When Emma Hamilton was 12 years old, she started a recycling program for her father’s office building. So it should come as no surprise that this New York City real estate agent is one of the city’s few certified “EcoBrokers.”

EcoBroker is a designation earned by licensed real estate agents nationwide who complete a curriculum created by EcoBroker International. The Colorado-based company offers a series of online courses addressing environmental housing issues like indoor air quality, energy-efficient technology, and sustainable design.

Since November 2003, EcoBroker certification programs have been providing agents the know-how to advise clients on greening homes through strategies like purchasing formaldehyde-free cabinets or installing solar panels. EcoBroker training also allows agents to explain the benefits of a green home to potential buyers, such as those certified through programs like Energy Star.

Nearly 1,700 EcoBrokers are scattered throughout the United States, Canada, and the Caribbean. Colorado and California each

boast more than 100 certified agents.

Hamilton, who received her EcoBroker certification last April, applied to the program immediately after reading an article about one of Colorado’s EcoBrokers.

“I had no idea anything of that sort existed, but the moment I read it, it was a no-brainer,” she says.

She initially signed up for the program out of her own interest, but the EcoBroker designation has helped Hamilton expand her professional network. Developers and investors call her to talk about green-building projects. Just recently, the Discovery Channel contacted Hamilton regarding a television show that was remodeling a home to make it more environmentally friendly.

Customers, too, have increasingly come to rely on Hamilton for advice on greener living. She tells them everything from where to get low-VOC paint to what kind of energy-efficient appliances would be best for their kitchens. In the August issue of her monthly newsletter, she mentioned ConEdison’s renewable energy program, which allows people to invest in wind power. Within three days,

11 of Hamilton’s subscribers replied, telling her that thanks to her help, they had switched to renewable energy.

EcoBroker International is not the only company that realizes the advantages to teaching real estate agents the ins and outs of green features and development. Other organizations are also helping agents give one-on-one guidance on how to green a home.

The Asheville Board of Realtors dubbed its designation program “ECO Certification,” with “ECO” standing for “Environmental Consultant.” In order to attain certification, Western North Carolina agents must take at least 36 hours of classes that focus on topics such as water quality, soil erosion, and green building and renovation.

“I tend to be more of a consultant than a salesperson,” explains ECO-Certified broker Patreecia Spaulding, who gained her certification more than a year ago.

Like Hamilton, Spaulding has always been interested in environmental issues. But she still had a lot to learn, as she realized during her ECO Certification training. “I took a half-day class just on mold,” she says. “I remember thinking: Four hours with mold?”

Spaulding points out the benefits of going green to her clients. “If you have a house that’s green, not only is it healthy because it’s not full of chemicals, but it’s durable, better for the environment, and you save on energy costs,” she says.

Joe Menashe, managing principal broker for Hasson Company Realtors in Portland, Oregon, shares Spaulding’s fervor for green-building education. In August, he completed the educational course required to receive Sustainability Training for Accredited Real Estate Professionals (S.T.A.R.) certification through Earth Advantage, a Portland-based, nonprofit green-building organization.

For Menashe, the certification program was just the beginning of becoming versed in the best ways to make a home that has a smaller environmental impact than conventional homes.

“Now the agents [who took the S.T.A.R. course] have a thirst for knowledge about the issues,” Menashe says. “It’s up to them to find new issues to explore, and to find ways to communicate to their clients.”

Story by Rebecca Ragain. This article originally appeared in "Plenty" in October 2007.

Copyright Environ Press 2007

Realtors sell green
Specialized training boosts real estate agents' eco credibility.