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Sustainable Building: SOMO Village CEO Brad Baker Explains What It Is and Why It’s the Future

Over the course of the past few decades, the importance of living sustainably has become increasingly clear. And, as a result, people are becoming more aware of how their choices impact our planet. 

There’s been a lot said about isolated steps we can individually take to reduce our carbon footprint, from driving electric vehicles to purchasing products that are made sustainably and beyond.

But what about the communities where we live? Can the places we call home make it easier for us to collectively live sustainably and make a positive environmental impact?

Brad Baker, CEO of SOMO Village, certainly believes so.

We recently spoke with Brad Baker about sustainable building, how it works, why he believes it’s the way of the future, and how he incorporated it into the DNA of SOMO Village. 

Here’s what we learned.

SOMO Village: How would you define sustainable development?

Brad: When most people think of sustainable development, they probably think of several things, like an energy-efficient home or a home with solar power. And that’s certainly what we’re doing here at SOMO Village, but we’ve also taken an even more comprehensive approach. 

When we first started our development plans, we were looking at different certifications. There are things like LEED—Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design—which are great programs. But we wanted something even more comprehensive. 

So, we connected with an organization called One Planet Living which, at the time, was a collaboration between a nonprofit in London called Bioregional and the World Wildlife Fund out of Geneva, Switzerland. 

They had come up with this comprehensive platform of sustainable development that included ten things, from energy-efficient buildings to zero-waste goals. But they also included things like health and happiness, equity, fair trade, sustainable transportation, sustainable water, and sustainable food. 

We think sustainable developments are really about lifestyle, and having the ability to access your daily needs—whether that’s a place to work, a school to take your kids to, or a place to buy your food. 

That’s really our definition of sustainable housing. It’s much more holistic and broad. 

And it’s not necessarily just about how energy-efficient your home is. It’s also about where your home is located and how the location of that home allows you to interact with your community and your needs. 

We’re developing a community that’s very pedestrian-friendly and walkable. It has a lot of nice open space and public art. SOMO Village also has agrihoods, so we have access to fresh food that’s high in nutritional value, easily accessible, and just about as local as you can get. 

And, so, all of that is how we’re approaching sustainability.

Why is sustainable development such an important undertaking?

Biking in SOMO Village

I think it’s interesting if you look at these older communities—whether that’s the Middle East, China, or Europe—everything was built around the pedestrian. 

Nothing was built around cars until the ’40s and ’50s when they rolled out the highway network and freeways. Then it really became all about the car, right? All of sudden, you needed a car. I think that changed a lot of the dynamics for developments. 

Now we’re trying to create a place where you don’t need a car. You don’t have to burn gasoline or even electricity to get from here to there. 

The idea is to create a place where you can just walk like you used to and get local food. We never used to have our fruits coming in from somewhere like Chile, for example. We ate what was grown locally—and that’s what we’re trying to bring back. In doing so, we can help cut back on the emissions used for things like trucking your food in from a long way away.

From a big-picture standpoint, there are all kinds of issues with global warming, sea levels rising, and a lack of fertile soil. I think all of that really needs to be addressed locally first. 

So, if we can provide a model for how to build a modern-day community that’s sustainable and profitable, we can help give people a fresh perspective on how best to build homes. And we think there’s an opportunity for SOMO Village to be a model for that kind of sustainable development.

Do you think cost is an obstacle for this type of building model, both in the perception of potential homebuyers as well as prospective sustainable developers? 

I think homebuilders have been building subdivisions the same way for a long time, and they know that model works. 

They know that if they’re going to build a 2,400-square-foot house in a typical subdivision, it’s going to cost them, say, $150 per square foot and that they could sell that house for $300 per square foot foot. They know what they’re going to make. 

What we’re doing is definitely out of the box. I’d say it’s perceived as riskier from a development or builder standpoint. But from a consumer standpoint, I think it’s more desirable. 

It could be more expensive in the short-term, just because of the newness of it and the risk premium that the developer thinks that they have to take. 

But what we’re trying to do is to deliver a sustainable product at comparable market values.

So, the prices of sustainable homes are somewhat comparable, plus you get all the benefits of energy efficiency and walkability.

Yes. In California now, all new homes have to be solar powered. It’s an expense. Solar panels cost money. But at the same time, you don’t have to pay larger utility bills down the road. 

You might pay a little bit more upfront, but the cost of owning that home—especially over long periods of time—will hopefully compensate for that. For example, you might get a 10% return on that extra cost in the form of a lower bill. 

All of our commercial buildings are also solar-powered. We had to spend millions of dollars to put solar panels on. But now we get a really good return on those panels from lower utility bills.

And, for homebuyers, if your community is more walkable, you’re not paying as much for things like gas. Do all those little efficiencies come into play as well, from a cost perspective?

Right, yes. You might not even need a car. It’s interesting, a lot of younger people don’t even know how to drive or have a car anymore. 

And if you live in a place where you don’t need a car, you save on the actual vehicle, your gas or electricity, your auto insurance, your maintenance, and any repairs. 

It’s the same thing with food, right? If you don’t ship your food from Chile, you can just walk across the street and grab your food. You save on the transportation costs, all that carbon of shipping your food, and you probably cut out a few middlemen along the way too.

We’re really aware of trying to deliver a product that’s at market value with a cost of ownership that’s lower.

There’s probably also the incalculable benefit of knowing that you’re living in a place where you’re actually making a difference in the world. 

Right. Health and happiness are a big part of our One Planet Living commitment. 

Taking care of ourselves is costly. Things like healthcare are incredibly expensive, which is why we believe that sustainable development and sustainable living are about more than just the buildings. 

By including amenities like fitness facilities and locally-grown food, SOMO Village offers people a great investment in their home, community, and their health. There are so many benefits that are both holistic and economic.

Learn More About SOMO Village

If you’re interested in living in a sustainable community that fuses the best of city living with the country lifestyle and all the amazing things that Sonoma County has to offer, we invite you to visit SOMO Village. To learn more, download our residential project brief or get in touch with us today.

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