizing their housing. The other is creating new and dynamic synergies and connections for these professionals through a new (old) model of group living where people internalize deep learning about communication, patience, service and compassion.

We operationalize it by performing some market research, some philanthropy testing (which could involve finding an in-kind facility contribution/licensing), then implement the prototype. From that we learn how to better manage a given node and learn ways we could scale.

I am trying to determine how my concept fits with issues around privilege, affordability, gentrification, and interventionism in general. While there may be a lot to debate, I am going to side-step a lot of it. I believe that right now, there are a variety of social problems that can be ameliorated by social work and social benefit professionals. Again, while there may be a debate about how much to pay these people, like teachers and health care professionals, regardless of how to influence take-home pay, reducing rent for these people will benefit them, and potentially lengthen the duration in their life that they want to do this type of work. Further, while people of any means make choices around housing, and people have traditionally “doubled up” or lived with groups of others in an effort to reduce their housing cost, I think it is reasonable to build this out for people who “could” choose otherwise. Many people choose to work for social benefit who come from places of economic privilege. There may be a way to seek a type of social finance bond from networks of privilege to directly support a scion of privilege who chooses to work in this realm and who chooses to live in one of our nodes.

We have to procure the nodes in our network of “social benefit lodges” and identify the main partners who will underwrite the real estate side of the equation. There will also need to be partners on the social structure – the governance, the selection/attraction of residents, and general facility and node operation.

Another part of the service delivery chain will be to engage residents as part of the marketing and sales team – to recruit subsequent residents and/or new node groups.


  1. Can you think of ways to innovate and make it better?

One thing that we may want to do is look at a replicable design, for instance, some kind of pre-fab structure that could scale like some of the “shipping container” housing that has been developed. One model is Bjarke Ingels’ (Danish architect of the firm BIG) “Urban Rigger” floating dorms. This may be appropriate in some locations – for instance, to locate a node in a place like San Juan, Puerto Rico in the aftermath of a disaster – but this is a departure from the expected priority location targets of repurposable group living facilities like old fraternity houses, religious community housing or otherwise.

Another innovation to improve/expand this model is focusing on the software for improving small learning communities. Slack is an obvious model to create spaces for communication and project management. There are other platforms like WeSpire (corporate employee community engagement gamification) and Habitica (to-do list gamification which can be linked across different people) which can link small teams who may have a common purpose.

There are circular economy platforms for sharing resources and time banks like Neighborrow and Yerdle which don’t quite work because the parties are too unrelated. Within the bounds of the pre-qualified community in each node or even throughout the nodes in this network, a sharing platform could be more successful for sharing tools and other seldom-used but useful items.

The peer-to-peer education platform E-180 (“Brain Dates for Learning Humans”) could see a materialized “in situ” option in the nodes in the network of sobene (social benefit professional) housing [pronounced “sobenny”]

There are a few places to go with just the real estate – scaling to different sizes, repurposing specific challenging properties, tweaking the level of quality/amenities offered. A lot depends on the early engaged philanthropy or partners and what they want to see/who they most want to support.  

  1. Are you truly “delighting” your beneficiaries/stakeholders and solving their pain points?

One of my major challenges is trying to determine a true “pain point” for my target customer. Over time I am seeing that my customer is the individual resident, not the employing agency. The party motivated to find housing is that sobene. As we create a highly differentiated product, we will delight that specific customer. They will have a subsidized housing option, which has superior features and connects them to a social network of similarly socially committed people.

  1. How do your staff and volunteers contribute to your service delivery excellence?

The staff for the central organization will be mostly involved with network organization and the build-out/project management of the nodes. We will recruit residents with some form of vetting for expected in-kind contributions of time and wisdom. Each node will have individuals in certain roles to support that community – a “house government” as it were. Central office staff will design models and guidelines and facilitate (train the trainers) to get nodes up and running. There may be ways for local supporting philanthropies or hosting employer agencies to supply guidance into nodes to ensure they are executing on the intentions around smooth group functioning, strong peer synergies and community engagement.



  1. What are the core elements of your solution and delivery model that will fit together to create your high impact enterprise?

Core elements include the acquisition process, and the modeled house node governance process – the systems around resident communication, role & responsibility management, and community engagement. We will have to find the right balance between a centrally-planned and administered real estate operation and a locally-focused community engagement process. The nodes will have to have significant autonomy to meet the local resident market and best connect with sponsoring employer agencies/organizations. The definition of social benefit, and the selection process for residents, will have to be managed by local parties to ensure the best fit with that locality.


  1. Are there others in your eco-system whom you can draw in to create or sustain value?

Indeed, these nodes for social benefit professionals will connect with employing social agencies and other service entities who have already engaged with the housing question. We are different in that we will house people from a variety of employers – that cross-fertilization is part of our value proposition. But entities like the Episcopal “Life Alive” and Catholic Worker Houses will be allies. They may even host a node. The cooperative community will also be a strong partner – the Cooperative Fund of New England and North American Students of Cooperation (NASCO) Real Estate fund residential cooperatives and we may be an attractive investment for them. The Slow Money community and entities like RSF Finance may also see the cash flow of residents as a good “patient capital” investment. Community Development Corporations which have built affordable housing may be able to see this model as a useful type of asset to have in their service realms (perhaps even to house their employees), although they generally produce housing for a different type of selection criteria.  

  1. Can you create a virtuous circle of benefits based upon your value proposition(s)?

There will certainly be an emergent virtuous circle of benefits as the nodes multiply and the overhead per node diminishes. Each node will be a marketing tool to encourage more funders, more employer agencies and more residents to join. Over a few years, an age stratification may emerge where longer-term, “lifers” become more permanent house residents (within the bounds of the management structure and governance processes (no curmudgeons allowed!)) will manifest social capital more strongly to guide each node and to engage with new and shorter-cycle residents. There may eventually be nodes designed for families and groups of people who will plan to live long-term in the social benefit professional space. The nodes could each create relationships with academic institutions, municipal and state agencies, and even become their own type of community development entity or social enterprise incubators. People living together, working toward a common purpose of social betterment, will evolve new patterns and solution processes. It will be exciting to watch.

Real Estate Finance Association Fall Meeting

Every now and then I get together with my father, Bruce Lee, to head into the city for a real estate industry program. He spends most of his time in the burbs, working the commercial real estate circuit along Rt. 128 and Rt. 3 North. He’s been at it for over 25 years at Lee Partners of New England.

This September was a meeting of the Real Estate Finance Association. They had a few speakers that we both like on the docket, so we were looking forward to it.

Bruce wrote up his notes about the event here – he has a long history of observations on the industry and reflected well from the observations of the folks like Bryan Koop (Boston Properties) and Roy Hershland (T3 Advisors), Rob Griffin (Newmark Knight Frank) and Bill Poorvu (formerly of HBS).

The basics were that the experts think we are still moving forward with a growing real estate industry and there is no reason to think it is going to burst anytime soon. That is of course what they said last year…how long can it go? But so far, no major indicators of a change.

After the program, we took a walk through Downtown Boston to see some construction sites. We wound up on the Common. It was a great outing for Lee Partners of New England!